A flat is a lightweight timber frame covered with scenic canvas, or plywood. Flats are used to provide a lightweight and easy to move and re-configure backdrop to a stage set. Flats sometimes have windows or doors built into them to provide extra flexibility, for use in realistic settings. Masking flats are used to hide areas the designer does not want the audience to see, or to provide actors with an exit, or somewhere to store props.
(UK) A flat is supported by a stage brace and brace weight, connected to the flat using a screw eye.
Hardboard is sometimes used, but is unnecessarily heavy and will lose it’s shape in time. Most theatres have a range of stock flattage made to a standard size, and re-used many times.
Working with Flats
Moving them around the stage
Flats should be carried in a fully upright position as this is easiest (and safest). One person on each side of the flat, with one hand high, and one hand low. The person on the other side should mirror that position. The flat only needs to be lifted an inch off the floor.
If the flat needs to be laid on the floor (for recovering or painting etc.) the flat should start in an upright position. One person (or two, if it’s large) should ‘foot’ the flat (i.e. place their foot on the bottom rail of the flat, and on the floor, to prevent the flat from slipping or lifting up). Two people should then support the flat as they walk it down to the floor. This involves slowly walking backwards while supporting the flat, and walking hands higher and higher up the flat as it is lowered.
Jack: (US) A hinged brace. In the open position, it holds up a flat or other unit of scenery. A Tip Jack is a combinaton of a jack and castors so scenery can be supported or rolled. When it is in position, it is tipped to vertical. When rolling, it leans backwards.
Screw Eye: A threaded metal ring screwed to the rear of a flat for securing a stage brace. [right]
Cleat: A metal bracket used to tie rope to, or to guide rope down a flat. [right]
Throw Line: A rope used to hold adjacent flats together as one via cleats.
A technique to get a set of flats to a horizontal position on the stage floor by removing weights and braces, ensuring the area is clear and that people are wearing safety goggles if there’s danger of flying dust, then footing the flats, and pushing them over so they are cushioned by air pressure and land safely on the deck.
Known as Deixar caure in Catalan, souffler un decor in French, Op de wind in Dutch.
Components of a Flat
A Rail is a horizontal batten within a flat.
A Stile is a side or vertical piece within a flat.
A Sill is the bottom rail of a flat.
Types of Flat / Flat Terms:
- Book Flat
Two flats hinged together on the vertical edge, to be free standing, and normally used as a backing for a doorway or window. They should always be ‘run’ with the hinged edge leading, to prevent them opening up. Book flats are free-standing when angled open, allowing quick setting and compact storage. Booking describes the action of opening or closing a book flat.
- Exhibition Flat
Narrow flat hinged to a wider one.
- French Flat
A scenic flat which is flown into position, usually with French braces. Consists of a number of flats fixed together with battens. Also known as a Frenchman.
- Hollywood Flat / TV Flat
A Hollywood is a double-sided timber flat with a much wider edge than normal. Hollywood flats are mainly used in the film/tv business. The thicker edge gives the flat extra stability, can be easily clamped to adjacent flats, and looks more like a real wall on camera.
- Masking Flat
A piece of solid scenery used to prevent audiences seeing backstage (or unwanted) areas.
(Greek) Term for three-sided flats mounted on a rotating base. Used in rows to produce easily changed backings. Sometimes informally known as Tobelerones (or Tobes) due to the resemblance to the triangular shape of the chocolate bar.
An archway made by combining wings/legs and border. Also a decorative framing, columns and pediments or filigree or other that frames the stage.
In Dutch, the portaalbrug (portal bridge) is a heavy-duty portal consisting of a horizontal bridge with a lighting bar mounted below it, along wtih two vertical legs.
Shaped piece of scenery added to the edge of a flat instead of a straight edge. Also known as a cutout.
Flats joined to the DS edge of flats of a set or unit that ‘return’ into the wings. They help mask and also keep the DS edge of a set from looking raw.
A return which is at right angles to a flat, and suggests the thickness of a window, wall, doorway etc.
- Sill Iron
A piece of flat iron screwed to the bottom rail of a door flat which holds it together, and ensures that the flat doesn’t warp. Invisible to the audience.
Border, usually black, set behind the proscenium and linked with tormentors to form an inner frame to the stage, and to mask lighting bars and the upper parts of the fly tower. (Known in the USA as a Valance)
Narrow masking flats adjacent and usually at right angles to the proscenium arch. So named because they stop people in the boxes being able to peep beyond, into the secrets of the wings, where there may be dancers (for example) warming up or actors doing costume changes. Used in addition to a teaser, the first border behind the proscenium arch.
- Wing Flats
Flats which mask the entrances at the sides of the stage (wings).
Construction Methods & Materials
Building a Masking Flat (Hollywood-style)
Hardboard / Masonite
- Cheapest option
- Liable to flex / bow
- Easy to damage – not durable
- Comparatively heavy (a 3mm thick sheet of 2.4m x 1.2m Masonite is 9.53kg)
- More expensive than hardboard
- More durable
- Lighter weight (3mm thick sheet of 2.4m x 1.2m commercial plywood is 7.4kg)