Model Theater at Kannik's Korner

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About Model Theater,
a Glimpse of History

Model theater is called "Dukketeater", or doll theater, in Denmark, and "Kindertheater", or children's theater, in Germany. Other countries produced model theaters, but the prints from Denmark and Germany were some of the most outstanding. It is still commonly known as Toy Theater, despite the fact that it is mostly adults involved in creating and performing, rather than children.

Right: Visitors at the Preetz, Germany toy theater festival examine the workings of a Large, C size,
 Alfred Jacobsen style Royal Theater
(click  for larger view) 


theater C front Fritz
Above: Fritz with a Royal Theater,
shown without curtain. (Poor color, sorry!)

(click  for larger view)

Victorian era paper theaters, or model theaters, published by Alfred Jacobsen (from Denmark), were one of my hobbies as a child. Most of these had been collected by my family. I still maintain an interest in this fascinating and creative hobby. There are beautifully printed figures, like paper dolls, and scenes with many different plays from the real stage. Many of the original plates are being re-printed, and are available today. Lighting and special effects are the added attractions, making the plays truly exciting, even in today's world of computers and animation!

This is a wonderful family hobby, involving pasting and cutting figures and scenery, building the stage, developing lighting, creating sound effects, inventing special effects and moving figures (even trap doors), and then actually performing the play!* People who enjoy model building, paper cut-outs, stage building, set design, puppets, acting and performing, story telling, doll houses, paper dolls, theater and theater history, are among those who love model theater.

Above: Figures, including the black
 cat, and scenery from
"The Spy from Elsinore."
(click  for larger view)

Model or Paper Theater, is usually sold as printed paper sheets, either in black & white to be colored as desired, or as full colored images of the figures, props and scenery. The sheets are then pasted to thin cardboard, backed with another piece of paper to keep the cardboard from curling, and then left to dry well. After it is dried, it can be cut out with scissors or craft knives, and some people use special chisel-like tools.* The more precise and finer detailed the cutting, the better the sets will look. It is more time consuming, but the result is much more effective than when cut too coarsely.

The detail gives the realistic look. Sometimes things are cut so fine that they must be supported with wire or fine sticks; or strung with strings to replace ropes and other such fine details. Other special effects are created with moving parts of figures and props. Some figures are designed so that they can be rotated to show two "sides" of a character, or to move the character in opposite directions across the stage, which prevents the character having to back out of the scene.

simonmoviecontThe figures are controlled and moved by the use of sticks with small bases to which the figure either attaches, or, into which the base of the figure slips. The figures are then slid onto the stage, and the smoother the motion, and the more appropriate the motion to the words and action of the plays, the more effective the figure.

Some professional performers use pre-recorded soundtracks so that they can incorporate more sound effects, music, variety of voices, and are free to move the figures, props, operate the lighting and perform special effects. Of course, this is a modern addition, and it is perfectly wonderful to perform with just the family or friends participating and incorporating contrived sound effects!

Some of the Alfred Jacobsen toy theater plays, originally written in Danish, are available today with an English text. Go to the Toy Theater Plays page to learn more about them!

Wave machines are one example of moving props, and are used in producing plays with ocean scenes. The original waves for this machine were printed by Alfred Jacobsen.
The printed sheet is available, P-407.
The wave machine!

* Due to the nature of the sharp craft knives and other tools frequently employed by model theater enthusiasts, the cutting out of figures and scenery is NOT for young children!!! Parents, guardians, and teachers, please use common sense in judging the skill levels of your children, and keep knives, sharp tools, model theater accessories and small parts away from small children, or those who do not have the skill level to use them. Please also keep tools, pastes and other craft items away from your pets.

Be sure to visit my bibliography of Books related to Toy Theater.

For more information on other toy theaters, see my Toy Theater Links page.