chapter  7
English Toy Theaters
Staging Miniature Melodramatic Spectacles
ByJacqueline Reid-Walsh
Pages 25

Toy theater has been a vital artistic form across the world for hundreds of years. In this chapter, I examine the English toy-theater set that began to be published around 1811, reached a height of popularity in the Victorian period, and remains a vital activity today with (adult) enthusiasts. Made of paper cutouts, it evolved to represent a complete miniature dramatic production including characters, scenes, props, wings, play script, and stage. Directed toward preteen and teenage boys, interactors using these sets were able to stage plays based on popular productions ranging from those of Shakespeare to those of Walter Scott to “blood-and-thunder” melodramas. Due to their ingenious tab-and-slot design, by which the components could be stood up, the theaters enabled a wide range of interactivity and narrative play. The challenge for the interactor was to balance the staging demands with the limitations of the paper artifacts.