Hide in plain sight

Can you recall a particularly effective use of a scrim on stage? Tell us here!

Just as magicians seem to pull rabbits from empty hats, theatrical designers can make things miraculously appear (or disappear) thanks to their talent and a scrim. A special type of fabric that can be translucent, transparent, or opaque depending on how it’s lit, a sharkstooth scrim (as it’s often called) can be used to hide an object or character until a pivotal moment when the big reveal will have a dramatic impact. “Where did that guy come from?” the audience wonders. The answer: He was there all along. The trick is you just couldn’t see him.

A scrim will look opaque if everything behind it is in darkness, but shine a light back there and suddenly it’s almost transparent. (Okay, so it’s slightly more complicated than that—let’s give scenery and lighting designers their due.) You can even paint the scrim or project images onto it so it becomes a kind of translucent screen.

Since scrims are particularly useful when creating eye-popping special effects, it’s no surprise they turn up in a lot of big-budget Broadway shows. The design team for Ghost the Musical leaned heavily on a scrim to craft some truly dazzling visuals, like deceased characters walking through walls or ascending to heaven. Reportedly, to help conjure these incredible sights, a scrim was used across the front of the stage and half a dozen HD video projectors covered its entire width.

How exactly did it all work? Just like magicians, show designers rarely spill all their secrets. We just know a scrim was involved.

Raven Snook

Made with our friends at the Vineyard Theatre

Vineyard Theatre is a nonprofit theatre company dedicated to new work, bold programming, and the support of artists. One of America’s preeminent centers for the creation of new plays and musicals, Vineyard Theatre has consistently premiered provocative, groundbreaking works by both new and established writers. From our Tony Award-winning Avenue Q, Obie Award-winning [title of show], Kander and Ebb’s The Scottsboro Boys (12 Tony nominations), and Nicky Silver’s The Lyons—which all went on to Broadway runs—to our Pulitzer Prize-winning plays How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel and Three Tall Women by Edward Albee, to such notable projects as Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Wig Out!, Nicky Silver’s Pterodactyls, Becky Mode’s Fully Committed, Craig Lucas’ The Dying Gaul, Polly Pen’s Goblin Market, Christopher Shinn’s Where Do We Live, Cornelius Eady’s Brutal Imagination, Gina Gionfriddo’s After Ashley, the Laura Nyro musical Eli’s Comin’, Anne Washburn’s The Internationalist, Julia Cho’s The Piano Teacher, Ben Katchor and Mark Mulcahy’s The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island, Jenny Schwartz’s God’s Ear, and more recent acclaimed productions of The Civilians’ This Beautiful City, Colman Domingo’s A Boy and His Soul, Adam Rapp’s The Metal Children, Will Eno’s Middletown, and Hunter Bell, Susan Blackwell and Jeff Bowen’s Now.Here.This., we strive to produce new work that challenges both our audiences and artists. Works premiered at the Vineyard have garnered two Pulitzer Prizes, three Tony Awards, and numerous OBIE, Drama Desk, Lucille Lortel, Outer Critics, and New York Drama Critics Circle Awards. It is our goal to bring a spirit of adventure and risk to the art of making theatre, and we’re proud to be the recipient of special OBIE, Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel Awards for Sustained Excellence.