Friday, 25 March 2011

Little Light Theatre

In three weeks time I will be leading several shadow-puppet making sessions at the Geffrye Museum. In preparation for these family workshops I have been trying out a few ideas with my children.

At the museum we'll be using the shadow-puppets to retell the story of the Ca Mau shipwreck; at home I simply laid out some materials and then showed Buddy and Daisy a couple of puppets I'd made earlier. Happily that was all they needed - they came up with some great ideas for characters and the stories began to bubble up as we made them.

At the museum there might be about 50 people attending each session so everything will be on a large scale; we'll use an OHP projector and have a huge screen on which to act out the story. The puppeteers will be in view; this is a neat way of simultaneously watching the process of shadow puppetry and enjoying the performance. And we'll have some percussion instruments on hand for sound effects.

At home we simply transformed our little entrance hall into the theatre; using a floor lamp for illumination, and a small table covered with a large sheet of baking parchment* as a screen.

*Thank you to Bristol Parenting Cafe for this tip.

To make shadow puppets like ours, you will need:

thin card - any colour; remember it's the shadow of the puppet that shows in the end

thin sticks - about 20cm long (takeaway coffee stirrers are great) to attach horizontally or vertically to the puppets

Use bendy drinking straws for young children - attach the straw's short section to the puppet then bend it so it sticks out directly behind the puppet

sticky tape - to attach the sticks or straws



hole-punch - to make eyes or other cut-out detail

First, my 4 year old made an owl and I was told to make a bird. And then together we made a tree from the off-cuts.

My 6 year old was tempted to join in when he saw our brilliant puppets. He made a monster and I helped him make a man. Buddy then made a cave - all by himself.

Our puppets were about 15 cm in height.

To make a theatre like ours, you will need:

1 x small sturdy occasional table or chair - anything with stretchers to attach the screen

1 x 40 cm length of baking parchment - depending on the height of your table or chair of course

Sticky tack and masking tape - to attach the parchment without damaging your furniture

1 x small lamp

Buddy and Daisy came up with two very different stories and wanted to rehearse their shows before performing them to each other. Of course it's great to just make up the story as you go along (which is actually what happened in our rehearsals).

The Monster and the Man

There was a man who was bored.
He sailed to a far away land to find a monster he'd heard about.
The monster lived in a cave.
The monster roared, came out of his cave and they fought.
The man used his sword to defeat the monster.
Then he returned home, pleased to get back safely.
And he was never bored again.

The Owl and the Bird

There was once a poor owl who couldn't fly.
He lived in a tree and could only just sit there.
A big bird, his friend, would fly overhead again and again.
She felt sorry for the owl and the owl felt sad.
Then one day the bird had an idea.
She told the owl to climb up on her back and she gave the owl a piggy-back.
And at last the owl was flying; swooping through the sky with his best friend, the bird.

Making our Little Light Theatre at home was a hugely enjoyable experience; the atmosphere created by the darkened room, the gently glowing screen and the animated shadow-puppets was magical. The sessions at the Geffrye Museum will be fantastic.


  1. Yay, looks great. Love those puppets and great idea to use a table like that. Look forward to making my own puppets when mine are older as you's are fab!

  2. This looks fantastic! Such a lovely idea; hope the sessions at the museum go well :)

    Lucy x

  3. Thanks so much for your comments :)
    I'm really pleased with our little theatre. Every time we share a story in a book now, we're thinking how to retell it with shadow puppets!

  4. such a simple and beautiful idea. love it! it would be great to record a story for them to watch later too!

  5. Ooo yes - great idea to record it *iphone at the ready*! x

  6. wanted to let you know i linked this post to my 'Something pretty, Something smart" post this week. it should be up friday at 9am if you want to see.
    and now i seem to be totally obsessed with shadow puppet theatres. there may be one in our near future!
    thanks for the inspirtation!

  7. This is fabulous! I used to do shadow theatre with my class when I was teaching. Love this! It's a little like the shadow play I shared this week!


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please leave your comment here.