Puppets have been a fond memory to so many people over the generations, so why not continue that with a small scale puppet theater for your birthday party, scout project, small group, senior citizen craft, studen music video, etc?
Even if you have never done this type of craft before, trust us, this will be satisfying! If you can cut a straight line, you are good to go! If you have used clear tape, you are good to go! If you have used a ruler to measure 1 inch then you are good to go! If not, the photos will show you how along with the instructions. No worries about the difficultly level. It is art! Right? Our hope is to provide you with a simple craft that you can build upon each time you make one!
In this tutorial we picked out this *Cheerios box because of the size and it just happened to have a colorful design on the front of it! If you have or want to scale up in size, you can, but you may have to run a few errands to buy more and/or bigger supplies (e.g. butcher block paper, wax paper, etc.) No matter, let us get started! (Parental supervision required if children are present)
(NOTE: Links will direct you to Amazon.com :-)
Cereal type box
Hot glue gun or glue stick
Scissors or box cutter
Marker or pencil
1 piece of white, wax or parchment paper
Optional crafters cutting mat
Remove contents from cereal box! Securely tape down the top of the box as if it were never opened. If you think the box is going to be handled roughly, we suggest gluing the tabs closed first and then applying tape once the glue has dried. Just make sure the tabs are closed permanently.
Lay the empty cereal box on its side the long way, horizontal, then on the backside of the cereal box, find the center using a ruler. Mark a "dash" at the center of the box and then again at the bottom. Draw a line from the top to the bottom to create a line for you to cut along. Cut straight down the center and then along the top and bottom to create a left and right side door. See the red lines for cutting reference.
Tape down all seams, edges and little corners inside the box that any part of your puppets can get caught on. Make the inside as smooth as possible with tape. Maybe even go "fancy" and use shipping tape! Doing this also reinforces the stage structure as well.
Take a pencil or marker and your ruler and make dash lines about 1 inch inward (yellow arrows) from the edges of the box. You will cut along these dashes to make the "window" of the stage. See red lines in photo for cutting reference.
Now cut a straight line along the hash marks you just made to cut out a "window". This is where your 1 piece of white paper will be permanently attached later.
Here is Backstage, the puppeteer's side of the stage. This is where the magic, fun, drama, special effects, are performed so the audience can view it through the window (shadow screen). Those "doors" now become the Stage Wings! TA-DA!! They hide your props as well as add stability to your stage structure. The stage wings will aid in keeping some of the light source "in" that you will be using. It is okay if some light gets out as that is part of the charm and attraction of shadow puppetry. PLEASE NOTE! If you use a light source brighter that what your stage can handle, then there is a good chance someone in your audience is going to be distracted by the overflow of too much bright light. Semi-darkness creates a coziness and theatrical intimacy that other forms of puppetry lack. Notice in movie theaters there are always "small" lights on walls, rails, etc. So, a little light outside the box is A-OK!
To make the Shadow Screen, take a piece of plain white paper or wax paper and lay it down on the table. Take the box, front side down and lay it on top of the paper. Cut away all excess white paper you see as shown in the photo. We suggest trimming off a teeny bit more so that the paper sits nicely in the box. This way the edges of the paper will not rub against the wall of the box causing potential unforeseen wrinkles.
NOTE: The thinner the paper the dimmer your stage lighting can be. The thicker the paper the brighter your lighting will have to be to create the shadow effect.
NOTE: if you plan on painting the box, please do that process now. This step could prove to be a little tricky. The shadow screen needs to be installed as smooth as possible. The key is to glue the screen/paper as tight and taught as possible. Glue sticks are heaven sent when brand new, but old sticks that have been sitting around for a while can leave clumps behind causing wrinkles. If you are pretty good at "painting" on a thin layer of white glue, try that! Slow and smooth, in sections at a time.
Here in step 8 we are going to make one or more puppet characters using something most households have, a nice cookie cutter! You can make a puppet from just about anything traceable or from free-hand drawing, even your very own hand! Just remember to make sure it is small enough for your stage though! As for the material used to make the puppet with, poster board is what we found. Remember that rectangle shape you cut from the front of the box in Step 5? You can re-purpose that into a some puppets! It is nice and sturdy and can take a fall or two! Perfect! Also, the darker the poster board, the better it will appear on the screen. If using a lighter colored paper, say white, either color them a solid black or take some markers to give them color and see how they look on the screen!
To make the attachment needed to hold your puppet or prop, you can use a chenielle stem or a plastic straw. We had some flexi-straws handy so we used them. BBQ skewers are good as well as pencils, too! Just tape them to the middle of the puppet.
With our straw, we took scissors and cut approximately 1/2 inch on each side of the straw. We then put tape on each side and placed in onto the puppet.
If using a fuzzy craft stems, we suggest twisting 2 stems together. This makes them much more sturdier to hold thick paper and tape. Just bend the end of the stem into an "L" shape and tape the end like we did with the straw.
In the video above, did you notice that both puppets look black even though the flower is red? Our choice of paper was rather thick and the light source was not powerful enough to bring the red out. So, play around and see what pops!
Your tabletop puppet stage is now done! Throw on some music and get to know your creation. See what you can and can't do, what it can and can't do and get ready for Opening Night!
Oh by the way, your stage doubles as storage for your puppets and props! It is also small enough to store under the bed or up in a closet, too!
The comfort of the audience is something to be considered. To ensure your audiences comfort level, do not have them sitting in complete darkness, ever! Case in point, ever notice the "Exit" signs or subtle lighting in the movie theater once the movie starts? If you do, they "disappear" as you become involved with the movie, right? Same with shadow theater. Once your show starts your guests will not notice the slight external light source(s) unless it is directly in their sight line (Visual axis from stage to their seat)
On the flip-side of utter darkness, you do not want any of your audience to be blinded either. To avoid this, keep your lighting reasonable. You do not need every light in the house on. A little directed light source goes a long way. Perhaps a flashlight set atop some books may suffice or a flexible goose-neck table top lamp might do the trick. Experiment by moving the light source closer or farther form the shadow screen to see which gives the shadow the clearest, sharpest image. For this project we used a tabletop lamp pointed into the shadow theater even though the ceiling lights were on. If your house lights are on a dimmer switch, adjust the lighting so that they are not in complete darkness. As for drapes, afternoon parties should not be a problem. Just draw the drapes to where a little light comes through, but do not close them. A little external light from another place in the room gives the same sense of "balance" and "security" to everyone. Little one's tend to fear complete darkness, and adults may have balance issues when in complete darkness, etc. So, take comfort in having a little light in.
No matter how big or small your shadow stage is, the light source should be powerful for your puppets, yet not so bright that it is distracting to your audience.
So, from both sides of the shadow stage, play around and see what lighting set-up works for your purpose!
HAVE FUN WITH IT! Remember, anything can be a shadow prop or puppet! Your hands, dolls, bent fuzzy sticks (aka Chenille stems) you name it!
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