Theatre for Children!

“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being” said Oscar Wilde. I believe that to be absolutely true! But adults are not the only ones to be fascinated by the theatre; children can be as riveted as their parents as the power of a good story acted out on stage brings forth the child in all of us!

The Bruce Museum is hosting yet another interesting exhibit entitled “A Child’s View: 19th-Century Paper Theaters” from October 30th till January 30th, 2011. The presentation will focus on the paper theatres of the 19th century which emerged as children’s toys. These paper edifices mirrored the grandeur of the great stages of London, Paris and Vienna and they prospered in the living rooms of families for generations offering interesting opportunities for children to act and create! This collection comes from a private collector and includes over a century of paper theatres from England, Germany, Denmark, France and other European capitals and will showcase about 35 antique paper theatres!

More than a century before there were video games, there were toy theaters: small stages made from paper where children and adults could act out plays of their own invention, or dramas based on existing plays that were published especially for these household performances. These miniature, model theaters came complete with stage curtains, sets, and actors which could be snipped from large sheets of paper, like cut-outs or paper dolls, and assembled to create the children’s own productions.

Toy theaters began as souvenirs of actual, full-sized plays, echoing the costumes and setting, and sometimes the real features of the theaters where the plays were originally performed. The children lucky enough to have one of these theaters could repeat the play, over and over again, like a sort of 19th century video game, adding levels of complexity and variation as they went. And when they grew bored with the pre-packaged play, they could make up their own. We know that Charles Dodgson, who would later take the pen name, Lewis Carroll, G.K. Chesterton, Robert Louis Stevenson and many other writers, acted out some of their earliest stories for their families and friends with toy theaters.

While toy theaters are hard to find outside of collections in museums these days, video games are everywhere: steering children away from such traditional forms of amusement. However, the concept of storytelling and the power of expression will live on…as the great Stella Adler once said “The theatre is a spiritual and social x-ray of its time.”

Victoria Baker of Greenwich is an opera singer. A winner of many prestigious competitions, she has performed and worked with distinguished artists across the world (notably at Lincoln Center). She teaches piano & voice privately in Greenwich. For questions that deserve answers, and may be in print, please call (203) 531-7499 or send email to [email protected]

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