The History of The Toy Theatre

Toy theatres we have as toys for children today are an adaptation of a form of miniature theatre, known as toy theatre but also paper theatre or juvenile theatre, that dates back to the 1800’s.

In the 1800’s toy theatre was a form of entertainment as much as it was a toy to be played with by children. Theatres, playhouses, and operas would sell paper theatres that could be cut out and assembled at home. They would often include scenery, characters and costumes as well as the stage. And were available either in black and white for you to colour yourself or already coloured.

As well as getting the stage and the puppets/actors for the play the kit would include an abridged version of the script with simplified lines to be acted out at home to family and friends. Sometimes people would even have music playing to accompany their play. Such was the popularity of these theatres that in the 1800’s more than 300 of London’s most popular plays were turned into toy theatres.

Theatre was a popular past-time for all ages during the 19th century and tickets were much more affordable than they are today. Toy theatres were not only a wonderful souvenir but also perfect for keeping the magic and excitement of the theatre alive once they got home. With no television and often not even enough light to read by in the evenings reenacting theatre shows was the perfect way to entertain each other.

Toy Theatre - Not Just a Toy

As well as being a popular toy the technique also became popular with puppeteers and other artists.

Puppetry is actually a very old form of theatre that far predates the toy theatres of the 1800’s. In fact puppetry has been recorded as far back as 500 BC in Ancient Greece, and probably originated around 4000 years ago. Puppetry is an art form that shows up in all cultures, with inanimate objects being used to tell a story and communicate ideas.

Puppet theatre has been a popular form of entertainment throughout the ages and puppets appear in many forms in many different cultures with marionettes, also known as string puppets, shadow puppetry and glove or hand puppets all appearing in different places around the world.

Puppetry is still popular today with many incredible professional puppet theatres still existing. Taking children to see a puppet show can be a fantastic experience and a great way to inspire them to want to make the best use of their own toy theatre. Giving them ideas and showing them just how impressive puppetry can be.

There are plenty of travelling puppet theatres that you may be able to see. And of course there is always good old Punch and Judy for a bit of classic entertainment at the sea side.


Next Up:  How Do You Make a Toy Theatre

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