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The History Of The Red Curtain

5th May 2016

The curtain is drawn, and the show is about to start. I sit anxiously in my theatre seat, awaiting the swelling of the music. As a curtain aficionado, my mind wanders to the history of the cinema red curtain that hangs in front of me. It always seems like there is a large red curtain on every stage. Why is this? Where did it come from? Is it always red? These questions caused me to wonder, and inspired winding thoughts that kept me occupied even through the intermission.

And now that I’m home, it’s time to unearth the curious history of the cinema red curtain, a mesmerising, worldwide staple of the arts.

The History Of The Cinema Red Curtain

Why Is There A Large Curtain?

This answer is quite simple: the big red theatre curtain allows the audience to sit in anticipation and awe. Prior to the start of the show, the audience sits and waits, wondering what the opening set will look like. The curtain provides a simple barrier between those on stage and those in the audience. Moreover, the lowering of the curtain at the end of the show signals that it is finished.

Where Did The Red Curtain Come From?

Cinema red curtains appear to have predated cinema itself, having been around as early as the 1800s, with the development of the first modern indoor theatres being built across Europe. The origins of the ‘theatre’ as a structure are rooted in the Roman creation of the ‘amphitheatre’, a space which was traditionally characterised by its open-air setting, and use of columns for trapping sound during a performance.

The first modern indoor theatres were constructed mainly of timber, and were commonly at risk of collapsing entirely in the event of a fire. To mitigate this risk, London’s Drury Lane Theatre installed an iron safety curtain in 1794, designed to act as a barrier that would stop fire from spreading throughout the building. This iron safety curtain promptly evolved into the rich, red theatre curtain that we know and love today, as the fabric was more cost-effective, and far easier to handle during curtain installation than its original iron counterpart.

Is It Always Red?

Whilst red is one of the most popular colours for theatre curtains, it is by no means the only colour you’ll have seen. Some curtains, especially today, are black, or can be a colour that’s personalised to the branding of that theatre or cinema space. The red theatre curtain is typically used because the colour red does not absorb light as much as other colours, meaning that red curtains are most suitable for shining spotlights on stage. Different coloured curtains - such as blue or green - would absorb the light, making it difficult for the speaker to be shown.

Moreover, in previous years when fire retardant chemical treatments were first becoming standardised, red fabric showed fire retardants the least. Today, there are many different clear applications of fire retardant chemicals to protect curtains of any colour, but red remains traditionally low-maintenance, and perfectly complementary to the drama and passion of the theatre.

There you have it, folks, a quick overview of the history of cinema red curtains. Do you have any other good theatre stories to tell?

You can also find red theatre curtains on Quickfit if you’re looking to upgrade your home theatre set-up, or you can also hang some more traditional red curtains in your home to keep your theatrical spirit alive in every room.

Remember that red is a romantic, powerful colour. It can pair nicely with any neutral wall colour, or if you’re not afraid of evoking more emotion in the room, pair it with darker colours such as plum, forest green, or navy. Shop for red curtains online now.