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All the Backyard's a Stage

Though all the world's a stage, the perfect place for kids to debut their dramatic talents may be in your own backyard. With a favorite book in hand, a couple of bed sheets and some clothespins, and a lot of imagination, Broadway is just a step or two off the porch.

Selecting a Story

Half the fun in putting on a backyard play comes in planning the performance. The very first step is to choose a script. While many pre-written scripts are available, one of the best ways for kids to build their reading, comprehension, and vocabulary skills is to have them adapt one of their favorite stories into a play. Start by choosing a story that kids are familiar with and enjoy reading. Rather than scripting an entire book, pick out sections of a story that offer action, drama, or conflict - elements that will allow kids to practice a range of emotion and performance skills. Judy Freeman (www.JudyReadsBooks.com), a children's literature consultant, suggests five features to look for when adapting a book:


Peppy dialogue
A little action
Humor
Lively narration
Enough parts for all kids


Most importantly, pick books that are appropriate for the children's' age and reading level. Younger children will likely enjoy folk or fairy tales featuring animal characters, magic, or fantasy, while older children may be drawn to stories involving mystery, science, drama or even non-fictional accounts of important people or events. Our Broadway Bound Reading List offers books readily awaiting their stage debut.

Writing a Script

Once a story is selected, begin scripting by selecting the characters to be played, including a narrator if necessary. For kids who are uncomfortable in the spotlight, encourage them to take part by reading narrated sections from offstage or playing the role of a silent character on stage. Also feel free to add, modify or delete text from the story in order to make the performance flow. Aaron Shepard, founder of Reader's Theater, suggests making "cuts and changes in the story that will make your script livelier, simpler to understand, or easier to perform." For more scripting tips, visit Aaron Shepard's web site.

Dressing the Performers and the Stage

As kids are writing their script, encourage them to look for details in the story that might tell them more about their character. Ask them if they have any special features or if they wear something unique to the period of time in which the story takes place. What props might they carry with them? In putting the costumes together be creative, but thrifty. Look for old clothes, household items, makeup, and accessories that are readily available and will work well for the characters.

The stage should also be simple but well dressed with a few touches from young set designers. FamilyFun Magazine's Clothesline Theater sets the perfect stage for any backyard performance:

Clothesline TheaterClothesline Theater
A backyard play idea from FamilyFun Magazine
by Leslie Garisto Pfaff

Materials
2 6-foot lengths of polypropylene clothesline
Three old sheets
Paint
Clothespins
Dozen 1 14-inch binder clips

1. To make one, string up two parallel lengths of polypropylene clothesline 6 feet apart.

2. Paint scenery on a background sheet, as we've done--or pin on scenery cut from or painted on craft paper--then use clothespins to attach the sheet to the line farthest from the audience.

3. For the curtains, suspend two sheets from the front clothesline using 1 1/4-inch binder clips hung at 1-foot intervals. The clothesline should go through the clips' triangular centers, allowing kids to slide the curtains open and closed for dramatic effect.

The Clothesline Theater activity was reprinted with permission from FamilyFun Magazine. All text and curtain stage image are ©FamilyFun. To view the activity on their web site, click here.

A Role for Everyone

PlaybillEveryone knows that the show can't go on without the help of a supporting cast and crew. Assign roles in the production based on each child's skills, interests, and age. Aside from acting, there's lots of opportunities to help design and construct the set, make a playbill, or create tickets for an audience of family and friends. And when the show goes on, ticket takers, ushers, curtain operators, prop assistants, and music makers are always welcome additions.

Curtain Call!

With everything in place, do a few rehearsals until everyone is comfortable with their lines, costumes, props, and movements on stage. Remember, there is no need to have kids memorize lines - let them use their scripts as they feel necessary. Whether their performance is Oscar-worthy or not will pale in comparison to the love of reading they develop through acting out a scene in one of their favorite books.

Don't Miss
Broadway Bound Books
Our collection of fables, fairytales, folktales, and story books readily awaiting their stage debut.

Puppetry: The Playful Art
For a variation of our Backyard Theater production, try a puppet show instead of actors - or use both! Don't miss these ideas for putting on the perfect puppet show, as well as our selection of award-winning puppetry products.

The Play's The Thing
Discover how a small investment in local theater can provide big rewards.

 

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