Flat (theatre)

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10-foot-tall (3.0 m) cloth-covered flats Cloth flats.png
10-foot-tall (3.0 m) cloth-covered flats

A flat (short for scenery flat) or coulisse is a flat piece of theatrical scenery which is painted and positioned on stage so as to give the appearance of buildings or other background.

Theatre Collaborative form of performing art

Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers, typically actors or actresses, to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place, often a stage. The performers may communicate this experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech, song, music, and dance. Elements of art, such as painted scenery and stagecraft such as lighting are used to enhance the physicality, presence and immediacy of the experience. The specific place of the performance is also named by the word "theatre" as derived from the Ancient Greek θέατρον, itself from θεάομαι.

Stage (theatre) designated space for the performance of productions

In theatre and performing arts, the stage is a designated space for the performance of productions. The stage serves as a space for actors or performers and a focal point for the members of the audience. As an architectural feature, the stage may consist of a platform or series of platforms. In some cases, these may be temporary or adjustable but in theaters and other buildings devoted to such productions, the stage is often a permanent feature.


Flats can be soft covered (covered with cloth such as muslin) or hard covered (covered with decorative plywood such as luan). Soft-covered flats have changed little from their origin in the Italian Renaissance. Flats with a frame that places the width of the lumber parallel to the face are called "Broadway" or "stage" flats. Hard-covered flats with a frame that is perpendicular to the paint surface are referred to as "Hollywood" or "studio" flats.

Muslin cotton fabric of plain weave of Bangladesh

Muslin, also mousseline or Malmal, is a cotton fabric of plain weave. It is made in a wide range of weights from delicate sheers to coarse sheeting. Muslins were imported into Europe from the Bengal region, specifically from the central areas of current day Bangladesh, during much of the 17th and 18th centuries and were later manufactured in Scotland and England. While English-speakers call it muslin because Europeans believed it originated in the Iraqi city of Mosul, its origins are now thought to have been farther east — in particular Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh. Dhaka’s jamdani muslin, with its distinctive patterns woven in layer by layer, was one of the Mughal Empire’s most prestigious and lucrative exports. Early muslin was handwoven of uncommonly delicate handspun yarn.

Usually flats are built in standard sizes of 8 feet (2.4 m), 10 feet (3.0 m), or 12 feet (3.7 m) tall so that walls or other scenery may easily be constructed, and so that flats may be stored and reused for subsequent productions.

Often affixed to battens flown in from the fly tower or loft for the scenes in which they are used, they may also be stored at the sides of the stage, called wings, and braced to the floor when in use for an entire performance.

Batten (theater)

In theaters, a batten is a long metal pipe suspended above the stage or audience from which lighting fixtures, theatrical scenery, and theater drapes and stage curtains may be hung. Battens that are located above a stage can usually be lowered to the stage or raised into a fly tower above the stage by a fly system.

Brace (theatre) stabilizing element in stagecraft

In theater, a brace is a sliding piece of wood or metal with a 'butterfly' winged nut to make it longer or shorter to fit the flat used to stabilize a flat set piece such as a flat. The nut is used, so that it can be changed more quickly than a screw to the floor during a quick change. Usually, a brace is painted black to make it less noticeable to the audience. Braces are often used to form a triangle between two perpendicular items (like a vertical flat and a stage. They can also make a flat piece stronger by forming an X-shape between all four corners. Another way to brace a rectangular flat is to use special braces, called toggles which run at regular intervals, parallel to the short end of the flat, effectively breaking it into many smaller, stronger rectangles.

Flat construction

Parts of a flat

Rails (or plates) are the top and bottom framing members of a flat. Rails run the full width of the flat (4 feet or 1.2 metres, for a 4 by 8 feet or 1.2 by 2.4 metres, flat).

Stiles (or studs) are the vertical members of the frame. The length of the stiles is the full height of the flat, minus the combined width of the rails (7 feet 7 inches or 2.31 metres, for a 4 by 8 feet or 1.2 by 2.4 metres, flat constructed of 2 12-inch or 64-millimetre, rails).

Toggles are horizontal cross pieces that run between the stiles or studs. The number and placement of toggles depends on the type of flat. The length of the toggles is the total width of the flat minus the combined width of the stiles (3 feet 7 inches or 1.09 metres, for a 4 by 8 feet or 1.2 by 2.4 metres, soft-cover flat constructed of 2 12 inches or 64 millimetres, stiles).

Corner blocks are used to join the corners of a soft-cover flat. They are normally made of 14-inch (6.4 mm) plywood, and are triangles with corners of 45°, 45°, and 90°. They are most often made by ripping the plywood at 6 12 inches (170 mm) and then mitering it at 45 degree angles to create triangles with 9-inch (230 mm) legs.

Keystones join the toggles to the stiles of soft-cover flats. They are 8 inches (200 mm) long, and normally rip sawn to the same width as the toggles (usually 2 34 inches or 70 millimetres) on one end, and 3 12 inches (89 mm) on the other, forming a shape similar to the keystone of an archway.

Straps can be used in place of keystones. They are 8 inches (200 mm) long and 2 12 inches (64 mm) wide (same as toggle) rectangles. They are easier to construct than keystones, but not as strong due to their narrower dimension and reduced glue/nailing surface area.

A coffin lock or screws may be used to join securely adjacent flats, or traditionally with a lash line cleat, where cotton sash cord is lashed around cleats installed on the flat's edges. This allows for quick standing and striking of the set.

Coffin lock

Coffin lock is a slang term for a blind panel connector often used in scenic construction to join together stage decks or scenery in a butt joint. These are two part connectors that draw together and lock. The two most common types are the cam and acceptor and more traditional hook and pin version. These devices generally use a hex key to operate the locking mechanism via a small diameter hole either through the face or rear of the panel. When locked, the considerable mechanical advantage offered by the cam or hook holds the panels tightly together. Coffin locks can be installed directly into a mortise cut into each panel for total concealment except for the locking hole or mounted to the rear of the panels. Many small theatres use stock platforms with coffin locks built into the frames.

Lashing (ropework) knot used to lash objects

A lashing is an arrangement of rope wire or webbing with linking device used to secure and fasten two or more items together in a somewhat rigid manner. Lashings are most commonly applied to timber poles, and are commonly associated with cargo, containerisation, the Scouting movement, and sailors.


Broadway or stage flats are generally constructed of 1-by-3-inch (25 mm × 76 mm) nominal (34 by 2 12 inches or 19 by 64 millimetres actual) pine boards. The boards are laid out flat on the shop floor, squared, and joined with the keystones and corner blocks. The keystones and corner blocks are inset 1 inch (25 mm) from the outside edge, which allows for flats to be hinged or butted together. They are then glued in place, and stapled or screwed down. The flat can then be flipped over and covered with muslin or decorative plywood. Toggles in a Broadway flat are placed on 4 ft (1.2 m) centers.

Broadway flats can also be constructed using Half-lap and Cross-lap joints instead of keystones and corner blocks, and joins stiles, rails, and toggles, by sawing a 38 inch (9.5 mm) deep half-lap at the ends of the pieces, and/or a 38 inch (9.5 mm) deep dado groove mid-piece, which are then glued and stapled together. Dados can be made using a radial arm saw or table saw, and a dado stack cutter (two outer circular saw blades and one or more "chippers" between them, giving a much wider cut). Setting up for a dado stack is approximately the same as for preparing keystones and cornerblocks, but requires less layout, as the length of stiles, rails and, toggles are equal to the face of your flat.

Lap joint

A lap joint or overlap joint is a joint in which the members overlap. Lap joints can be used to join wood, plastic, or metal.

Dado (joinery)

A dado, housing (UK) or trench (Europe) is a slot or trench cut into the surface of a piece of machinable material, usually wood. When viewed in cross-section, a dado has three sides. A dado is cut across, or perpendicular to, the grain and is thus differentiated from a groove which is cut with, or parallel to the grain. Dados are often used to affix shelves to cabinetry carcasses. Similar to the dado, see rabbet (rebate).

Dado set

A dado set or dado blade is a type of circular saw blade, usually used with a table saw or radial arm saw, which is used to cut dadoes or grooves in woodworking. There are two common kinds of dado sets, stacked dado set and wobble blade.

Hollywood or studio flats can be made in various thicknesses to suit a particular design, but are most often made of 1-by-3-inch (25 mm × 76 mm) nominal (34 by 2 12 inches, 19 mm × 64 mm actual) pine boards. The boards are laid out on edge on the shop floor, the ends are glued together and stapled or screwed. Keystones and corner blocks are not normally used. Once assembled, the flat can be covered with 14-inch (6.4 mm) or 18-inch (3.2 mm) decorative plywood, which is glued on and stapled. The toggles in a Hollywood flat are placed on 2-foot (0.61 m) centers.

Hollywood flats may receive a muslin skin over the decorative plywood face. The face is covered in a mixture of water and white glue, the muslin is applied and the entire flat is covered with the water/glue mixture again, to shrink and attach the muslin.

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