Celebrating Paper Theater

Paper theater (also called toy theater) is a form of miniature theater dating back to the early Victorian era. Paper theaters were often printed on posters and sold as kits at playhouses, opera houses, and vaudeville theaters, and proved to be an effective marketing tool. The kits were assembled at home and the plays performed for family members and guests, sometimes with live musical accompaniment and sound effects.

At the height of its popularity over 300 European theaters were selling kits, but paper theater saw a drastic decline in popularity in the late 19th century as realism began to dominate the dramatic arts, and again with the arrival of television. Thankfully, paper theater survived near-extinction and has enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years among puppeteers, writers, hobbyists, designers, educators, and filmmakers. Several publishers now offer replicas of famous paper theater kits as well as new models, and there are numerous international paper theater festivals throughout the Americas and Europe.

One such festival is presented yearly at the UC San Diego Library under the direction of staffer and “paper devotee” Scott Paulson. The Library’s Paper Theater Festival (billed as “The Smallest Show on Earth”) features examples of the form from Paulson’s personal collection, as well as performances of student-authored plays. The exhibition runs the gamut of paper theater history and formats, including posters, pop-ups, postcards, and souvenir books. Paulson attributes his interest in the medium to seeing Franco Zeffirelli’s autobiographical film “Tea with Mussolini,” which prominently features a paper theater performance. Others are drawn by paper theater’s tactile nature and by its value as an interactive educational toy, one that serves to stimulate a child’s creativity. A number of well-known figures were introduced to art by paper theater or have worked with the form, including Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Winston Churchill, Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, Ingmar Bergman, Terry Gilliam, Pablo Picasso, and Orson Welles, to name just a few.

Like these luminaries Paulson appreciates paper theater both as a fascinating link to theater history and as an art form in its own right, one that celebrates craftsmanship and beauty on an intimate scale. He inaugurated the annual Festival in order to share his enthusiasm and to encourage others – children especially – to step away from our technocratic age for a time and let their imaginations take the lead.

Watch Celebrating Paper Theater.

Fourth Season of Script to Screen a Big Success

8232The UCSB Script to Screen series just completed its fourth and most successful season to date. We hosted three special Academy screenings (Whiplash, The Theory of Everything, and The Grand Budapest Hotel) where we connected Oscar nominees with students and the Santa Barbara Academy/Guild community. We also expanded our series to include a focus on television with our 10th Anniversary of Lost with Executive Producer/Director Jack Bender. This season our guests of honor shared key lessons about the importance of personally connecting to the material as well as having a family-esque support system to help bring the script to the screen.

Here are some special quotes from our guest artists:

29040The Theory of Everything with Oscar-nominated screenwriter Anthony McCarten:

“In 2004, that was the real catalyzing moment for me when I read Jane Hawking’s auto-biography. Everything I thought I knew about Stephen Hawking was displaced by everything I didn’t know. This was a unique, emotional insight into his private life. This incredible love story, very much one of a kind, unprecedented in some ways, challenging, heartbreaking, triumphant. I thought if I can get the rights to that book and marry it with the public world and what we know of Stephen and his public story, you know we would really have something special.”

29315Whiplash with Oscar-nominated writer/director Damien Chazelle:

“I was a drummer when I was in high school, and I had a teacher that was very much in this mold. It was the sort of thing where drumming had been this sort of hobby for myself that I did not take that seriously. As soon as I got in the orbit of this conductor/this teacher and his big band that he ran, he suddenly felt like life or death everyday. I felt the worse thing possible would be to screw up a hit or a beat. I just remember the daily dose of dread that I would feel during that time. I don’t play that much anymore, but you get a lot of fodder from that sort of emotional experience. It occurred to me that there might be a subject for a movie there.”

28922500 Days of Summer with screenwriter Scott Neustadter:

“This was very much a cathartic thing. I’d been broken up with, didn’t understand why, could not accept that it was just that she didn’t feel the same and then a minute later she got engaged, and I was like, What in the world? I was writing to put it all out there.”

The UCSB Script to Screen series returns in October 2015 for its 5th season. This coming year we will be expanding to include more actors on the stage with the screenwriter. Plus, we are currently planning a major event with a frontrunner to the 2016 Best Picture nominee and with a very special guest.

Browse all programs in the Script to Screen series.