Make a Shadow Puppet Theatre Book

Throughout my different ‘phases’ as an artist (of which there have been a fair few!) I have always made little theatres and ‘rooms-in-a-box’. Something about making a tiny world to tell stories in  makes me really happy. This small paper theatre isn’t too complicated in its construction, and it allows you to create changeable background layers so you can make as many different stories as you like. Its based on a theatre book design, and inspired by Victorian paper theatres or toy theatres.

To begin, fold a piece of card in half horizontally.

Draw half of your theatre front shape on to this. You are going to cut this window of card put to make a symmetrical shape, so remember to put it against the folded edge. I made mine with the curves of traditional theatre curtains.

Cut out the aperture (window) and open it up to reveal your theatre front!

Make sure you are using the rough side (the side where you can see your pen marks). Measure a piece of tracing paper or clear baking paper so it covers the window and leaves plenty around the edge. Glue this with a glue stick, and then add cellotape to hold it in place.

Now repeat these steps several more times, but cut your window as a plain rectangle instead of a curtain shape. Attach the tracing paper. These will be the backdrop layers you slide in to make your set 3D, and the back of your theatre and will create that lovely spooky effect.

To make the concertinas for the sides, take two pieces of card. Fold using the instructions below as a guide. When finished you should have two identical zig zags of card.

After all that boring folding you get to do the fun bit and decorate the front of your theatre as you please! I attached another piece to the top of my theatre to give it a better shape. I wrote ‘Shadow Theatre’ and covered mine with a simple pattern in white pen.

Use a glue stick to attach the zig zag sides to the front. You want the first fold of the zig zag to be against the edge of the front frame, like the image below.

Glue the back panel on. Your theatre will now be freestanding, ready for backdrops!

Create as many different backdrops as you like. You could cut shapes out of card, draw on to the tracing paper with pens or crayons, or stick coloured cellophane down with cellotape. Think about what will block the light and make a silhouette (card, paper, pen lines, sequines etc) and what will let the light through (cellophane, tissue paper, stamping holes with decorative hole punches for example). Depending on the opacity of your tracing paper the light may not shine brightly through all the layers, in which case only use one or two layers in each backdrop.

Note: scalpels are very sharp. They should only be used by adults and you should always use a cutting mat!

Using some of the left over card, cut several thin strips of card, 2 inches longer then the height of your theatre. These are the sticks for your puppets. You fold the tops over so you can hook them on your theatre top while you are using other puppets. If you are going to use your puppets a lot it might be best to use something stronger. Very thick card like mountboard or wooden dowels work well.

Now make your puppets using the left over card from the middle of the frames, and attach to the sticks. You can download a template for these puppets below.

Shine a torch behind your screen, turn down the lights. get your audience comfy and start telling stories with your theatre!

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If you do make a paper theatre and share it online please tag me on Facebook at @storiesinpaper or #storiesinpaper on Instagram so I can see your work! Thank you!

Please decide for yourself if your child is old enough for the activity and supervise them while creating. I just enjoy sharing creative ideas for people of all ages 🙂

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