Stories of Your City

Theatres are spaces where we can share our experiences, stories and ideas through storytelling and performance. Since the beginning of lockdown, theatres have been forced to close and in most situations will be some of the last places to reopen to the public.

We experience our cities and the places we live in very personal ways and from many perspectives: your version of the city is unique and you’re the best person to tell stories about it. This exercise will guide you through the process of making your own theatre to perform the Stories of Your City at home.

Step by step

Step 1: Create Your Story

Next time you go for a walk, try to record the characters, the objects they interact with, the buildings, nature, and the things you see in the distance. You can write or sketch them in a notebook or on a mobile phone. These things will help you to tell your story.

Who are the characters for example? What objects do they use? How do they travel? Do they stand or do they sit? What buildings or activities do you see? Use your imagination, what have you seen before and what would you like to see in the future? Record your thoughts.

In theatre & television a technique called storyboarding is used: making quick sketches along with text which help you to plan out your ideas and what might happen in the story. Using the characters, objects, buildings and actions you noticed on your walk, develop a story about your local area. Remember to practice the story with someone who would like to listen. Don’t forget to give your story a title.

Step 2: Make Your Background

You can start by making the background to your theatre. Backgrounds are often used at theatres to describe the overall setting of a story. To make your own, think about the things you saw in the distance on your walk, like tall buildings, trees, mountains, aeroplanes, hot air balloons etc. 

Also think of the places you can walk to from home but are quite far away, like school, the supermarket, a restaurant etc. What colour is the sky? What is the weather like? Can you see the sun, the moon, or both?

  1. To make your background, find the biggest piece of cardboard you can
  2. Now use colour to bring your background to life. We recommend using paint with a brush and a sponge (e.g. you can use scissors to cut off a corner of a kitchen sponge)
  3. Think about how it will stand up at the back of your theatre. You could use more cardboard and tape to help it stay upright. When you look at the front you should only see the first piece of cardboard and not the cardboard supports
  4. To make your background feel more realistic, you can draw some more things for your background on cardboard. Cut them out, paint them and glue them to the background

Step 3: Make Your Characters

Your characters will become the central actors to tell your story. They can be people, animals and even objects that you would like to bring to life.

You can make your characters in a variety of ways, such as drawing them on paper or card and cutting them out, cutting people out from magazines, or collaging with different materials and painting the detail.

  1. Draw an outline of your character on a piece of scrap material you might have – here we used an old envelope. Cut out the character so you have a rough outline
  2. Collage and draw to bring your character to life. You can use the outline you have to trace around and make the clothing. Little details like accessories might be useful to help identify the character
  3. Make them stand up! This is something you can do in a number of ways: You can make an extra, hidden cardboard leg, you can glue or tape pieces of cardboard together to make a stand, you could stick your cut-out to an object that will help them stand up. Experiment and test the different ways

Step 4: Make Your Foreground

In theatre, foregrounds create the setting for your story to take place. What is the most important place or building in your story? For example, if your characters use a shop, the shop could be your foreground. Try to prioritise one or two buildings for your foreground so that your story will be easy for your audience to follow.

Here’s an example of a collaged shop we made from cardboard, paper, magazine cut-outs, pencils and crayons and some dill from the fridge as ivy in the foreground of our own story. Again, make sure it stands up!

Step 5: Make Your Props

Props are objects that your characters use in your story. They will be key parts of the foreground scene as objects your characters can interact with.

Think about what your characters do and what they use. For example, a prop can be a bench for your characters to sit on, a bike for your characters to ride, or a fishing rod for your character to fish with. Use some of the things you noticed on your walk, but also use your imagination.

Here’s an example of one of our props: a lamppost. In our story, the lamppost was something one of our characters climbed. We used cardboard to make the lamppost and painted it. We also glued another piece of cardboard to help it stand up, and painted it black to make it appear like a shadow. Try to think imaginatively too.

Step 6: Set Your Scene

It’s time to find a good place to use as the stage for your theatre. Find a clear, flat surface like a table, desk or hard floor ideally where it will be safe from accidents. First set up your background at the back of your stage. 

You can also make free-standing objects that can be placed in front of your background. We collaged using cardboard, paint and coloured paper to make some additional buildings to give our background more depth. Maybe you can use things from the recycling like bottles or other containers?

Step 7: Foreground, Objects & Characters

You can now position your characters. When you’re performing your story, some of the characters may be on stage and some may be off stage until their part in the story begins. For now though, place all your characters on the stage and see how it looks. Remember to face them forwards or towards each other.

Step 8: Finishing Touches

To bring your set to life even more, you can find household objects that can represent things in the scene. For example, we made a foamy paddling pool using a plastic lid filled with washing up liquid and we used house plants as trees.

Step 9: Make Your Theatre Frame

Once the stage is set, it is time to make your home-made front of your theatre. The frame and the curtains are used in theatre to reveal the stage and focus the audience towards the stage. Our frame is made from taped strips of cardboard with glued pieces of canvas. You could make the curtain from paper or textiles such as an old t-shirt or cloth.

Step 10: Perform & Share Your Story

Now you have your theatre: background, foreground, characters props and front of your stage, it’s time to perform your story to an audience.  Remember to take a photo and share your scene!

Okra are a collective working in the fields of architecture, design, research and education specialising in projects that benefit communities old and new.

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