Technically speaking, some of the things we need for our Prelude plays include costumes, props, special effects (sound, makeup, and occasionally lighting), and scenery. The challenge here is that we tend to see each class only eight times, for one hour each session. Given the time crunch, it would be next to impossible to include the kiddos in the building of everything and still have time left over to write their play and rehearse it – the main aspect of this program is, after all, the process. As much as we would love for them to experience making their costumes, painting their backdrop, and crafting their props, it would leave us with zero time to accomplish anything else.
So most of the time our students are given a class period to draw costume and set designs so we at least have an idea of what styles, colors or materials they see the robot or princess cloaked in, or what the living room or evil cave should look like. We also try to bring in a few projects through the course of the 8-week period that they can work with us on, like decorating a costume shirt, painting fairy wings, or measuring and cutting a garden bed out of burlap. But a majority of the technical work is done back at the theatre.
For the 3rd grade class I worked most closely with, the students requested a magical rainbow fairytale land with a sparkling blue river, two dogs, a family of gingerbread men, a dragon, a wizard, fairies, a doctor, and a prince. Nothing too obscure in the imaginative realm of theatre for youth. Their props were also fairly easy to procure as well – a jump rope, backpack, ball, magic wand, purse, cell phone, map with compass rose, a pocket watch, and a cast for a broken leg – made from foam and Velcro, as it needed to be a quick on and quick off thing.
For the rainbow land background I took a canvas drop and secured translucent rainbow fabric to the top for the sky and shimmery blue tulle to the bottom for the river. The dog costumes were fashioned using felt and giant pipe cleaners for the ears, tummy piece and tail. The gingerbread family members were clad in dyed brown shirts decorated with giant white poms and ric rac. Same for the gingrbead hats – ric rac and red felt for bows and bow ties. For the dragon, Moonbeam, I converted an old dragon head from a previous show that was already outfitted with horns. I recovered it with various shades and textures of blue fabric, cut out a pair of wings, and crafted a tail from another one of those giant pipe cleaners covered in fabric.
The one prop that did require a little more thought and attention was the star chart. In the script, the two girls Stella and Quinn are inexplicably gifted a pocket watch, a map with a compass rose, and a star chart by a Christmas Choir in Fairytale Land. They get lost in Fairytale Land at night and when they meet the gingerbread family in a meadow, the gingerbreads teach the girls how to find their way home using the North Star for direction.
So, using the thick black foam that typically lines road cases, some white paint, and a strand of battery-operated white LED lights, I crafted a star chart to demonstrate how to locate the North Star using the Big Dipper. Then we discussed how to tell direction based on the location of the North Star in the night sky.
The star chart was a pretty big hit, both with the students in my class and the audience at the performance. Apparently a little LED action makes all the difference!
Clove: When you look at the constellation of stars called the Big Dipper, you will see two stars in line with each other that form the outer edge of the Big Dipper’s cup.
Ginger: If you follow the imaginary line upward that those two stars make, it will point right at the North Star.
– An excerpt from Stella’s Magical Adventure in Fairytale Land