Setting the Stage

From Story to Stage

It was a mine field of a very creative sort. We waded through cloth remnants, strips of ribbons, construction paper, and cardboard pieces. We tiptoed around scissors, glue, and children sprawled on the floor. Such is life backstage of the theater, where the magic happens.

The theaters in this case were small stage dioramas and the magic came from the students’ creative set designs.

“I’m making boats for a play about a kid who gets kidnapped by pirates,” Gigi said, holding up a cardboard boat. Gigi chose one chapter of a book from the series Treasure Hunters and adapted the plot into a 3-act play.

Her production involves sophisticated staging techniques. “I’m planning on doing flashbacks,” she said. “The flashbacks would be the lights slowly turning off and then on, a dreamy sound, and maybe different costumes.”

In From Story to Stage, students choose a piece of literature that can be adapted into a play, and write a script with dialogue and stage directions. They develop their characters and design costumes, complete with fashion sketches and fabric swatches.

They also sketch the set and choose lighting and sound. It all comes together on their stage – a tri-fold cardboard diorama of one setting from their play.

“I wrote a story about a teacher who is really mean and she turns kids into apples,” offered Brynn. She chose the first chapter of Sideways Stories from Wayside School.

Brynn’s stage set is a school classroom with a checkerboard floor of woven white and blue paper strips, a whiteboard, and desks. She was eager to share her characters’ costume sketches. “Joe’s costume is a tie-dyed t-shirt, jean shorts, tennis shoes, and his crazy red hair!” she laughed. The teacher, Ms. Gorf, dresses much more somberly. “Her costume is a black dress with buttons, and brown shoes.” Appropriate for a villain.

Henry’s play involves a bit of magic and mystery. “It’s supposed to be a wedding scene,” he said of his stage which features a large tropical-looking tree. “People there are magic. There are two people who are friends. One gets hurt and everyone thinks he’s dead,” Henry explained.

Evidently, there is a “huge secret” about the character who goes missing and other characters try to find out what it is. Henry’s suspenseful plot was adapted from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows and he named his play “Dumbledore’s Secret.”

“It had a bunch of fun costume designs and a lot of suspense in the end,” he said.

“My story is about a mermaid who saves a narwhal,” said Noelani. Her costumes for Lana the mermaid and Spike the narwhal included metallic fabrics in blues and purple.

Noelani worked on details to highlight her ocean setting. She twisted green plastic Easter grass strands around a dark green pipe cleaner to create flowing seaweed. The floor of her stage was covered in a bright blue ribbon glued in a wavy pattern to mimic the ocean. Cotton balls were massed together to represent clouds in the sky.

Julius created detailed pieces for “An Adventurous Day with Jack and Annie”, his play based on the Magic Treehouse books. The treehouse was cut out of cardboard and then colored with crayons in a way that made it look like a realistic log cabin. A ladder to climb into the treehouse was two white plastic straws connected with pieces of popsicle stick rungs.

Julius described the two scenes that make up his adventure play. “The first one is about when they find a pteranodon dinosaur. Jack is like, ‘Annie, you better not pet it!’ but Annie pets it.”

In the second scene, Annie spots another dinosaur and then it sees her. “It kind of looks like a tyrannosaurus,” Julius said, “and it starts chasing them. They escaped and went into the tree house and it brought them home.”

I’m sure that someday we will see some of these miniature stages recreated in real-life theaters!

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