That play-acting is good for children cannot be denied. It gives them self-confidence and a knowledge of how to move and speak correctly. It also trains their memories, and, in cases where the play is historical, as so many children's plays are, it teaches a lesson, that most children find intolerably dull, in a very delightful and efficacious manner.
Many people, however, who would like to get up a play; for their children to act, abandon the idea on account of difficulties which seem insurmountable. It is in order to show how many of these difficulties may be overcome that the following article has been written.
The Choice of a Play
First of all, "the play's the thing!" Given a really suitable play, many of the other difficulties vanish. In families where girls predominate, and in girls' schools, a costume play should be chosen, so that long hair is a help rather than a hindrance to girls taking men's parts. Most girls look well with their hair powdered and tied back with a broad ribbon, and the long brocaded coat and waistcoat that accompany this style of hairdressing are more suitable for girls than modern men's dress. The play should also be chosen with regard to the size of the stage. An overcrowded stage is most difficult to act upon.
The scenery required should be taken into consideration too. A play that would necessitate several elaborate changes of scenery would be most unsuitable for home acting. A suitable children's play should contain some parts for quite little people. Many children of seven or eight make very good actors indeed, and some bigger boys and girls are capable of playing quite difficult parts; indeed, dramatic talent will show itself at fourteen and fifteen - or never.
Plate-armour can be made out of buckram covered with silver pacer: chain-mail by sewing overlapping scales of silver paper on to stockings that are worn on arms and legs
Tragedies and plays containing much love-making should be avoided for children. Such plays as "Cinderella" and "Beauty and the Beast" are suitable for small children, but they are very commonplace, and most boys and girls are capable of something better. Comedies, with dresses and dances, or into which dances and songs can be introduced, are the best.
The stage itself is an important consideration. It should be as large as possible and should have at least two exits. If there is only one available, another can be arranged, not by screening off a portion of the stage opposite the exit, but by putting screens across the back of the stage and round to the side, so that the actors can walk out through the passage thus formed to the real exit, and not have to endure being cramped in a corner on the other side of the stage until the end of the scene.
Most home acting is done in double drawing-rooms; indeed, without this useful room people usually reject the idea of acting in their houses as being quite impossible. But a very good stage, and, in some respects, even a better one, can be made of a big, wide landing, especially if several doors open on to it and there is, as so often happens, another landing opposite to it a few stairs higher.
The audience can sit on the upper landing and the stairs. Of course, the seats at the back row should be raised higher than those in front. Chests of drawers, with a stool near at hand to form a step, make very good back seats, and they are often the most popular. An iron rod, cut to any length desired, and having a hole drilled at each end, can be got from an ironmonger's for the curtain. This rod should be fixed up by means of iron hooks driven into the wall.
The curtain, which should be all in one piece, so as to avoid a gap in the middle, should be pulled by means of strong blind-cord. It is safer to have two people to draw it, one on each side, but it can be managed by one person. The curtain often refuses to "draw" properly in home acting, but if the following method is adopted it will be found to answer very well. Let us imagine that the curtain, hanging from the rod by means of rings, is drawn right across the stage. Two lengths of cord, two yards longer than the width of the stage, are both tied to the same ring at one end of the curtain. One of these lengths should be threaded back through the rings to the opposite side of the stage, where the two extra yards will dangle down ready to pull. The end should have something conspicuous tied on to it, so that it can be found easily. This cord is to be pulled to open the curtain. If two people are to operate, the other cord should be threaded through a small pulley fixed on the wall close to the end of the curtain-rod, and provided with a weight to prevent it hanging in a loop in front of the stage when the curtain is opened. This cord is to be pulled to close it. If one person is to operate, the second cord, after being put through a pulley, should be threaded back through rings like the first cord. In this case care should be taken that the two ends do not get entangled.
Nightlights, placed in a row at intervals of four inches, make very good footlights. They should have a board fixed up behind them, so as to conceal them from the audience and throw the light on the actors.
Another difficulty to be overcome is the proper distribution of parts. This is so often the back of the stage and round to the side. A row of nightlights serves as footlights badly clone. For instance, a thin-voiced, small-featured girl is given the part of the "villain," and a very faint-hearted, weak-kneed, unconvincing villain she makes, whereas she might have shone as a Lydia Languish. As a rule, it is a mistake to introduce any grown-up people into the caste of a children's play. It spoils the effect, and should not be done unless there is some small part for which no child is available. Even then the " grown-up " should be quite a short person, so as to avoid dwarfing the rest of the company. A very nervous child should not have the opening speech of the play. He or she may get through the rehearsals all right, but at the performance itself may have an attack of stage-fright, with dire results. Very often a girl may be a bad actress but a very good dancer. A dance may easily be introduced for her.