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Children's Stages and Theaters

Updated on April 1, 2014

Building Theaters at Home

Whether it's a tiny table-top sized puppet theater or a full kid-sized mock-up, it's easier than you think to bring home the fun of a full-fledged "theater."

A real theater is not necessary, but part of the fun of putting on a show can be all the fuss and fanciness of a real theater - the curtains, the lights, the costumes, the sound effects. Sure, some real New York actor started an actual theater in his as-is living room (so can you), but a little embellishment adds to the sense of dramatic occasion!

Makes a great family project too.

This Lens will talk about creating (or buying, that works) and using theaters in your home with your children.

(The photo is from Benjamin Pollok's Toy Shop.)

Romeo and Juliet and Balcony
Romeo and Juliet and Balcony

A Full Kid-Size Theater

Easier than you think!

LEVELS - Often there is a feature in your house that just screams "Show Biz!" Maybe a step or two - a change in level - between, say, the entry and the living room. Set dining room chairs in a row facing this and the higher lever is now "on-stage." If your stairs are nearby that's a bonus - now there are multi-levels for more dramatic blocking and Juliet can stand up a couple steps for her balcony (a tall stool twined with roses works well too).

DOORWAYS & CURTAINS - If there's a wide doorway or opening between two spaces, add a curtain and that opening - Voila! - becomes a proscenium stage. This could be done as simply as by installing strong hooks at the upper corners of the opening, then tying a nylon cord clothes-line-style between them. A couple bedsheets (with the cord pulled through the biggest hem) become a pair of Grand Drapes. If you sew, then hemming lengths of a light-weight velour (red!) would make even more satisfying theater curtains. If feeling lavish, you could add fringe at the bottom. A more permanent version of this idea would be to install a drapery rod and velvet drapes. If your house is old enough or your décor traditional, these may be decorative: portieres were once very popular, partly because they look nice, partly because they stop drafts. (In "Gone With the Wind," Scarlet wears her mother's green velvet portieres as a dress.)

BED CURTAINS - This idea works well at a child's bed, where a footboard and draperies make an easy puppet theater. (I knew one much-loved puppet theater that was the foot of a lower bunk plus gingham curtains - perfect.) In the book "Little Women," Jo and her sisters performed their plays using the curtains of an old four-poster bed.

Curtains are always popular with junior thespians. If you have drapes covering a big patio door, have the actors do their acting on the patio, while the audience sits inside looking out. Or vice versa depending on whether the play is set in an interior or exterior. Do both! Make the audience move as real theaters do when performing "House and Garden."

SCREENS - A pair of folding screens could make sides for a theater (mini-wings). You could paint these with theatrical motifs like Comedy and Tragedy masks. Would the kid version could be Smiley and Frowny Faces?

Do a little research on grand historic theaters to get ideas. (Researching with the kids might be a good lesson in history, architecture, and in library/research skills too. Then you get the messy fun of painting!) If very ambitious and with older children or teens, you could together design and build these "wing" screens. It would be easy with thin plywood and a scroll saw to give the wing-screens either the architectural profile of an old theater - then paint on the architecture - or to cut tree shapes for a more pastoral look.

Most ambitiously, perhaps for Scouts of a church youth group, you could create a whole demountable mini proscenium built from traditional theater flats of fabric stretched on 1x4 wood frames and painted.

"All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."

-Pablo Picasso

Instant Theater Lights! - Put Your Kid in the Spotlight (Literally)

And what's a stage without lights?

These clip on lights can be attached where needed (maybe on the back of a dining chair?) to provide stage lighting for your at-home performance. If you plug them into an extension cord with a dimmer, then a stagehand (baby Sis) or audience member (Dad) can control the light intensity and when to go dark.

Set the Mood

It seems like you could have a lot of home-theatrical fun with this light! Besides lighting a few Christmas trees. The color rotates. If it's possible to stop that rotation (I can't tell) then you could have extra fun by using it to set a scenic mood. If Picasso can have a "Blue Period" why can't the second act?

SET UP FOR THE FUTURE - Speaking as the mother of a kid who collected colored light bulbs so he could transform the living room with lighting just for fun... Light is an art just as important to the theater as acting, just as serious an art as sculpture. Encourage your kid to explore the technical aspects of theater: sets, lights, props, costumes, and the managerial jobs like stage manager or producer. Many many children have no interest in performing, but have real talents for design or production.

Remember that, though few kids actually go on to a life in theater, the skills they learn there can help in later life. After all, if as a kid you successfully planned and executed a big musical with your friends one summer in the garage, as an adult planning a wedding or a corporate takeover will be child's play!

(The light bulb collector? Turns out it was more the science than the art that attracted him. Theater future? Nah. Rocket science. But still playing with colored light for fun.)

More Theater Lighting Toys

Okay, not really toys. Like with another "real" electrical appliance, the kids are going to need wise adult supervision with using lighting. Consider your child's age and maturity.

But so much fun!

AmerTac 6089B Westek 500W Full Range Foot Control Dimmer
AmerTac 6089B Westek 500W Full Range Foot Control Dimmer

Dimming... with a foot. Good for busy puppeteers perhaps?

 
EagleLight Color Changing LED Light Bulb and Remote
EagleLight Color Changing LED Light Bulb and Remote

Use this in some lamp borrowed from the attic - then control color remotely!

This is a wonderful - and wonderfully simple - way to have color fun with your production.

 

LED Lighting

LED is becoming the way to go for changeable (and cool and energy efficient) lighting.

Think how much fun you and your kids could have with this! Pop the LED bulb into an adjustable fixture like a desk lamp - one you can aim and direct - and voila! instant colored light cue controlled by the handy remote.

I've seen similar lighting installed behind a cut-out "proscenium" for a home (TV/film) theater. Color gets chosen to compliment the film... just as you can pick one to enliven your live theater. (And after watching a Tech last night, I'm freshly reminded of just how powerful lighting's effect can be!)

Wonderful Cardboard! (from photos-public-domain.com)
Wonderful Cardboard! (from photos-public-domain.com)

Impromptu Theater!

After all this planning for a theater at home, don't forget how much fun - how creative - a spur-of-the-moment activity can be.

If your family gets a nice new appliance, throw away the new refrigerator or dishwasher and play with the box1 Cut out holes in it for a puppet theater and use socks straight out of the drawer with eyes etc. quickly pinned or sewn on. Or turn that box into the gingerbread house for a retelling of Hanzel and Gretel. I bet you could draw or paint on all the "candy" needed for that... or paint pop bottle caps and glue those on as "candies" or... Your imaginations are the only limits!

Midsummer's Night's Dream
Midsummer's Night's Dream

Books on Theater for Kids

Here's some material to use on-stage. Theater is all about story telling!

This is a great time to encourage your kid to make up stories, to take old stories like fairy tales and retell them as little stage dramas, to go looking (and reading) for new stories to tell.

Shakespeare's Globe Theater
Shakespeare's Globe Theater

Theater Buildings

A cultural history lesson (disguised as fun)

Researching theater buildings could be both fun and, well, educational. It will help in designing and decorating your at-home theater. Look at books and the internet for historic theaters like Shakespeare's Globe Theater.

The Globe is particularly worth discussing. There's the Shakespeare connection, of course. Even quite young children enjoy the story of "A Midsummer's Night's Dream" with it's feuding fairies, it's silly mortals running around, and the goofy guy with the donkey ears. Easy to slip in a history lesson here, filled with fascinating characters like Queen Elizabeth I and events like the discovery of America. (Try acting out the wreck of the Spanish Armada at bath time. Sink some duckies!)

The Globe Theater is also interesting as a building, with its construction of timbers infilled with brick and mud and its straw roof. A cannon shot during Shakespeare's "Henry VIII" set fire to the thatch roof - another fun fact! (Perfect opportunity for Mom to perform the ever popular no-playing-with-matches speech.) This historic theater has been recently rebuilt - an interesting example of archeology and a potential field trip.

Visiting a local theater, especially if you're lucky enough to have a good children's theater and/or a historic theater in your area, would make a great (slightly less expensive) field trip. When you go, have a contest to see who can spot the most how-theater-works items off of the stage: notice the lobby; the box office and ticket collector; the program and what's in it; the way seats, aisles, and balconies are designed; the many fire exits (fire has always been a problem in theaters even without cannons); the way the curtains, if any, work; the sets and lighting; the costumes. And the performances and story.

Or research the great opera houses of Paris and Milan. (More great field trips!) Talk about the Paris Opera House and the story of the Phantom. Play music from the musical. (There really IS a subterranean lake under the Opera. Really, truly.)

Beneath the Opéra Garnier, the old opera house, is a space that many Parisians dismiss as a rumor. As the foundation was laid in the 1860s, engineers struggling to drain water from the sodden earth ended up simply impounding it in a reservoir 60 yards long and 12 feet deep. This underground pond, which figures in The Phantom of the Opera, is home to several plump fish: Opera employees feed them frozen mussels.

Toy and Model Theaters - Reproduced from historic originals

Benjamin Pollok's Toy Shop
Benjamin Pollok's Toy Shop

Toy theaters, model theaters, pop-up theaters, matchbox theaters, books on theaters, toys and dolls --- Benjamin Pollok's Toy Shop is a treasure trove!

How to Build a Toy Theater - Part I

This is a fun and detailed look at how to build a cardboard box based toy theater. (And you can go on to watch parts II and III)

Or Build a Puppet Theater

Here's a helpful video from Lowes (with free online plans too!).

Store-Boughten Puppet Theaters

Guidecraft Center Stage Puppet Theater
Guidecraft Center Stage Puppet Theater

A theater big enough for ambitious puppet (and kid's head) productions.

 
Guidecraft Center Stage Table Top Puppet Theater
Guidecraft Center Stage Table Top Puppet Theater

Or a theater small enough to fit anywhere.

 
4M Wooden Spoon Puppet Theatre Kit
4M Wooden Spoon Puppet Theatre Kit

Love the idea of wooden spoon puppets. And wooden spoons are so cheap and available, that your puppet theater troupe could expand for years!

 

DIY Puppets and Theater

What better project? Followed by years of fun (and sneaky literature studies too).

Handpuppet, from a public domain book, 101 Handpuppets
Handpuppet, from a public domain book, 101 Handpuppets

LOVE the hair! This would be so much fun to imitate with your own home-made puppet.

Ready-Made Puppets

Some of these store-boughten puppets are charming. And so much fun to play with.

Watch your kid at play - half of what Barbie or Barney are doing right now are really little puppet shows.

6 Plush Velour Animal Hand Puppets
6 Plush Velour Animal Hand Puppets

Lots o' hand puppets to start off with.

 
Aurora Plush 10" Alligator hand puppet
Aurora Plush 10" Alligator hand puppet

You just know this 'gator is gonna chew the scenery.

 
Prop Box
Prop Box

Assemble a Prop Box

You can't play theater without props and costumes!

First find a big box - or maybe two marked "Props" and "Costumes" in florid lettering.

Now fill the "Costume" box with Mom's old shoes and party dresses for princess-wear and Dad's ties or lumberjack flannel shirts. Add hats, red hoods and hero capes, shopkeepers' aprons, fishermen's hats, striped witchy socks, and anything else interesting that you can scrounge (scrounging is half the fun).

Then fill the "Prop" box with plastic swords and goblets and crowns, astronaut helmets (is that costume?), wood-choppers' rubber axes and light sabers, baby bottles, toy animals, three bear-sizes of bowls with plastic porridge and other fake food including a poisoned plastic apple... plus all the other intriguing clutter that kids need to swash and buckle with.

Creating these theatrical trunks could be a lot of fun - and using them even more so!

(Remember in the book Little Women the contents of those sisters' theater trunk? Most treasured was a pair of tall leather boots for the heroes to wear. For my kid, it was a pair of my boots from college - tall red leather with miles of laces - that became beloved pirate wear.)

Puppets of Palermo
Puppets of Palermo

Historic (and violent!) Puppetry

(You might want to look this over before your kids do.)

This puppetry troupe from Palermo, or one very like it, visited Dallas years ago. My kid and I saw a performance. This is AUTHENTIC Medieval-style puppetry - which means Monty Pythonesque whacking with wooden swords and carved wooden limbs getting hacked off. My kid loved it! But I definitely saw some moms covering their younger children's eyes.

The following website has a video clip (full of funny puppet beheadings etc.), interesting photos of puppets and workshops, and a link to Palermo's marionette museum.

Knights, Princesses and Brutality at the Puppet Show

Ancient puppetry from Palermo.

(I may have to produce and design that one myself!)

What More Would You Like To See? - Besides that production of "Zombie Hamlet"?

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    • profile image

      sandralynnsparks 6 years ago

      I have often (when my eyes are way much bigger than my time!) wanted to make stages like this to use for fund raisers. This is a terrific lens!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 6 years ago

      @sandralynnsparks: Thanks! There will be a lot more coming (once I finish the sketches) that will, I hope, show that it's easier than you'd think to actually do it.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      We used puppet stages with our storytimes in the library. The kids loved it.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 6 years ago

      @Virginia Allain: Puppets do go over well! Thanks for visiting.

    • profile image

      chrispell017 6 years ago

      nice lens!

    • verymary profile image

      Mary 6 years ago from Chicago area

      Quality and care went into this lens -- well done! We have been to Benjamin Pollock's on a visit to London; what an enchanting shop. I want to go back!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 6 years ago

      @verymary: I'm so jealous you went there! Thanks for visiting.

    • JJNW profile image

      JJNW 5 years ago from USA

      Lol - I love your selection and ideas. My kids made a stage out of ANYTHING that was raised - including standing on a pillow! ***Blessed by a SquidAngel*** for spreading positive stuff for kids!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @JJNW: Thanks! I love the pillow idea. My kid sister turned a highchair (backwards) into Juliet's balcony.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 5 years ago

      @anonymous: These sets look pretty good - though as a designer, I vote for letting a student design (with help) if you have one that's interested.

    • LoriBeninger profile image

      LoriBeninger 4 years ago

      This is a fantastic lens! I have grandiose - and a spiral staircase and large doorways and bedsheets and...oh, the possibilities! Great job.

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 4 years ago

      @LoriBeninger: Sounds like you can have some real fun! Thanks for visiting.

    • Flowerchild1946 profile image

      Carol Brooks 4 years ago from Florida

      I enjoyed reading this lens tremendously. So much to look at and lots of fun!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 4 years ago

      @Flowerchild1946: Thank you! So glad you could visit.

    • TalkingFreebies profile image

      Reshel 3 years ago from Sierra Nevada ~ Reno

      Absoutely wonderful lens! Will be a great help to me in the near future!

    • cdevries profile image
      Author

      cdevries 3 years ago

      @TalkingFreebies: So glad you found it helpful! Thanks for visiting.

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