Shadow Theatre / Puppet Theatre

January 2017.  I have put this project on hold for the time being, the cost of making is prohibitive.  At some point I may look at screen printing a cardboard theatre.

November 30th.  I have abandoned the revisions and instead used the waste plywood spaces in the cutting layout to cut balance toys. I can fit three of these into the layout of one theatre.  Stuart at Cut & Burn in Exmouth has cut one theatre and three toys, but this is still much too expensive to be commercially viable. The time has come to concentrate on figures and sets.

October 26th I spent much of the last two days revising the plywood theatre, mainly making the cutting less wasteful.  In order to achieve this I made the scenery supports demountable. I also put a different toy – the balance toy – in the otherwise scrap areas. I have made some further revisions to the proscenium arch and disposed of the ‘stage’, at least for the next few cuts.

13.10.2016 I am trying to make this design less wasteful of ply – possibly by incorporating a different toy in the design.

Pollocks Toy Theatre

Aim: To make a children’s theatre, initially a shadow theatre, which is robust – traditional cardboard ones often aren’t – easily replicated and fun.  Laser cutting offers a cheap and fast way to achieve these aims, using thin plywood.  This method also offers the possibility of complex decoration, if required and customisation at low cost.

There are many examples of shadow and toy theatres, as well as shadow theatre on a large scale, with plays often considering quite serious themes.  The wealth of Indonesian puppetry and traditional Chinese forms are just the best known.

Chinese puppets
Chinese puppets

Making coloured puppets has been a traditional skill in some countries for a long time, thin, beaten and dyed leather has often been used.  I hope to print onto thin film then laser cut images, using multiple layers to achieve a degree of robustness and colour variations.  Some assembly by hand would then be required, especially if limb or similar movement is desired, as it will be.

The theatre itself will be demountable, 3mm plywood, with the ability to have scenery quickly moved in and out, easy side, top and rear access, a stage with some access from below. I am still in the process of drawing the theatre in Adobe Illustrator ready to be laser cut.

Monday January 18th. I laser cut the front and the two sides of the theatre, with help from Sarah Barnes in Bower Ashton Fabrication.  The cut was straightforward and the three pieces fit together well.  The engraving on the theatre front is still a little light.

Next step is to cut the stage and a scenery holder for the shadow screen.  I will also cut four more scenery holders so that the the theatre becomes more than just for shadow.  I still need to design a set of shadow puppets and laser cut these.

A figure from the DaSilva Puppet Company's production of Kipling's The Cat That Walked By Himself
A figure from the DaSilva Puppet Company’s production of Kipling’s The Cat That Walked By Himself

Spathario Museum of Shadow Theatre

History of Chinese Shadow Play

Medea at the Almeida

Proscenium arch decoration
Proscenium arch decoration
Shadow Theatre front
Shadow Theatre front
showing the wings and scenery slots
showing the wings and scenery slots

The next step is to draw puppets.  The first set will be for a traditional children’s story, to be laser cut out of card.

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