Toy theater, more commonly known as model theater and paper theater, was a type of miniature theater, dating back as early as the late 19th century in Europe, where they were manufactured using a pressed paperboard as the back of a heavy duty wooden box. Model theaters were made using a pressed paperboard and were sold as kits at the concession stands of an average vaudeville theatre, or opera house. Today, toy theaters are made from a variety of materials including cardboard, plastic, metal, and more.
These days, toy theatres have all the bells and whistles of the real thing, with trained puppeteers performing on a set designed out of Styrofoam and backgrounds to resemble those of a real-life setting. However, the similarities end there. The layout of most modern toy theaters is built around the concept of mechanical and human puppet interaction. They may also contain lighting systems that replicate those found in real-life movie theaters, and may also include sound systems that can replicate or emulate the sounds of a real-life setting.
The early 19th century was a time when innovative manufacturers located in London quickly capitalized on the rising popularity of both “talkies” and “the telephone.” Thus, the idea of creating a toy theater was born. Early toy manufacturers such as Thomas Edison’s Westinghouse began producing what we know today as the model theatre within the grounds of his New York factory.
In recent years, the toy theater revival movement has grown into a worldwide phenomenon, with numerous toy manufacturers producing similar units that are easily transportable and affordable. There are even “dummy” versions of these incredible theaters that can be purchased by children as small as infants! In many instances, smaller models of these fantastic toy homes have been used as day care centers and libraries, displaying some of the most moving stories and plays ever produced. Some of these fantastic models are now considered collectibles. The toy industry has produced a great many works of art that are the products of the talented minds behind these early toy theaters.
One of the most popular early works produced by toy manufacturers was the movie version of The Wizard of Oz. Although not a particularly huge production, it managed to create a stir among viewers, and was later used as the impetus for many of the next generation’s toy versions. As well as the Oz movie, the early toy versions of other classic works were also produced. For instance, a few short films such as King Kong and MTH Entertainment’s remake of A Midsummer Night’s Dream served as the beginning of the creation of the famous Peter Jackson films. Both versions were first shown at theaters around America and were hugely popular with both kids and adults.
Model railroad enthusiasts will also be interested in learning more about the toy model railroad trains produced during the same era as these first toy models. They produced quite a number of different styles and were particularly successful in their presentation of fantasy and other such ideas. In particular, they were able to present such concepts as cars and trains that had been painted a particular color scheme. These sets were designed to look like original parts that were included on original trains. Today, these printed sheets can be collected and restored to their original appearance using some of the available restoration techniques that exist.
Many toy theaters produced a wide variety of large-scale productions during the late part of the twenties. An important aspect of these was to use special effects which were animated. This helped to create the illusion of actual movement within the shows. Special effects included moving scenery, such as the scenes in the storyboard for a brand new animated feature film called Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. There was also a massive amount of stage makeup, which was created by applying what was referred to as “wigs” to real humans, which made them appear even more realistic. These printed sheets can be found today, in the collection of hobbyists who collect these historical pieces.
The last decade of the 20th century brought about an entirely new genre of toy theatres. This was a result of the rise in popularity of science fiction movies. In particular, Star Wars introduced the idea of space travel, which is still popular today. These spaceships were manufactured to look just like the models used in popular science fiction movies of the time.