WILLIAMSTOWN -- "Problem solved," a student shouted to his group, "I found some duct tape!"
The utility adhesive was then affixed to a homemade paper screen, part of a set for a theatrical shadow puppet retelling of the nursery rhyme, "Jack and Jill."
The tale is one of 11 original productions to be presented Wednesday during Pine Cobble School's first Paper & Toy Theater Festival. Approximately 70 students from Grades 4 through 9 will participate.
The shows begin at 12:30 and the community is welcome to attend the free showcase.
"With this kind of project, you're only limited by your imagination," said David Lane, one of the several parents volunteering to facilitate the festival. Lane has volunteered to help with several of the school's more traditional theater productions but was inspired to introduce the school to the Toy Theater concept after attending a workshop presented by the Great Small Works company.
Toy Theater, also called Paper Theater, is a Victorian-era tradition in which paperboard sheets depicting characters, sets, and props were sold at European opera houses and Vaudeville stages after events. The sheets were taken home and cut out, and people would perform their own operas and plays, often as entertainment for guests both young and old.
The Pine Cobble students have been cultivating their plays in multi-grade groups for the past week and a half, working with creative specialists writing, building and rehearsing stories crafted for miniature stages, spanning several styles of puppetry and using recycled materials.
"It's a wonderful group activity," said Lane. "It's kind of like the concept of a sandbox, but instead of sand, it was filling a space with cardboard and tape and rods and wires and saying, ‘Let creativity be your guide.' "
"It's amazing that you can create something that looks amazing out of scrap," said sixth-grader Mercedes Fitch. Her group learned how to move light behind a group of holes punched in their set to create a twinkling night sky and create a curtain out of old corduroy pants.
Students created their own scripts and characters, props, sets and scenery based on the general theme of fables. Wednesday's tales will include "Jack and Jill: The Extended Version," "Odysseus in Space," and a story about a lovesick zombie and a princess, among others.
"It kind of re-adjusts the way you think," said seventh-grader Arianna Stetson, as she manipulated a shadow puppet behind an illuminated screen.
"It's definitely fun," said Aidan White, also a seventh-grader, and creator of the "Odysseus in Space" twist on the classic Greek epic.
There were also some faces of frustration Monday, as set pieces fell apart or students tried to simultaneously work a puppet and read lines.
"But the students aren't afraid to try new things and fail," said Lane.
Jay Merselis, assistant head of school, said the pilot project really took off on the first day when students were introduced to a pile of materials.
"It started with excited, controlled chaos, but then you'd start to see different visions come through. The challenge and fun comes with how [the students are] going to interpret the context," he said.