Possible Classroom Concepts: Social Studies – Families (Pastimes), Careers
Language Arts – Story Telling, Retelling, Fairy Tales, Science – Recycling, Light
Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, Es Devlin
Art Careers – Illustration, Set (Stage) Designer, Art Media – Printmaking, Drawing
In an effort to get the family’s faces out of their electronic devices and be more present, many parents are initiating “Family Game Nights.” I even saw a family game night event organized at our local mall. A game night is usually comprised of playing board games like Monopoly, Scrabble, Pictionary, etc., but what of families from long ago? I recently discovered toy theaters. In the 1800s, children played with these miniature reproductions of famous theater plays.
Theater, ballet and opera were popular forms of entertainment in this time period, like our blockbuster movies are today. It follows that some Impressionist painters, who painted images of everyday life, created works of the ballet and opera. Examples by Degas and Cassatt can be seen below.
Edgar Degas, “Dancer with a Bouquet of Flowers” Mary Cassatt, “The Loge, 1882″
The emerging print trade hopped on the bandwagon and would also send several artists to the opening night of each show. One artist would draw the actors gesturing, another drew the sets, and yet another drew the stage itself. Still another person would write a short synopsis of the performance. All the different sketches and a script would be printed out on sheets of paper. Customers could buy the sheets plain for a penny or hand colored for two pence. Colored sheets were then glued onto cardboard and cut out. The pieces of the stage were then assembled onto a wooden base and the characters could then be slid in and out by the children. Youngsters would practice and then put on shows for the family on their version of “Family Fun Night”. To learn more about these toy gems, whose popularity lasted about 150 years, check out this post from Jane Austen’s World Blog, here or at Craftsmanship Quarterly here.
So, if you’re looking for a new method for retelling a story for a book report or a creative evaluation tool, building a toy theater might just do the trick. Students could build a stage from a cereal box as shown on Kidspot here. Students could also create stage-like tunnel books like those found here and here. Do you study fairy tales? If you do, you can find a printable toy theater version of the Pollock Company’s Cinderella here. Students could get the true experience of building a toy theater just like the children of the 1800s. For easier cutting and to eliminate the step of glueing the images on cardboard, print the sheets onto card stock. Make this a class project and divide the sheets among students to color and cut out. Assemble the theater and students can take turns retelling the story.
Earlier in the post I was talking about seeing toy theaters in different places recently. One of the places I saw one was on Netflix’s Abstract Series’ episode on contemporary set designer, Es Devlin. (If you have not seen this series, it is a must see. The shows are as creative as the people they highlight.) Devlin built a toy theater with her children in the show. Before this , I had not heard of Es. Since then, as so often happens lately, I’ve discovered Devlin everywhere. I found out she designed the sets for the opening ceremony of Great Britain’s Olympics and Katy Perry’s recent performance on the Grammys. She designs sets for plays, operas and even rock shows. Structures, light and projected images are important elements of her work. If you don’t have Netflix and want to know a little more about her look here or here. For a mind blowing example of Es’ work which can be shared with students look here. Devlin could be discussed in class for a career unit or when talking about story tellers of today.
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Thanks so much for reading. Hope you’ll stop by again real soon!