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Strings Music Festival: Tape talk

Jon Kimura Parker will perform with the Strings Festival Orchestra on Saturday.
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Let’s talk about tape.

I don’t mean regular Scotch tape, packing tape or even duct tape. As useful as those items are in everyday life, they just don’t cut it backstage, where we stock several industry-specific types of the sticky stuff.

Spike tape is half an inch wide and comes in a zillion colors. The tape is only medium sticky but super sturdy, capable of standing up to the foot traffic of a ballet company in rehearsal while not removing every bit of paint on the floor when it’s pulled up.



Don’t get me wrong, it still removes enough floor paint that the ghost of last show’s set hangs around until the painters get a crack at it. But it’s not supposed to.

Although it has additional applications for theater, opera and dance productions, spike tape at Strings marks the location of chairs, music stands, recording microphones and the large instruments that need to move during a classical performance.



The bright colors come in handy because most of my stage moves happen in low light, and I need to be able to distinguish the yellow spikes for the Mozart piano and violin piece from the pink spikes for the Strauss string trio.

That brings me to glow tape.

Stage changes rarely happen in a true blackout — that’s how people fall off the edge of the stage or bash a piano into the upstage wall — but once in a while, a production does call for onstage movement while there’s no light at all.

In that case, we pull out glow-in-the-dark tape to mark a spike or the edge of the stage. This stuff is remarkably sticky and guaranteed to pull up multiple layers of paint with it when it’s removed, so we use it sparingly.

Double-sided tape, or top-stick, is used to keep wigs, body microphones and costume pieces in place. It’s safe to use directly on the skin and it’s pretty resistant to sweat and skin oils. We don’t need it often for concert performances, but I’ve definitely taped low-cut dresses and spaghetti straps in place to ensure that Strings’ shows stay family-friendly.

And now we’ve come to the King of Backstage tape: gaff tape. Although it comes in several colors, as far as most backstage technicians are concerned, the only color that matters is black. Gaff is 2 inches wide, easy to tear with the fingers and sticks forever but doesn’t pull up (much) paint.

We use gaff tape the most for Different Tempo shows — taping down cables, keeping the drum rug in place, attaching set lists to music stands, fixing broken road cases.

Having spent many years on the road as a rigger with mega rock ‘n’ roll shows, Strings’ Production Director Steve Chambers calls it “load-bearing gaff.” And he’s not really kidding. I’ve seen “just fix that with gaff until we can fix it for real” repairs that are years old.

It’s a safe bet to assume that every performance this week at Strings will be held together by one or more of my theatrical tapes:

• Tuesday: Youth: Fara Tolno & Kissidugu

• Wednesday: Classical: Seven Composers, Seven Styles

• Thursday: Music on the Green: Ping Vocal Quartet

• Friday: Different Tempo: Court Yard Hounds

• Saturday: Classical: Orchestra with Jon Kimura Parker

My money’s on spike tape for the two stage-change-heavy classical concerts and gaff tape for the Court Yard Hounds, which will have an entire amplified band’s worth of cables that need to be secured to the floor.

Time to stock up the tape cabinet.

Ali Mignone is the stage manager for Strings Music Festival.


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