One of my childhood dreams was to be in a theatre. I recognized fairly early that I wouldn’t make a good actress, but I still wondered if there might be something for me to do behind the stage. Decorations? Or maybe costumes? Little did I know that one day I will have my own theatre to direct, make decorations, costumes and even actors for. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you our puppet theatre and its first Little Red Riding Hood puppet show!
What comes natural to adults takes some practice for babies. To start with, the newborn’s vision is very limited. Their world is a carousel of blurry images, and they see best at the distance of 8-12 inches. Soon their vision improves, but at that point they concentrate best at the high-contrast objects. Black and white images frequently attract their attention, so it is never early to start some simple shadow play.
As babies grow into toddlers, they notice more and more. Anything unusual and visually striking immediately captures their attention, and it is a good time to start having shadow performances for toddlers like playing with light.
Older children can be interested in staging their favourite stories, and a simple home shadow theatre is a great tool for encouraging literacy. The visual games and exercises help children to become more observant, focused, and aware of their surroundings. In the long run they also prepare children for reading, writing, drawing, etc.
Shadow play is an activity with a powerful visual component that can engage the whole family. It is an ancient form of storytelling in which puppets are held between a source of light and a translucent screen. As a result, crisp shadows are cast on the screen, and a puppeteer can make them talk, dance and act. This ancient entertainment has been popular across a variety of cultures, like in India, China, or France. It has only recently come to our house. Sometimes in the evening we take our shadow theatre out, and as twilight turns into night the enchanting and mysterious play begins. The frilly silhouettes of fairy-tale creatures moving against the bright screen creates a stunning visual effect in the dark room.
Theatre has been a fascination of mine for a long time. The transformation that actors undergo on stage seemed like the highest form of pretend play that I enjoyed very much as a child. At some point I went to the theatre studio, and even though I quickly realized that I would not become an actress, and being on stage required so much work that I forgot to play, I kept my love for the theatre world. When my husband and I dreamt about what we were going to do with our children, I would always add, “And we will have a home theatre!” There are so many ways for children to explore their creativity, staging a play. They can make costumes or sew puppets, paint decorations or design posters, write scripts or recite on stage.
As a ticket to this exciting world, we have recently finished a small theatre for Budster. We based ours on the French theatres of the 19th century, but the simple shadow theatre can be made of a relatively flat box. That’s how I was planning to make mine at first. A TV set, baby gate, or inflatable swimming pool can come in conveniently flat boxes – why, if you want a very small theatre just use a cereal box. Cut a rectangular opening in two large sides of the box, then stretch translucent paper across one of the openings. This is where the shadows are going to be cast. Place a directed light source behind the box. We have got this little lamp. Now you can start having fun!
Games to Play with Your Theatre
For the beginning, it is good to fool around and see what fantastic creatures you can make with your hands. Even babies will be fascinated with this process as you will create high-contrast images on the screen. Once you feel confident, you can have a family guessing game. Budster is very good at guessing “bow-wow”. Even if it is a wolf.
If you want to have a more scientific approach to the art of hand shadows, get a book of them and try making them with your child. Here is Dada’s bunny from the book. Looks good! When I was a child, my bunny was two outstretched fingers for long ears, but I had plenty of fun, letting him hop on the wall, while trying to fall asleep at night.
Bring your child’s toys and let him set up a scene behind the screen. Budster’s plastic animals sure change as actors of a shadow theatre!
When you are ready for a longer project, you can stage your children’s favourite stories. Depending on their age, they can help cut the puppets and glue the sticks, or simply be your amazed and grateful audience. Budster is the later, even though at times his feelings overwhelm him, and he rushes behind the theatre to participate in the act.
For our first performance, we chose the story about Little Red Riding Hood. “There was once a girl who lived in a village near the forest. Her Grandma made her a red riding hood, and wherever the girl went, she wore it…”
As I said, there are many jobs in a theatre. I have picked the one of a costume maker and a decorator, and spent several days coming up with character designs and cutting them out. It was a very interesting project for me. I looked at the fashion plates for the costumes of Grandma and Little Red Riding Hood and studied the gingerbread trim for their house. Walking outside with Budster, I found myself looking for such houses in our neighbourhood, as we live in a place with a lot of fairly old houses.
Finally, everything was ready. The play poster was up, and the audience took their place on the couch. It was time for the story to begin.
Little Red Riding Hood was walking in the forest and looking for flowers when she met a wolf.
“Where are you going, little girl?”
When Little Red Riding Hood came to her Grandma’s house, Wolf was waiting for her inside.
As Wolf was strolling outside after eating Little Red Riding Hood and Grandma, a hunter met him.
Grandma and Little Red Riding Hood are safely back at the house.
Budster was very excited to see his first play. He squealed when he saw Little Red Riding Hood, walking across the forest. After that, he was very interested in the mechanics of the shadow theatre and kept running behind it to see the sticks and how I held them. The wolf has won his heart, and he seemed very fond of the Grandma puppet.
If you would like to put on Little Red Riding Hood story, you can download the designs of puppets and cut them with scissors and paper knife. Bamboo skewers work well for sticks. You can also buy the cut sets of puppets from our store.
We are looking forward to making more shadow plays in the future, and if you want to stay updated on other stories from Adventure in a Box, consider subscribing to our Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram pages. Thank you for reading!