It begins imperceptibly. It’s dark–not just twilight–by 8:30. The sun is completely below the horizon for our after-dinner walk, rather than still floating along on the tops of our neighbors’ roofs. But before long, we won’t be outside after dinner at all. The cold, dark part of the year is slowly creeping towards us, and our outdoor evening adventures must very soon be replaced with indoor fun.
About this time last year, my toddler discovered the fun of waving at his shadow. I gleefully added “have a shadow puppet show” to my fall bucket list, and began dreaming of intricate marionettes and a hand-sewn theater.
Of course, I’m the mother of a toddler, so that was a little unrealistic! In fact, in the face of my high standards, we never had a puppet show at all.
This year, a little wiser about the number of hours in a day, I decided to limit myself to a shadow puppet show that I could put together in less than one afternoon nap. While the internet is full of ways you could make this more complicated and sophisticated, this is the quick-and-dirty road to shadow puppet show fun!
A few cereal or other cardboard or paperboard boxes
Some chopsticks or popsicle sticks
Silhouettes of the animals, people, or other characters you want for your show (See below for potential sources.)
A light colored sheet
A lamp (A desk lamp with a swiveling head works well, but use what you have.)
A few chairs, a doorway, or some other place to make your “theater”
Clothespins or pushpins to hang up the sheet
Begin by deciding what story you would like to tell. I settled on “The Three Little Pigs”, because I thought my little boy would enjoy the repetition of the wolf’s colloquy with the piglets.
“Little pig, little pig, let me in!”
“Not by the hair of my chiny-chin-chin!”
If you have an older child, you could pick something longer. For Halloween, perhaps something a teeny bit spooky. For my little guy, though, the short, classic fairy tale was just right.
Next, if you’re an artist, go right ahead and draw your own shape outlines for your characters. Since I am not, I searched for “free animal silhouettes”. My pigs and wolf came from here, and I freehanded the house myself.
This is a good time to think about the scale of the puppets in relation to each other. For example, I enlarged the wolf a little to make him bigger than the piglets, and I shrunk the piglets to make them fit inside the house.
Trace or print the silhouettes, then trace them again onto your cereal box material.
Cut out the cereal box shapes. Tape a chopstick or popsicle stick to the back of each shape. Your puppets are now ready to go!
For our theater, we stretched a sheet over two chairs in our living room. We attached the sheet to the chairs using clothespins, and stretched it all tight by using the weight of the chairs themselves. You could certainly pin the sheet up in a doorway, or drape it over a table. Again, use what you’ve got. Put your lamp a few feet behind the sheet, being careful that it’s not touching—a fire would most certainly ruin the show!
Now pick the best story teller in your family to be puppeteer. I tried initially, but I couldn’t get out the lines quickly enough to keep our son’s attention. My husband took over, and our kiddo thought he was a hoot! The main thing is, don’t be too serious about it. Do the dramatic voices. Exaggerate the animal noises. Have the wolf make silly jokes that aren’t in the “script”.
By the end of the shadow puppet show at our house, our son had climbed behind the curtain to see what was going on, and our dog was walking in front of the sheet, sniffing suspiciously at the shadows. My husband was trying to save the pig puppets from destruction, and I was the lone audience member, laughing at the chaos. Good indoor fun, indeed!
Meryl Carver writes about chickens, babies, knitting, gardening, food, photography, and whatever else tickles her fancy on any given day at My Bit of Earth.