Easy to Make Cardboard Box Theater for Marionettes
A cardboard box theater for marionettes is fun for kids and grownups to make together. This homemade theater accommodates everything from simple string puppets kids can make, to more detailed store-bought marionettes.
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Puppet shows with marionettes are exciting, filled with color and movement. Marionettes promote imagination and creativity, supporting these childhood development skills along with language and fine motor.
Related CBC Kids article: Find out more about how marionettes work.
While we love making and using hand puppets (including stick puppets), puppets controlled by strings have a special quality of their own. They seem more lifelike, with added character and connection to the audience.
There are lots of options for making, or purchasing, string puppets, and for creating stories, songs and dances for them to perform.
Related: Puppets and Theaters on Pinterest
Homemade puppet theaters make good use of cardboard boxes, large and small. We've already made a few different puppet theaters, including one from foam packaging.
This tutorial is a little more involved than earlier ones we've posted for hand puppets, but the overall procedure is not complicated.
The tutorial includes instructions for a back drop and a drop-down cardboard 'curtain'.
The main variable will be the size and shape of the box you use.
Supplies for a theater for marionettes
- masking tape
- paint or markers
You will also need extra pieces of cardboard to support the structure, and to make the curtain and back drop.
Instructions for theater for marionettes
Start with a large box with flaps.
Place the box on its side.
Cut two rectangular pieces of cardboard. Bend the ends of each rectangle. Fold the top flap up. Tape one end of the rectangle to the top corner of the box flap, and then to the top of the theater as shown. Repeat on the other corner.
Fold the sides back and tape in place.
Make cuts in the top of the box as shown. Note: the small hole in the middle was on the box before we started and is not part of the tutorial.
- Make a long rectangular opening in the front and back with scissors or a craft knife. Each opening should be almost the full length of the box, and approximately one inch (2.5 cm) wide. These will be the areas where you insert the back drops and curtain.
- Remove a portion of the cardboard in the center to insert the puppets. This opening will be wider than the slits at the front and back, and can be one opening or two separate openings (as shown). The opening(s) will be as long and wide as necessary for you to hold the strings and operate the movements of the marionettes. Removing too much of the top of the theater might weaken the structure so start with the minimum required and make the openings larger as necessary.
Instructions for Backdrop and Curtain
Sketch drawings on a large poster board or piece of cardboard.
You can see the two cut-outs on the left that I used as patterns for the flowers.
The size of the cardboard you use for the backdrop will be determined by the size of the box used to make the theater. The backdrop should fit into the opening at the top of the theater, and should cover the back area of the inside of the theater after it is inserted into the opening.
The backdrop and curtain should be slightly taller than the height of the theater so you can easily insert and remove them.
Paint the design with craft paints, or color with crayons or markers.
Slide the backdrop into the opening at the back. Slide the curtain into the opening at the front.
The cardboard used for the backdrop and curtain should be tall enough to leave a portion sticking out of the top of the theater for easy removal.
Theater with butterfly puppets
This is how the burlap butterflies we made are viewed, and controlled, through the top of the theater.
Make an X shape with two craft sticks and tape them together in the middle. Attach a string or thread to the opposite ends of a craft stick, then attach a string to each wing.
This is how the butterflies look from the audience!
Theater with store-bought marionette
This is a store-bought marionette that is equipped with interlocking dowels to control the puppet.
This puppet was too large too fit through the opening at the top of the theater so we simply inserted the dowels from underneath, inside the theater. This is not ideal but is a good compromise. The performance won't be any less appreciated!
This marionette has been used a lot, and re-strung several times. But it is still a favorite.
This is what the audience sees!
You can paint the sides of the theater if preferred. Plan for a neutral design that will accommodate any backdrop scene that is made to go along with a specific story.
Kids will love helping with the construction of theater for marionettes. Designing, painting, and working together to complete the project will build fine motor and cognitive skills in early learners.
When your theater is complete, entertain your audience with movement, story and song with an awesome marionette performance!