19 July, 2012

Story Telling at School and Scenic Design: How and Why to Make a Felted Doll Cottage

Once upon a time . . .

there lived a young college student.  She was interested in many subjects such as politics and history, but her major was Theatre.  She loved her major - her friends, the professors, and helping out with all the productions.  She learned all about the technical aspects of theatre including lighting design, scenic design, stage management, technical directions, costume design blah blah blah.  She even acted in one or two productions (although not particularly well.) Near the end of her college career however, she decided she really would rather not live in New York and she worried that the life of an Equity stage manager might not be for her. So when she and her husband moved away to attend graduate school, she decided to move her career in a new direction, teaching.

Fast forwarding through a masters degree, three children, four dogs, countless moves, and a few teaching jobs in a few different states, we come to today.  My husband still works in theatre and I am blissfully happy being an early childhood teacher.  Teaching is my passion and one of the reasons I am in the world.  Yes, really.  I still adore theatre however, and luckily I can attend excellent productions at the university where my husband works.

Honestly, I rather thought the theatrical design information I gleaned during my college years, would not be of much use to me in my educational career.  But, a few days ago I realized I had used it - without even meaning to! (Actually, I think I use my college training quite a bit and in all kinds of ways, but some of the ways are sort of roundabout and not really relevant to this post - so I won't go into them right now.  Maybe I will some other time, later perhaps, when I feel the need to explain why I place so much value on liberal arts education.  Oooh, and doesn't that sound enticing?!?!)

Where was I?  Oh yes, scenic design.  So . . .

I had been working on a small felted doll cottage for a couple of weeks, and I was pretty happy with how it was turning out.  I had started with the basic idea of felting one wall of a house to represent the whole house.  I wanted to make an inside and an outside wall so the "house" could be used on a nature table during any season.  First I created the interior wall.  It has a doorway, a picture of a tree, a small window with felt curtains, a fireplace with a cozy peat fire burning, and a bookshelf with a few books and a small vase of cheery flowers.

Interior of the house, with a few added pieces

Then I moved to the exterior wall.  I wet felted and needle felted it into roughly the same shape as the interior wall.  It has a doorway and a window, some flowers and grass, and a bumblebee and butterfly buzzing happily around the garden flowers.   

I sewed the two pieces of wall together and added the tiny grape vine wreath door.  (I fear I sewed it on a tiny bit too tightly because it doesn't like to stay closed!)

Then I started looking for a piece of wood that would be just right for the base.  I thought a large slice of a tree trunk would be nice, but I didn't have one around at that moment so I had to be content to shop for something.  I found an oval piece of wood at our local craft store and I thought it was perfect!  I used my woodburner to mark the "floorboards" and then darkened it a little with paint.  I used my handmade wood polish to seal it up and I was ready to go!  I used the woodworking skills I learned in college, working in the theatre scene shop. (Did you wonder when I was going to come back around to college?) I drilled holes in the wood, glued wooden pegs into the holes, and then cut holes in the felt to match.  I also decided to add a "tree" to the cottage.  I cut and sanded a birch stick that had been drying in my garage for a few months, and then drilled a hole in it.  I glued one of the wooden pegs into the stick and then drilled a hole in the oval to match.  Tah dah.  (Okay, this isn't a very exciting picture, but I wanted you to see the base of the whole doll cottage.)

Then I drilled more peg sized holes - into two little wooden drawer pulls and painted them to look like little spotted toadstools.  (I used watercolor paint and sealed them with the wood polish too.)  They fit right over the tops of the pegs.  So when you add the tree and the toadstools to the oval platform, it becomes a lovely outdoor picnic spot . . . 

in Winter (when the tree is bare) . . .

or Summer (when the tree is full of green leaves.) 

Of course, in the summer the tree would have to have a little knitted hammock, right?  
If, instead of adding the tree and the pegs first, I added the felted cottage, the tree and toadstools would help secure it in place.  They also provide a little spot for resting squirrels or mice toys or a little spot where a doll could sit.  

Though I think if I were a squirrel I would rather sit in the hammock swing, wouldn't you?

So this little felted doll cottage has a few ways it can be used and could provide a few different locations for a story.  It also reminds me of a stage, and makes me think of all that could happen in these locations.  (Of course the bare tree on the bare oval makes me think of Checkov, but we will hope my students tell stories that are a little more cheerful than his!)

"Little Red Riding Hood"
Illustrator: Margaret Tarrant
I think I could use my stage for storytelling.  I believe Little Red Riding Hood would do well with this scenery.  

The story could begin in the kitchen in the interior of the house.  Then I would remove the cottage as Red begins her journey through the woods.  The wolf might convince her to veer off the path to pick some wild flowers!  Oh no!  The we could meet up with Red again just outside her grandmother's house.  She could knock at the door and we could see the wolf on the other side, putting on the grandmother's clothes and jumping into bed.  (If I added a little "quilt" to the piece of tree cookie which was acting as a table, it could become a bed.)  Later the huntsman could come through the door (which doesn't really close properly anyway) and save the day.  

Then all the doll actors would have to bow because they had acted upon such a lovely stage. 

And of course, I hope this little stage will serve as background for many of the children's stories.  This little cottage could go to the block area when it was not in use at a nature table.  The children could add blocks and create a bigger house, more to the yard, a whole neighborhood . . .

And so story telling and scenery (albeit small scenery) came together in my creation of a felted cottage.  If you decide to create a felted cottage or any other story telling scenery, please let me know.  I would love to see your pictures!

And they all lived happily ever after.  

The End