Gaffer tape, or more commonly called Gaff tape, is a durable tape for use in temporary situations where it is desired that no residue remain after the tape is removed.
It is believed the origins of Gaff tape came from the motion picture industry, or at least the name. The head of a motion picture’s electrical department is called a gaffer. Gaff tap has become an all-purpose tape for theater. It can be a diverse resource for fixing cables to the stage, covering dents in grand pianos, or any other application where a tape is needed that will not leave a residue.
Due to its cotton web and backing, Gaff tape tears easily but is durable once affixed to a surface. This makes it convenient for stage hands to apply without requiring extra tools. Gaff tapes comes in a variety of different textures, widths, and colors. The texture of the tape varies between manufactures and many professionals have a certain tape that they use because of the texture. Most Gaff tape is black since it will blend in with a black stage floor. Tape width of 2” is available in most theaters.
Because of the synthetic adhesives, Gaff tape has considerations when used under special conditions or in long-term installations. Gaff tape is not well suited for extreme temperatures and will be damaged when it freezes. This is a consideration for road shows that travel through cold climate. Often this damaged results in the black coating getting stuck to the adhesive and not holding as well and fresh tape.
Gaff tape can also change when exposed to water. Extra caution must be used when wet mopping a stage floor to prevent excess water from collecting around gaff tape. If exposed for too long gaff tape can lose its holding bond to the surface, or leave a residue.
Spike tape is a narrower version of Gaff tape that is typically used in stage management to mark locations on the stage. These locations can be marks for scenery, actors, or to indicate a hazard to the people on stage such as a protrusion or set of stairs. Many theaters have a large variety of colors. Shows that have a complex layout many have many colors of spike tape to indicate where things need to be for a specific scene or act. Larger shows may have schedules for stage marking so that actors can have a consistent view of where they should be even if on a new stage.
There are many schools of thought for marking techniques. There are certain combinations of colors that are easier to see in different lights. For example it will be easier to see blue spike tape under blue lights than red spike tape. When actors need to be near the downstage edge of the stage special color combinations can be used so the actors can see when faced with bright stage lighting.