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BUILDING A TOY THEATRE

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					                 BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                       By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




                          The Toy Theatre General Setup

This text describes how, using a few simple tools and materials, anyone can make a
robust and practical toy theatre in wood.




                                     Page 1 of 19
                  BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                        By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




We produce the printed paper sheets for the stage front, orchestra and act drop that
you are likely to use. You may either download them for free or buy paper prints from
us at:

       Trevor Griffin
       67 The Fleet
       Belper
       Derbyshire
       (www.ToyTheatre.co.uk)

or you can also buy them from:

       Pollocks Toy Theatres Limited
       1 Scala Street
       London
       W1T 2HL
       (www.PollocksToyMuseum.com)

Plays may be performed on any toy theatre which takes the same size of scene that the
play is printed with. The theatres are typically in one of two sizes, "small" and "large".
The small theatre is suitable for plays with about A5 size scenes, this is the "standard"
size, corresponding to the most popular size of sheet in the English Toy Theatre, it is
perfectly adequate for performance to small audiences but many will find it a bit too
small. The large size is suitable for plays with the larger format scenes which are
capable of being seen by larger audiences and more suitable for serious performers.
There is only one ‘standard’ size of character and it maybe used equally with both the
small and large scenery sizes and theatres.

By varying these instructions you can make a theatre for any traditional English style
stage front and orchestra. The same principles and basic designs can also be adapted
to build continental theatres which do not have apron stages or a raised stage at all.




                                       Page 2 of 19
                 BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                        By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




MATERIALS
Dimensions are approximate and will vary with theatre size and what materials may
already be to hand.

   1. Printed stage front (proscenium) sheet. The printed stage front will entirely
       determine the size of your toy theatre. It is vital that you acquire your
       printed stage front sheet before embarking on building your toy theatre.
   2. 3-5mm thick hardboard, plywood, mdf or even spare pieces from wood style
       laminate flooring all make good stage floors.
   3. 18mm * 6mm planed timber.
   4. 18mm * 18mm planed square section timber.
   5. Stiff card.
   6. A piece of metal cooking foil or metal takeaway food container.
   7. Small brass self tapping screws both short (10mm) and long (20mm).
   8. Panel pins (10mm).
   9. String OR 5mm * 5mm timber battens
   10. Glue (impact adhesive for wood to wood and PVA for paper to wood).
   11. Matt black paint for wood, blackboard paint is ideal.

TOOLS
   1. Eclipse "Junior" saw to cut wood and / or an electric jigsaw.
   2. Scissors or a hobby knife to cut card.
   3. Sandpaper, coarse and smooth.
   4. Hand or electric drill + bits suitable for drilling holes to take the small brass
      screws.
   5. Screw driver to drive in the small brass screws.
   6. Hammer to drive in the panel pins.
   7. Steel rule, carpenters or engineers square, pencil for marking out.




                                       Page 3 of 19
                  BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                        By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell



MAKING THE STAGE FRONT
This is the backing to carry your printed stage front sheet. Most printed stage front
sheets are designed to allow either a flat or a recessed stage front. The flat stage front
is simplest to construct but the recessed stage front results in a more satisfying theatre.

A Flat Stage Front

   1. Using PVA glue, glue the stage front sheet onto a sheet of card which is thick
      enough so that the light does not shine through it but not so thick that it is too
      difficult to cut. A sheet of 3-5mm thick wood may be used instead of card but
      it will be more difficult to cut unless you are skilled with a fretsaw!
   2. Cut out all around the sheet including the main stage front opening.

A Recessed Stage Front

The secret of the recess is two shapes let in to the printed stage front sheet. By cutting
these away carefully you can then fold the stage front side together with the stage
front top at an angle to form a recess. The two shaped pieces are usually printed in a
different colour and should be easily recognisable as triangular wedge shapes on each
side of the stage where the top meets the sides.




   1. Stick the stage front sheet onto a sheet of card which is thick enough so the
      light does not shine through but not too difficult to cut.
   2. Remove the wedge pieces, using a sharp knife or scalpel down onto a flat but
      safe surface, and dispose of them as they are not needed.
   3. Cut all around the sheet including the opening.
   4. Use a sharp knife to lightly score the fold lines on the side of the card which
      will be bent away from. You will need to score each fold and some are to be
      scored on the front and some on the back.




                                        Page 4 of 19
             BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                   By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




5. Fold the cut sheet into the shape shown above.




6. Secure the two joints using good adhesive tape, preferable not transparent such
   as a plastic parcel tape, and on the back of the sheet.




                                  Page 5 of 19
                  BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                        By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




THE THEATRE BASE AND FRAME
These parts are all best made out of wood. To ensure the stage design suits various
sizes of printed stage fronts the dimensions used in the drawings and text are all
related to the width of the stage front you have already made as follows:

       B = the width of the stage front that you have made, less 12mm.
       D = the height of the orchestra strip.
       H = the height of the orchestra strip + the height of a scene.
       Y = the length of the straight edge part of the sides of the stage floor.
       X = 10mm for the small theatre and 90mm for the large theatre.

All dimensions are expressed in terms of these so for example the depth of the large
theatre base is 1.5 B i.e. the distance from the front to the back is one and a half times
the width of your particular stage front.

Mark out the pieces carefully with a pencil before you start cutting. The great rule
here is to measure twice and cut once! Remember you can always make a large piece
smaller but you cannot go back and make a piece cut too short any larger!

Making The Stage For A Small Theatre

   1. Make this from thin wood of about 3mm thick.
   2. If you intend to add footlights then make an 80mm wide by 15mm deep cut-
      out at the front.




                                       Page 6 of 19
                  BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                        By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




Making The Stage For A Large Theatre

   1. Make this from thin wood of 3-5mm thick.
   2. If you intend to add footlights then make an 80mm wide by 25mm deep cut-
      out at the front.




Finishing the stage floor

Stages are usually painted matt black but you can leave yours bare or varnish it as
preferred. If the wood is not perfect, a knot hole or similar, then you can cover it with
paper, wallpaper works well.




                                       Page 7 of 19
               BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                     By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




Making the Stage Base Sides

  1. Make 2 of these from thin wood of 3-5mm thick.
  2. Drill two holes in each as shown 10mm from the upper edge. Drill the holes
     large enough for the body of the small brass screws to just pass through but
     small enough so their heads do not.




Making the Stage Uprights

  1. Make 4 of these from 18mm * 6mm or similar size timber battens.
  2. Drill three holes in each as shown along the centreline of the 18mm side of the
     batten. Drill the holes large enough for the body of the small brass screws to
     just pass through but small enough so their heads do not.




                                    Page 8 of 19
                   BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                       By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




The Other Parts

Small Theatre

   1. 2 understage lateral stiffeners. 18mm * 18mm (or similar) wood. Length = B -
      twice the thickness of a stage base side piece.
   2. 2 top grid rails. 18mm * 6mm timber (or similar). Length = Y.
   3. 2 cross battens. 18mm * 6mm timber (or similar). Length = B.

Large Theatre

   1. 2 understage lateral stiffeners. 18mm * 18mm (or similar) wood. Length = B -
      twice the thickness of a stage base side piece.
   2. 1 orchestra strip panel, thin plywood. Size = B * D.
   3. 2 orchestra strip supports.18mm * 18mm timber (or similar). Length = D

And lastly…

   1. 2 top grid rails. 18mm * 6mm timber (or similar). Length = Y - 80mm.
   2. 2 cross battens. 18mm * 6mm timber (or similar). Length = B.
   3. 10 top grid scene holders. 5mm * 5mm (or similar). Length = B. These are
      optional and may be made later from string if preferred.

But not leastly!

      Use sandpaper to remove any rough edges and splinters which might
       propagate later.
      Take great care when making these parts.
      Hold all items in a vice when drilling.
      Use cutting devices and saws carefully and always work away from you, e.g.
       cut forwards and away from your body, drill down and away from your body
       so that if a tool does slip its sharp edges will slip away from your body and not
       towards it!




                                      Page 9 of 19
               BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                     By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




TO ASSEMBLE YOUR TOY THEATRE
 1. Fit the lateral understage stiffeners to the stage base sides.




    Clamp one of the understage stiffeners vertically in a vice. Line up one of the
    holes in a stage side piece centrally with the piece in the vice so that one edge
    is in line with one edge of the side. Screw a small brass screw through the hole
    in the side into the stiffener until tight. Assemble both sides and stiffeners to
    form the base frame.

 2. Fit the stage floor to the base.

    Place the stage base frame down on a smooth, firm, flat surface.
    Place the stage floor on top (black side up) so that the long edges are lined up
    with the sides.




    Use small panel pins and a hammer to nail these through the floor into the
    sides.
    Take care that the pins go in straight so that they do not come out of the sides.




                                       Page 10 of 19
              BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                     By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




3. Fit the uprights to the base.




   Screw in the four uprights in the positions shown. Each upright should be
   fitted in turn as follows:
   Unscrew one of the upper screws attaching the side to the lateral stage
   stiffener.
   Using a longer screw through the upright, screw the upright in the same
   position. Use a square to ensure that the upright is at right angles to the stage.
   Fix the upright in position with a screw through the lower hole into the stage
   base side.

4. Fit the top grid rails to the uprights




   Place each side of the stage in turn over the edge of a bench or solid work
   surface with one of the grid rails behind and screw through the holes in the
   uprights.
   Use a square to ensure that the stage floor, uprights and top grid rails all line
   up correctly.



                                   Page 11 of 19
              BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                    By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




5. Fit the stage front to the front uprights

   Place the stage front in position and pin it to the uprights.
   Use pins with heads that are big enough to hold it but not too obtrusive.
   You can stiffen the assembly by using glue on the uprights before you pin.

6. Fit the orchestra strip and footlights shield

   Small Theatre

   Cut a sheet of card slightly higher than the stage floor and long enough to
   curve around the stage floor curve. Attach it to the uprights using pins and
   glue.

   Large Theatre

   Glue or pin the orchestra strip supports in place and then the orchestra strip
   panel. Trim it if necessary to fit.




   Both Theatres

   Cut out and stick the coloured orchestra strip in place. If the paper it is printed
   on is not large enough then stick white paper on first before cutting out all
   round the orchestra strip and sticking it onto the paper.




                                   Page 12 of 19
             BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                   By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




7. Making the scenery grid

   Pin and/or glue the two cross battens in place. One behind the two back
   uprights and one across the top near the front directly behind the stage front.
   Leave a small gap at the front between the stage front and the front cross
   batten in which to hold a rising main curtain card.




   The scenery grid can be made of string or wood:

   String

   Tie loops of string around the top grid rails. They should be taut but not so
   tight so as to pull the rails together. Each loop will hold one scene or a pair of
   wings in place. The loops can also be used to hold top drops and as a way of
   moving "flying" features from one side of the stage to the other! You will need
   at least 5 loops (one for the act drop, two for wings, one for cut scenes, one for
   backdrops).

   Wood

   Drill very small holes through the 5mm * 5mm wood grid pieces and using a
   hammer and pins fix the pieces along the top grid rails. Support the top grid
   rails from below as you hammer the pins in! The rails should be spaced in
   pairs. Leave about 3mm between each rail of a pair and space each pair evenly
   from front to back. The rearmost pair should align with the back of the top
   grid rails.


  Your basic theatre is finished and ready to go!



                                  Page 13 of 19
                  BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                        By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




TOY THEATRE LIGHTING

*** UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES USE MAINS VOLTAGE LIGHTING ***

It is almost essential to arrange some form of lighting for your Toy Theatre. It is
possible to arrange an angle poise lamp to light the stage from above and allow the
performer to read the words and find the characters, while the audience sits in
darkness. On a larger theatre a strip light might be possible.

For the footlights and a more subtle and appropriate lighting for the scenes it is
preferable to use low voltage bulbs supplied from a battery or small transformer.
The lighting circuit diagram shows how to arrange this.




This arrangement uses a 6 volt battery or transformer and several 3 volt bulbs in bulb
holders. This arrangement, which is partly wired in "parallel" ensures that each bulb
receives the correct voltage.




                                      Page 14 of 19
                  BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                        By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




Adding an extra bulb to the footlights or batten will reduce the intensity slightly but
spread the lighting more evenly on a larger theatre. If you want to add a second or
third batten of lights then you will require a 9 or a 12 volt battery or transformer
supply.




Screw the footlights and top lights onto wooden battens. The footlight batten must be
fitted such that the bulbs project above the stage floor but not higher than the footlight
shield reflector shown later. Top battens should span the grid rails and have sufficient
wire so that they may be moved to any position between scenes and wings.

You can supplement your lighting to provide special effects. A torch makes a
spotlight and can provide a sudden burst of light. Coloured gelatin can be cut in pieces
and placed over lamps. Use blue for moonlight, red for fire (flicker your fingers in
front of the light, out of sight, to give the effect of flames), green for evil etc.




                                       Page 15 of 19
                 BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                       By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




To Make A Footlight Shield

You must first have cut-out the footlight space in the stage.

   1. Cut-out a piece of card about 80mm * 30 mm * 40mm to form the shield for
      the footlights.

   2. Paint one side black, this will be the front surface facing the audience.

   3. Cut-out a piece of silver paper about 80mm * 30mm * 25mm and glue this to
      the back of the footlight shield.

   4. Glue the shield to the rear of the orchestra strip such that it rises about 15mm
      above the stage floor and the black surface faces the audience.




                                     Page 16 of 19
                  BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                        By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




CHARACTER MOVEMENT SLIDES
Slides are used to move characters on the toy theatre stage.

To make a slide from black painted card
:
   1. Cut a strip about 10mm wide and just longer than the width of your stage.
   2. Cut 3 squares each with sides about 30mm long.
   3. Fold 2 of the squares in half and then glue them down onto the third unfolded
      square to form an upside down T shape. Do NOT apply any glue to the
      vertical slot as this is where you will slot in the characters.




   4. Stick the character holder onto the long strip.
   5. Label the upper side of the other end with the character name.




   6. Slot the base of your character onto the unglued upright tabs and you are ready
      for action!




                                      Page 17 of 19
               BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                     By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




PREPARING FOR PERFORMANCE

 1. Colour any uncoloured sheets. Character plates can be coloured using fibre
    pens. Use bright watercolours for scenery. Do not worry about detail, colour
    boldly to give a theatrical effect. Use colour in wash so that detail shows
    through. An alternative is to scan and save the image into a computer program
    which allows you to colour it and then produce a colour print.

 2. Stick the character sheets to thin card and cut out each character. Strengthen
    weak parts with fuse wire, taped to the back. Write on the rear of the character
    its name and the sheet number.

 3. Each scene, and the act drop, must have the lower edge trimmed off where it
    usually carries the publishers information and then must be stuck to thick card
    which is square, i.e. as wide as the scene is wide and leaving ample space at
    the top to fit into the scene grid. Leave about 15mm above the scene grid will
    enable easy scene changes from above.

 4. Cut scenes, those with large holes cut through them to view action behind like
    forests and similar, should be stuck to thinner card so that they can be more
    easily cut out but stick strips of thick card on the back to brace them.

 5. The above principle should be applied to wings; they should be stuck to a strip
    of card which is the same height as the mounted scenes so that they can be
    held by the scenery grid.

 6. Stick set pieces to thin card, cut them out and arrange them as directed in the
    playbook. Stick small blocks of wood behind them so they stand up.

 7. Drop the scenes and wings in place so that they are held by the scene grid.

 8. Most, but not all, performers like to hide themselves away from the audience
    so as to complete the illusion. This requires some sort of black screen, of card
    or cloth fitted around and immediately behind the stage front, which rests on
    the table supporting the stage.




                                   Page 18 of 19
               BUILDING A TOY THEATRE
                     By Trevor Griffin and Paul J. Weighell




NOTES FOR PERFORMING THE PLAY

 1. Surround the theatre with a screen of card or curtains and have the scenes and
    characters ready backstage.

 2. Make enough slides so that every character has its own.

 3. Prearrange the characters in their slides on either side of the stage according to
    their entrances.

 4. Change your voice for each character and move or jiggle the slide to indicate
    which one is supposed to be speaking.

 5. Have appropriate equipment to hand for sound effects. Music is best provided
    by a toy music box as this is perfectly in scale with the toy theatre.

 6. You can, if you prefer, record words, music and sound effects on a cassette
    tape recorder. Fit it under the stage; use the pause button to make sure that the
    tape does not run away with you!

 7. Change scenes quickly.

 8. The play should last between 10 and 30 minutes, according to length of the
    text.

 9. Look after your audience!




                                 Happy Building!




                                   Page 19 of 19

				
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