Gaffer tape or gaffer’s tape is believed to be named for the chief electrician responsible for the lighting on stage productions and film sets. Even though a lot of people confuse it with duck tape, the simple and easy to remember the difference between them is that duck tape usually has a backing made from vinyl or some other sort of plastic, whereas gaffer tape has a backing made from fabric.
There are almost as many brands and types of gaffer tape as there are uses for the tape itself. Probably one of the more well known brands would be Nashua gaffer tape which has proven to be very reliable when used even in more difficult circumstances. Despite gaffer tape having a wide variety of uses, the area in which it has proven to be almost irreplaceable in its utility is as an aid to both stage hands and actors alike.
For the longest time, gaffer tape has been used in theatres to do everything from markings for the positioning of the actors, to repairing and holding together so many broken pieces around the stage that you could say it was practically holding together the stage all by itself. This is due in no small part to the type of adhesive that is used, which is very durable on top of being pretty heat resistant and leaves either no residue when removed or so little that it’s hardly noticeable.
One of the most common applications for gaffer tape on any stage would be to hold the wires together in order to keep them organised and keep them from either tripping someone, or causing more serious health risks like electrocution. Another use is their application on floors and walls as a means to give the actors their queues as to where to stand, or visitors as to which way to go. But probably the main reason as to why every stage crew has an almost over-abundant stock of Nashua gaffer tape (as well as other brands) is that they are the best choice to temporarily fix up any of the very frequent wardrobe malfunctions that happen on nearly every theatre play.
Most theatre crews are so reliant on gaffer tape that, much like there is a phrase for duck tape that goes “if it can’t be fixed using duck tape, then you aren’t using enough duck tape”, there should rightfully be a phrase for gaffer tape along the lines of “it isn’t a proper set until the lights are covered in more gaffer tape than the actors are covered in make up”. Though admittedly the phrase may need some work.