The Shadow Shows

the shadow showsTeachers, parents, and librarians, lend me your ears! Today, I present Shadow Puppets Theater by Creativity for Kids, the one stop shop for hours of imaginative narration and story building. Get thee hence and acquire one!

shadow puppets theater by creativity for kidsThe kit retails for around $20, and is intended for ages “6 to 96.” It contains a theater, a detachable chalkboard marquee, 1 piece of yellow chalk, stickers, rhinestones, 10 felt animal puppets, 2 felt people puppets with accessories, 15 metal brads for the jointed puppets, 12 puppet holders, 8 puppet sticks, and 2 LED lights (batteries included!).

shadow puppet theater kit contentsOne of the frustrating things about toy puppet theaters is how flimsy the stage is, and how the slightest nudge will send it tumbling. Not this one! It’s made out of very sturdy cardboard. A few basic folds, and the stage is ready to go, anchored in place with some very helpful velcro fasteners.

back of shadow puppet theaterThere’s also a detachable chalkboard marquee for the top, which is super cute. Also, unlike some of the cheaper cardboard chalkboards, the chalk wipes off cleanly and easily with a dry paper towel.

shadow puppet theater marqueeAlso included are some terrific stickers and clear rhinestones (yes!) to decorate the front of the theater. They are easily removable, so you can change your theater’s look. The stage’s screen is thick, high quality, and securely mounted (because there’s nothing sadder then your screen buckling, tearing or falling off during a performance).

But best of all is the lighting. The sturdy LED lights have flexible necks and are attached to clips. So you can attach them to the top of the theater OR…and I really, really, loved this. They can balance on their clips and act as footlights. Genius.

Their illumination power is fantastic. No matter what configuration we put the lights in, we got great shadows and and a well-lit screen.

illuminated shadow puppet theater screenThe puppets? They totally rock. Look at them! The mouse! The owl! The happy pig!

animal shadow puppets

The kit comes with foam blocks that self-adhere to the back of each puppet. Simply stick the block to the back of the puppet, inset the puppet stick in the pre-drilled hole, and you’re ready to go!

shadow mouse puppet

There were also 2 jointed puppets, which consisted of a main body piece and some interesting accessories to attach (hair, hats, skirts, pants, etc.). Note to grown-ups: the metal brads used to hinge the puppets joints are tiny. Younger kids are definitely going to need help with them.

jointed shadow puppetsI only have one quibble with this puppet theater kit. There are 12 puppets in the kit, but only 8 sticks! The instructions say to swap out the sticks during the show, but that somewhat breaks the flow. I made a couple extra out of a balloon stick. But this is the only problem I have with the awesome puppet kit.

How did our kid testers (ages 6 and 9) like the theater? They LOVED it! They loved how the screen lit up, all the different choices of puppets, and how they could move the lighting around for different effects. The stage stood up to an HOUR LONG continuous narrative with no breaks. Yes, that was 60 minutes of total concentration that only stopped because it was time to leave the office.

For $20, the Creativity for Kids Shadow Puppets Theater is a fabulous gift, activity, or program resource that will be throughly enjoyed. It’s packed with fun things, the puppets are great, it’s definitely tough enough to be use by scores of enthusiastic amatuer puppeteers. Bonus! The LED lights also work as clip-on mini lamps for late night reading. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Five out of five stars!

From Arwen to Zombie

from arwen to zombieGet into character with a little bit of stage magic! This winter, we hosted a fantastic hands-on (or arguably, a face-on) workshop about how actors use makeup to transform themselves into a character. The workshop was expertly and enthusiastically taught by Jenny Scudder from Youth Stages, a local arts-in-education organization.

Jenny began the workshop by sharing visual examples of literary characters – Queen of Hearts, Arwen, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Wicked Witch of the West, Dracula, Frankenstein, Count Olaf, and a few Cats from the musical of the same name (you might recall that Cats is based on poems by T.S. Eliot). There were also zombies, which might have been a stretch unless you consider Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? The Walking Dead graphic novel?

Here’s Jenny, taking the kids through examples of all the characters:

jenny scudder, youth stages 1Next, Jenny discussed how, in addition to makeup, actors can also use their voices, gestures, costumes, props, and sets to bring their characters to life. She described what stage makeup is (big, bold, and expressive) and what it isn’t (it’s not meant for close-up photography like a fashion shoot). As she was lecturing, Jenny was effortlessly applying her own stage makeup, which was Grizabella from Cats.

jenny scudder, youth stages 2Jenny also talked about the names of the different brushes, and techniques for application. Finally, she brought out some latex scars and gashes she had prepared in advance. My forearm became the test subject for a massive latex scar, some red base makeup, a loaded stipple brush, and some fake blood. Here I am, modeling the finished product in my usual subtle way.

scar demoFinally, it was time to turn the artists loose on the makeup! There was plenty of it. Jars, palettes, sponges, pencils, brushes…the works!

makeupJenny divided the kids into pairs so each pair would have someone to assist with the application of his/her makeup. I really liked this because it meant that the kids weren’t sitting passively, having their faces done by adults. They were actively involved in the whole process.

applying makeup

However, Jenny, Katie, and I did jump in to help. For awhile, I was running the “soon to be bloody flaps of skin” corner of the room.

Ready to see some results? Even though there was quite a bit of smiling and laughing, I did encourage the kids to try to stay “in character” while I was photographing them. I’ll begin with Arwen, who you saw at the beginning of the post:

We had no less than 3 Queens of Hearts…

As well as 3 Cheshire Cats.

A pair of Vampires…

Rum Tum Tugga from Cats

The Wicked Witch of the West…

And a quartet of zombies. I told them to give me their best undead look…

Do you recognize the zombie on the far left from the beginning of the blog? The funny thing was, we never planned to photograph her with her hood up. As it turned out, she had to walk home from the program in full makeup. In order to not freak anyone out, she pulled her hood up. It looked so fantastic, I had to take a photograph!