3D Fairy Tale Theater

August 23, 2011 at 9:45 am | Posted in crafts, homeschool, Quiet Activities, thrifty projects | 3 Comments
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Its hard to imagine it, but there was a time, not really that long ago, when kids had to amuse themselves without the internet (late 1980’s,) game systems (1970s,) computers (1950s,) televisions (1920s,) or even radios (1915.)  One of the things that they did was make elaborate paper theaters and dioramas.  And since pretty much everything printed before 1921 is now in the public domain so you can find lots of really neat free printables online.

I inadvertently found out about these paper theaters as I was looking for some paper dolls to print for my niece.  I stumbled across ilfavolosomondodicartaditoto – an Italian blog with tons of neat printables, including paper dolls, dioramas, and theaters  (2014 update: that blog is no longer available).  Since I am so good at getting entirely distracted following rabbit trails, I did a little searching and found Ill. Familie Journals – a Norwegian magazine that published several elaborate theater sets and dioramas in the early 20th century.  I found full issues of the magazine with the theaters and full scripts to plays for free on lulu in 2011 (2014 update: they are no longer available on lulu.  I have since started downloading stuff like that for future use since so many free resources disappear over time.)  Since the plays and directions are all written in Norwegian I have no idea what most of them are, but they look really neat.

The images are scans of over-sized, yellowed magazine pages.  I chose a theater that has interchangeable backdrops and scenes to clean up to print.  I removed the yellowed paper surrounding the images to minimize the amount of ink used for printing.  I also rearranged the images to fit on standard 8.5″ x 11″ paper since very few people have large format printers.  (I actually have a large format printer that would print the paper size, but haven’t been able to find card stock or paper any larger than legal size.)

Here is the cleaned up theater in a pdf file that I made, in case you want to make your own theater too.  (The file is pretty large, as it is 8 pages of high quality graphics, so it may take a while to download.)

You will need:

  • empty cereal boxes
  • scissors
  • craft knife
  • ruler
  • theater printed on card heavy stock
  • regular and double stick tape
  • spray adhesive or rubber cement

You will probably want to glue the outside pieces of the theater to some thin cardboard, like a cereal or cracker box, to make it durable.  (Despite the pile of boxes I collected I only needed one cereal box for everything.)

Roughly cut the excess paper away leaving a small border around each piece and glue to the printed side of your cereal box.  By gluing the pieces to the box before cutting them all the way out, you ensure that the edges are glued down.  The inside scenes have a lot of detailed cutting, and would be very difficult to cut out of cardboard – they don’t need to be reinforced as they aren’t structural pieces.

After the glue dries, you will need to cut away all of the negative space inside of the theater pieces.  I used a craft knife to cut an opening, and then trimmed the paper out using my scissors since it was hard to cut through with the knife.

You need to score the pieces before assembling the theater.  Line a ruler up where the cardboard needs to be scored, and run something (like a paper clip or the tip of tweezers) along the line to make a shallow indent.  The indent will help the cardboard fold in a straight line.  The dotted lines show where the theater needs to be scored – the blue light on the front of the stage is trimmed around, and the paper on either side is folded so that the light sticks up in the front of the stage.  The little lights at the back of the stage floor get folded forward.  The curtain at the top of the stage is also folded forward.  The sides of the theater also fold on both sides.

Fold all of the stage pieces along the scored lines and assemble according to the diagrams.   Start by taping the sides of the stage to the front.

I used a strip of double stick tape to position the side, and then went over the back with a strip of regular tape.  With just double stick tape the cardboard might separate, and with just regular tape the front wouldn’t be flush.

After both sides are in place attach the stage bottom to the flaps on both sides.

Match the curtain on the stage top with the curtain on the side, and fold the triangle flap behind the stage side and tape in place.

Trim around the tabs on the stage backdrop and fold forward.

Line the edge of the backdrop up and tape in place.  Cut out the curtain and fairy tale pieces and stick a set in the theater using the slots and tabs to hold everything in place.

Lift the curtain and admire the 3D fairy tale scene that you just made with a few sheets of paper and an old cereal box.



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  1. What do you mean exactly when you say “score the pieces”?

    • Line a ruler up where the cardboard needs to be scored, and run something (like a paper clip or the tip of tweezers) along the line to make a shallow indent. You don’t want to actually cut the paper, just scratch it in a straight line to guide the fold. If you’ve never done it before it may be helpful to play with some paper scraps. If you have a manufactured greeting card handy you can examine the fold to see how shallow a score is. Hope that helps. 🙂

  2. […] the file to make it more Warhammer-like. You can download the original theater from this cool blog https://randomcreativity.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/3d-fairy-tale-theater/ The puppets are Wyrd miniatures, the Marionettes from the Malifaux […]

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