How to fly a screen for live shows?

posted by popcornn on May 2, 2008 at 3:45 pm

We have a quonset hut and partial stage that is pretty much useless. If we could fly the screen out of the way somehow, it would make for a larger backstage and more practical to use for live shows.

I know this isn’t the first time this has come up and I am wondering what others do in this case. Obviously we don’t want to ruin our screen by leaving it in place during a live show (even with curtain pulled), but removing it and reinstalling it over and over is going to damage it anyway. So…what’s the secret??

Comments (11)

KenLayton on May 2, 2008 at 4:38 pm

Roll up screens have been used in some theaters with limited space. These are also known as “rope and pulley” (similar to a window shade but without the spring loaded retractor) style screens. They unroll under their own weight as you operate the rope. Only takes one person. There are also electric “roll down” screens operated by a key switch on the wall to prevent unauthorized access.

Both of the above types of screens are usually found in school auditoriums, but they have worked out well in theaters that have used that type of screen. Naturally you can get perforated screens in this style also. Screen manufacturers have all types of mounting styles and surfaces available.

Roll up, roll down, rope and pulley types also have a length of steel ¾" conduit running through the bottom loop of the screen. This is used as a weight to help provide tension on the screen surface to pull out wrinkles and flatten the surface. To keep the whole screen from “flapping in the breeze” you attach a steel cable or chain (nothing fancy) with a turnbuckle and a dog leash latch which you hook onto an eye bolt screwed to the wall. So this allows one person to roll up/down a screen and secure it in place in just five minutes!

I’ve also seen a local college that had limited space on there stage that used a vertically mounted roll up mechanism that allowed the screen to roll back into a “pocket” in the corner of a stage wall. The pocket was on the left stage wall at the right hand side of the screen had part of a chain link fence frame with wheels on the bottom. Took longer to set up than the others mentioned above, but it did work very well for them for 50 years. Eventually this college tore that old theater down and built a ‘performing arts center’ instead and eliminated movies altogether.

KenLayton on May 2, 2008 at 4:55 pm

Here’s a link to Da-lite screens' line of rope and pulley styles:

View link

KenLayton on May 2, 2008 at 5:00 pm

Oh yes, I forget to mention, with these types of screens you should put your movie speakers on wheels and the speaker cables should have a method of unplugging from a connector on the wall. This is so that you can wheel the speakers out of the way when not needed. Be sure to paint alignment markings on the stage floor so the speakers can be placed back in the correct spot again. Label the speakers something like, “screen left”, “screen center”, etc too.

TheaterBuff1 on May 3, 2008 at 7:55 am

I’ve been wondering if there’s any possibility of having a removable Cinerama screen in a theater that does not have a stage house? In a theater with a stage house this is no problem. Perhaps a theater without a stage house could have it so the Cinerama screen retracts into the stage floor instead? Has this ever been attempted?

Robert Allen
Robert Allen on May 3, 2008 at 6:01 pm

The last theatre I managed (in ‘06) has a roll-up (20 ft wide) screen that is lifted for live stage productions and the speakers are on wheels. It worked very well.

TheaterBuff1 on May 4, 2008 at 7:12 am

A Cinerama screen, because it is curved, cannot be rolled up obviously, but must remain stiff and lifted upward in whole (in connection with ropes, pulleys and counterweights, just like an elevator), or be able to retract whole into the stage floor via the use of hydraulic technology. If it retracts into the stage floor, I world assume that would mean it would require that it would have a type of floor across the top of it that, when the screen is fully retracted, would become part of the stage floor. I see no way around this. And the screen would have speakers mounted on its back that likewise would rise in the case of a screen being raised, or retract into the floor along with the screen itself as it retracts.

Not only would such a screen be useful in a theater that wants to be able to switch between movies and live performances, but also between Cinerama and flat screen presentations. Leading me to assume this might’ve been done back in the ‘50s when Cinerama was around last, though I know of no specific cases. Any information confirming this would be helpful. Thanks!

theatrehistoricalsociety on May 4, 2008 at 11:11 pm

We are researching Quonset hut theatres. Can you tell me the name and location of your theatre and when it opened? If you wish, you can email me at

We also welcome information on other Quonset theatres anyone knows about, past or present.

popcornn on May 5, 2008 at 4:03 pm

My theatre opened Feb 1, 1949 and played This Time For Keeps. It is a Stran-Steel made, Quonset “40”, Type “B” October 1947 model. The plans are about 26 pages long with another 3 pages for the theatre layout and design.

Photos at

byrdone on June 8, 2008 at 2:21 am

Roll up screens are problematic in that they eventually suffer from all the roll ups and downs. If you have space to fly it, make a frame
about foot wider and higher that the screen and lace the screen into it. Counter balance it so that it can be easily raised and lowered either by hand or a motor. Our screen is 37x17 feet and can be flown out, it is counter balanced and is lifted by 2 hp curtain motor. Screen and frame assembly weighs around 800 lbs.

jmobley on June 2, 2011 at 10:59 pm

byrdone – do you have a picture of your screen? What is the frame made of?

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