Halftime Magazine|November/December 2019

Used in various shapes, sizes, and colors, tarps help marching groups transform the football field into their own stage.
Jamie Lee Cortese

Marching bands that use tarps on the football field can transform the setting into a desert outside Area 51, an airplane runway, or even simply a blank, white slate that props and costumes can enhance.

A few years back, the O’Fallon (Illinois) Township High School Marching Panthers decided to break free from the green turf and rigid yard lines of the field. “The grid does not support the art,” says Dr. Melissa Gustafson-Hinds, director of bands. “It has nothing to do with the message … or emotions that you’re trying to convey to the audience.”

Instead, the band unrolled four sections of white tarp that together covered the entire field from sideline to sideline and end zone to end zone for its 2017 show, “The White Canvas,” and its 2018 show, “Stretching the Canvas.”

By using vinyl tarps, which more often employ digital printing to display images and designs, marching arts group are redefining what a show can look like and how it can be framed. During the show, the ensemble gets to be the team that calls the field home.


Though tarps have traditionally been used by winter guards, drumlines, and winds groups in indoor gymnasiums both for practical and design purposes, tarps on the field are less common. From a practical standpoint, tarps serve to protect the gym floor when used indoors. Outdoor fields don’t need such protection. So what purpose does a tarp serve for the field?

According to marching administrators as well as tarp manufacturers, the function is purely aesthetic. In the same way that concert halls and theaters transform for each production, digitally printed vinyl tarps change a football field designed for a regulated sport into anything that show designers can imagine.

Gustafson-Hinds points out that a white tarp can help any colors pop in the show. On traditional football fields, using the color green in costumes or uniforms is like using “a green screen,” making the performers disappear, she says. A white surface allows green, in particular, to be an option as a color. “You don’t have the look of the football field,” GustafsonHinds says. “You have more of a stage.”

The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps’ 2018 production, “On Madness and Creativity,” used 15 strips of tarp to create a large web system that interconnected the prop stations throughout the field. During the performance, the tarps were folded and unfolded to reveal a colorized interpretation of a Rorschach inkblot test.


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November/December 2019