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Shadowbox Theatre

When the sun is shining brightly, shadows can be seen most everywhere. In fact, shadows are so common that you probably do not pay much attention to them. However, there is much to discover if you observe shadows and experiment with making your own. A fun way to learn about shadows is to make a shadowbox theater and shadow puppets.

Shadowbox theaters were a very popular form of entertainment in Europe during the 1800s and early 1900s. Though they are not as common in Europe today, they are still popular in the Indonesian Islands of Bali and Java where very elaborate shadow puppet shows are performed. Follow these directions to make your own shadowbox theater.

Required Materials

  • Shoebox or other small cardboard box
  • Various art supplies to decorate the box
  • Craft or Popsicle sticks
  • Scissors
  • Science notebook
  • Construction paper
  • Flashlight or other light source
  • White paper
  • Transparent tape

Activity Directions

  1. Stand the shoebox on its end. You will be cutting a square hole at the top end of the bottom of the box. This is where the screen will be.

  2. The hole should be about 13 centimeters square (13 x 13 cm). Use a pencil and ruler to mark where you will cut the hole.

  3. Cut out a piece of translucent paper just a little bit bigger than the hole you made.

  4. Tape or glue the paper on the inside of the box covering the hole. This will be the screen for your theater.

  5. Your theater is ready. Use paint, crayons, markers, or paper cutouts to decorate your theater.

  6. Now you need a story and puppets. You can make up a story or choose a story that you know. Decide on the characters and what you want the characters to do and say.

  7. Draw an outline of the characters on construction paper. Make sure your puppets are small enough to fit on your screen.

  8. Carefully cut out your shadow puppets. Tape the puppets to craft or Popsicle sticks so that you have a handle.

  9. Shine a flashlight into the box in a darkened room. The screen will light up. You may want to place the flashlight on a pile of books or work with a partner.

  10. Move your puppets in the box between the light and the screen. The puppets will appear as shadows to your audience.

  11. Experiment with placing the puppets at different distances from the screen. Turn the puppets in different directions to get interesting effects. For example, try to make the shadows darker, sharper, bigger, or smaller.

  12. Now on with the show!

  13. Answer the following questions in your science notebook after you have performed a shadowbox show and after you have watched one.

      What did you have to do to produce the sharpest image on the screen?

      What was the most difficult thing about making your shadowbox theater?

      How could you improve upon your design?

      Which type of translucent paper would you use to design a new screen for a shadowbox theater?

Interactive Java Tutorial
The Shadowbox Theatre
Have fun learning about shadows with our virtual shadowbox theatre. 

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