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Making trap doors

Trap doors in the stage floor, or "floor traps", are a way of creating special effects in both real theater and model theater. It is a way to have a character appear or disappear from the center of the stage, or with props in front of the trap, from a cellar or from behind a tree.

Bottom View
of floor trap

Detail of trap
operating cord
and stop bead

Detail of trap
showing tapes

Detail of trap
as it would appear
lowered, from bottom
All images at left are seen from the
bottom of the stage floor.
Click on the trap door images for larger views.
Built by Preben Engmann.

 Unlike a traditional hinged cellar access door in a floor, a stage trap must lower and rise. With paper figures, the cut floor section must operate like a very level elevator so that the figure can stand alone on the floor. The figure must have a stand without a handle. Some stands are made that can be pushed or snagged and pulled with a special rod handle, so the figure can be moved on and off the trap.

The depth of the "basement" of the theater must be deep enough for the standing figure and the floor of the trap itself to drop below the main stage floor level, so that the figure will disappear completely while still placed on the trap.

There are numerous ways of building a floor trap, but above are some photos of one way. This one is operated by a cord, secured by a bead when raised to stage level. The red cloth tapes are used in place of cords for elevation, and they are managed together. The overall design gives a smooth and level operation. This one was built by Preben Engmann, in Denmark.

Like everything else in model theater the imagination is  the limit!


If you have a model theater tip or trick you would like to share here, please email it to us, and let us know that it is alright to share it, and if you want your name, and/or email included.