Blogger Jonathan Dolce

Easy Puppetry From the Shadows

So, coming up this Friday I’m going to be in Ocala for the 2023 TBLC KidsLit MiniCon. For the first time, I’m doing a workshop all about shadow puppetry. Of course, it’s made easy! Moreover, I’m bringing my own brand of shadow puppetry, one that combines many styles and forms of this ancient art.

Taking your show on the electronic highway

Shadow puppetry enjoys a history that stretches back to time immemorial. Today, we have the
ability to create, share and present wonderful shadow puppets and entire shows utilizing 3-D printing
methods in person and online. Shadow puppet creation used to take hours of painstaking work with
scissors and exacto knives and result in workable but fragile products. The average professional hand
puppet today costs upward of $30, while a 3-D printed shadow puppet costs pennies.

Here are two (2) I’ve printed:

This one is for Maybe a Bear Ate It
and this one if for Los Gatos Black on Halloween or just about any time you need a zombie : )

Since most shadow puppet screens/theaters are big rectangles, just zoom in on it with your camera et voila you have your framed show, ready to record and upload. We use an iPad.

Here’s some I made earlier!

Biblioburro by Jeanette Winters
Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Yuyi Morales

But let’s say you literally want to take your show on the road. How about a suitcase full of fun?

I got a vintage suitcase from a thrift store for just $7. And in about 30 min had a portable shadow puppet theater.

Step one: add a pvc pipe to attach your screen to. I just punched some holes in the side and slid some bolts in to hold my pipe in place and to allow it to rotate.

Step two: choose your light source. I opted for a battery operated, motion detecting spot light. It takes four D batteries and had a nice mounting plate that I attached with a nut and bolt. The lights detach from the plate for easy storage.

Step three, add your screen! I opted for a piece of translucent plastic that I got from an old flat screen TV. The bottom part is just a piece of matte board attached with hot glue to the pvc pipe. The arm on top is also pvc pipe with a little notch cut in it to hold the top of the screen. The other end of the supporting armature goes into a little piece of cardboard pipe hot glued to the inside of the suitcase. I added a little brass finial to the end of the pipe for fanciness.

Lots of space in there for more electronics, like a blacklight, a little usb flashing multicolor light, power strip and of course your shadow puppets!

Tools I used for this project:

High tech stuff

Some more sources of inspo and hacks!

Hansel and Gretel — This amazing book is a shadow puppet show in itself! Take it apart and stick it on your screen! I got mine at a discount store for just $4!

This one is literally a shadow puppet book! Just shine a light through each transparency page and read the story aloud!

iPapel picado!

In Mexico, they use intricately cut piece of colorful paper to make imagery. This is called papel picado, which literally translate to cut paper. These also make wonderful shadow puppet images. You can get them for as little as un peso — $1!

Or this amazing one I got on clearance from one store:


Don’t forget your showmanship! Add atmosphere with music, sound effects, a fog machine, lighting, or how about a black light show? With a black light show you can get black light sensitive balloons and even confetti looks like fireworks under blacklight.

Keep in touch! Send me questions and look for more of my show postings.

And above all HAVE FUN! If it’s not fun for you, it won’t be fun for your audiences.

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