It’s funny how randomly some childhood passions are created. Whilst every small boy seems to go through phases where the world revolves around dinosaurs, superheroes, and Lego, other obsessions are decidedly more unique and less predictable. This one began with a bell.
We were sitting in the park this Summer, pondering whether the ducks would find our stale, greenish bread crusts anymore attractive than we did, when a lady walked past swinging a bell and calling for all the children in the park to follow her for the puppet show. Obedient as ever, we joined her Pied Piper-like chain and ended up in front of a vintage Punch and Judy stall, where we watched, gripped, as the show unfolded. It was little-boy heaven, involving as it did lots of audience participation and bad behaviour from the puppets, who variously whacked each other with sticks, threw Judy’s baby in the rubbish bin and got arrested by the local policeman. There was nothing politically-correct about it, causing delighted shock in the rapturous audience of under-1os.
Harry talked about the puppet theatre for days, re-enacting it to try to describe to visitors just how funny it was (which in turn was very funny to watch..). I decided to turn Harry’s old play shop into a puppet theatre – and here’s how we did it. The shop was originally made from a junk-find bookcase, which I painted and then stocked to create the original shop (here and below).
The bookcase proved endlessly adaptable for our new project. I enlisted help to cut an opening from the back of the bookcase, and then much of the rest was achieved with paint and scraps of fabric and trim…
Harry and I painted the shelves with chalk paint, which I love because you don’t need to do any sanding or stripping before you begin. A tester-sized pot of black and red gave us the coverage we needed; Harry joined in with the painting with great enthusiasm which was lovely – as was the fact that chalk paint is very washable; a highly relevant factor..). The bottom section I sprayed with some leftover gold craft paint for a bit of showbiz sparkle.
For the curtains I used a remnant length of pinky-red velvet and trimmed it with braid (my sewing skills are rudimentary, which was fortunately all that this required). They’re threaded onto a length of wooden dowel which rests on cup hooks inside the theatre nook. I later tacked a length of sparkly dark net fabric to the back to help disguise the young puppeteers too.
Every puppet show needs a sign to let the audience know when the show is due to begin; I designed one in Powerpoint and then glued it to a piece of foam board. The clock hands are cut from cardstock and secured with a brass paper-fastener, allowing them to be easily repositioned by small hands. I tied a couple of inexpensive tassels to a length of red ribbon and threaded them through two punched holes to allow the sign the be hung. A re-purposed doorknob is screwed into the top of the bookcase to hang it on.
To the shelf fronts I glued lengths of coppery and red ribbon from my ribbons box (whenever we’re given gifts I keep any ribbons and scraps; they invariably come in useful for projects). I used regular all-purpose glue, but if you have one then a hot-glue glue gun would give great results. On the shelves we arranged popcorn holders and borrowed play ice-creams and other food from Harry’s kitchen; something for everyone who comes to the show!
The programmes were made by folding sheets of regular paper in half and tying them to a cover sheet of red cardstock; no trimming or gluing needed. I made a cover for the programmes, but it was Harry who provided the content, welcoming the audience and drawing pictures of some of the cast of characters to create anticipation for the show ahead. We made a few spare programmes so that Harry and his friends can make new programmes over time as they plan shows and come up with new stories to tell.
The puppets are stored in an old silk-covered suitcase which I found cheaply at a local antiques barn. I stencilled a star on the lid by drawing around a decorative 5-point star shape and then carefully filling inside the shape with a tester of dark blue-grey paint. I used masking tape along the sides of the drawn star to give me a sharp, clean shape.
The puppets themselves were a combination of eBay and thrift store finds. If you’re a Brit living in the south-east it’s worth looking out for FARA, a chain of charity shops which deal mostly in children’s clothes and toys; I found 4 puppets there which will help us complete the cast of Little Red Riding Hood; and for a bargain price, too!
And as a finishing touch, I updated the former shop bell… because every performer needs to be able to summon a good audience quickly!
Have a great weekend wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. I’ll be having a weekend treat of open-air cinema and picnicking, watching
George Clooney Gravity under the stars. The forecast is good, the picnic blanket ready… fingers crossed!
p.s. And if you see Mr Punch anywhere near the baby, don’t forget to SHOUT!!