Summer is here! School obligations have ended or have at least tapered off and, no matter where you live or how old your kids are, there will inevitably be rainy days or even late summer days when your kids (and even their neighborhood friends) will lie around your house complaining about how bored they are.
My grandfather was a gifted and passionate middle school teacher who raised 9 children — 8 step-kids and one of his own. My grandmother lost her first husband to a heart attack after child number 8 and my grandfather traded bachelorhood to marry her and care for her children. He must have loved her because I imagine that leaving his classroom during the day and coming home to a house full of kids probably made him feel like he never stopped being a teacher even when school was out for the summer. Homeschool parents probably feel the same way.
When his children used to whine about boredom, my grandfather used to make them memorize a poem and recite it for him. The theater person in me would have LOVED this assignment! But for most of my aunts and uncles, this task was perceived as a punishment and they did everything possible to keep themselves occupied in an effort to avoid this consequence.
In the information age, I can’t even imagine how it is possible to achieve boredom but, universally, kids somehow find a way to exhaust their resources. They inevitably become indifferent to the same routine day in and day out and get tired of even the most beloved extracurricular activities and need a change. But maybe memorizing a poem isn’t the kind of excitement that most kids are looking for when they are gripped by the summer slowdown (not everyone is a geek like me, and that’s OK!) Since my muse is theater, I hope that this list can inspire some creativity and fun at home that will help get you and your family through those slow weeks before the new school year starts up again.
Eight household items that make great props!
- Paper plates — I have used paper plates in just about every theater class I have ever taught. You can cut eye and nose holes and attach an elastic or string and decorate the plate to be a theater mask. Instead of the elastic, you can also attach the plate to a popsicle stick for a handheld mask. You can take two paper plates and tie, tape, glue them together with some dry rice, small rocks or even small bells inside and you have a tambourine or noise maker. There are about 100 things that you can do with a cheap white paper plate! Maybe I will list them in a subsequent article….
- Old blankets, sheets, table cloths, couch covers or drapes — Don’t know if there are a lot of people who have clothes lines in their house anymore. We did! And I used to drape my mother’s old bedspread over it and pretend that it was a stage curtain. For young people, the stage curtain is a big deal. Now that I am older, I love entering a theater and being able to take in a bit of the set before the lights go down in the house, but for kids, there is so much magic in anticipation. They are so used to adults being in control of their lives and their schedules — telling them what to do and when to do it. This is understandably necessary! But the curtain empowers kids to say — “I’ve got something to share with you, something I created, but you stay on this side of the curtain until I’m ready to reveal it to you.” This can be a delightful experience for the kids and the parents!
- Paper towel and toilet paper rolls — When staging your at home production of the three little pigs don’t forget those cute piggy noses! By cutting paper towel rolls in half and wrapping them with construction paper, coloring them or decorating them you can fashion them into all kids of things! Punch a couple of holes on the side and attach a string or elastic to keep your nose in place.
- Paper grocery bags — One of my favorite folk tales to stage at home is “Stone Soup.” There are two vagabonds in the story and a lot of villagers who are all depicted as somewhat poor. But the two vagabonds come together to show the villagers how, together, everyone has a lot. I have taken paper grocery bags, unfolded them and cut a neck hole on the bottom of the bag and arm holes on the side of the bag to make them into vests. Make one long cut in the “front” of the bag from the neck hole to the other end of the bag so that the kids can easily get their vest on and off (don’t try to make them pull the bags over their head — they will more than likely rip). The kids can decorate the bags and “fringe” the bottom so that they appear ragged.
- Flashlights, christmas lights and any other kind of decorative lighting — If your homemade theatrical production involves anyone singing a solo, break out that flashlight! Spotlights are standard issue in musicals. Just as a side note — in the theater, spotlight operators are part of the tech crew and they are supposed to wear all black when they are working on shows. Christmas lights make great footlights around the perimeter of your stage floor. If you happen to have any other kind of flashing, blinking or strobe lighting, those are great devices for illustrating “anxious” or climactic moments on stage — like when the pig’s house gets blown down, when grandma gets eaten by the wolf or when Alice falls down the rabbit hole.
- Chairs, footstools, ottomans — Depending upon the story you’re telling and where it takes place, at some point, the characters in your performance will need to sit down. Set three chairs side by side, throw a blanket over them (see #2) and you’ve got a couch. Need a bed for Red Riding Hood’s grandmother? Take the two end chairs in your “couch” and turn them so that they are facing each other. Have the actor sit on one of the end chairs with his/her feet up on the other two chairs and use the blanket to cover up. Actors who don’t have lines in a particular scene can stand on the chairs with their arms in unique positions and represent the trees in a forest. In the theater, everything on stage is there for a reason and, if need be, people can be things — it’s part of the magic of theater.
- All those toys! — You and your loved ones put so much care in selecting the toys that your child is ignoring. Besides their conventional uses, why not have a look and see what else can be done with your child’s toys? For example, my son has recently started to identify with Captain America. We have about a 1/2 dozen frisbees in our shed — a piece of duct or masking tape on the back side can transform that frisbee into a shield. Sand pails can be soldier helmets. All those stuffed animals can be useful in creating a forest environment if your story is set in the woods — like most fairy tales and folk tales.
- Photos — Most professional theaters have a marquis in the lobby or a program that they distribute that contains pictures of the actors along with brief bios of their professional experience. To make your own marquis, get a large poster board or several pieces of construction paper and glue photos of “the actors” on to the board. Write their name below the photo and place your marquis in a place where attendees will see it immediately when they enter the performance space. Decorate it however you see fit. You can use glitter to represent their “name in lights” or use Christmas lights as a border around the marquis (see #5).
I hope that the suggestions I have made here inspire some exciting dramatic play at home. If there is anything else that you would consider adding to this list, please share it with me on my forum or Facebook page. Feel free to forward pictures of how you and your family have used these ideas to engage in the theater process together.
Have a safe and wonderful summer!