Photo courtesy Elizabeth Ely Moreno

If you’ve got kiddos who were born for the stage or just love to play make believe, try turning your backyard into a neighborhood theater. 

Before You Begin
Consider your children’s ages, experience and how much time and effort they — and let’s face it, you — want to put into a production. For younger children, stick with something simple, like dressing them up as acrobats and elephants and leading them in a backyard circus. Littles don’t have long attention spans, so keep it short and playful.

For kids who can read and have acted before (or have even just been to a play), determine if they’re interested in throwing something together in a single day, like a talent show or skit, or if they’re committed to a week or more of daily rehearsals required to produce a short play. 

If they chose to do a play, they’ll need a director. Any parent, older sibling or neighborhood teen or college student with a drama background is an excellent choice. 

All the World’s a Stage
A low deck that elevates your actors makes a great stage, but patios and lawns will also do. Just be sure to stagger guests, seating them by height, with people in front on blankets, followed by low-back  chairs, taller chairs and finally, standing room. Choose a spot where the sun won’t blind anyone. And don’t forget to turn off your sprinklers!

People walking behind the action is distracting, so you’ll want some kind of backdrop, like a curtain, bed sheet,  wall or hedge. If performances will be held after dark, plan for lighting. You’ll also need a backstage area, behind the scenes or off to the side, to give performers a hiding spot for costume changes and a waiting area for entrances.

Words, Words, Words
There are hundreds of short plays written specifically for children, available from publishers like Pioneer Drama Service. Alternatively, you could write your own script, but make sure it’s finished before the first day of rehearsals.

Practice Makes (Almost!) Perfect
If you’re organized and the kids are committed, it’s possible to put on a 30-40 minute play in as little as five days (plan for six-hour rehearsals, with time for lunch and breaks.) Here’s an easy-to-follow schedule:

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  • Day 1: Read the play aloud, hold auditions, assign parts and read through the play again. 
  • Days 2-3: Work through one scene at a time. Actors write down their movements (called blocking) in their scripts.
  • Day 4: Actors should be “off book” i.e.parts memorized. Add props as you work through scenes. 
  • Day 5: Practice the whole play, stopping as needed. After lunch, do two or more dress rehearsals, the last time through without stopping. Break for dinner, and then, it’s showtime! 

Tips

  • Have projects to keep kids occupied when they’re not rehearsing.
  • Keep costumes and scenery simple and low budget. 
  • Coordinate showtimes with adjacent neighbors. You don’t want anyone mowing their lawn in the middle of a performance.  

It won’t be perfect, but it’s your backyard, not Broadway. Remind the kids that they are there to have fun, and if they’re enjoying themselves, so will the audience.

Elizabeth Ely Moreno
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