The roots of our miniature theater project are so old and intertwined it’s hard to know where to begin, so I’ll start with Once Upon a Time. Once upon a time—some 200 years ago, before the distractions of TV and electronics–children of Western Europe played with toy theaters made from papers printed with elaborate prosceniums, character, and set designs which they cut out, pasted on cardboard, and assembled so they could perform plays on the little stages. Some say it was geared more for boys, but the girls were enticed away from their dollhouses when they saw how much fun it was to stage things like battles and weddings. Needless to say, the adults got hooked, too.
“The world of toy theater is filled with eccentrics…” –Peter Baldwin, Toy Theaters of the World.
One might say the world of miniatures is peopled with a similar cast of characters.
Once upon a time—close to 40 years ago—Mr. Peepers, a miniature shop in Seattle, started selling our dollhouse kits, which began a long relationship with the owners, Babs & Allan. Mr. Peepers is where we taught our first workshop, which is another story altogether.
Once upon a time—maybe 25 years ago–Allan and his wife Nora asked us over dinner one night to build them a mini project of our own choosing. The commission had no strings—just to build whatever we liked, whenever we got around to it. Noel and I looked at them, and at each other, and found that absolutely nothing came to mind. By then we had built almost 50 projects in varying styles, had classes and a commission on the work table, plus other commissions still on the books. In the back of our team mind that whiney little mosquito that didn’t care about paying the rent nagged us to refuse any more big projects.
Once upon a time Allan and Nora discovered we liked theater, and took us to a performance at the Seattle Repertory Theater. On the drive home Noel and I talked about making a miniature theater. But where would we start–a whole theater was a gigantic project. A few miles down the road I said, let’s start with the front two rows of seats and make the fun parts—the stage and backstage where the real magic takes place. And Noel said, forget the seats, let’s start with the proscenium.
Time passed. We hashed it over with friends and relatives. A friend sent us Peter Baldwin’s book, Toy Theaters of the World chronicling the history of toy theaters, a world we knew nothing about. A cousin told us about a collector she’d visited in Italy.
Once more upon a time—October of 1995 to be exact–we spent a month in Italy. Included in that trip was finding an antique shop in Florence with a worn red box the size of a small toy chest which contained the pieces to a paper theater. They wanted $200.00. I hesitated–we were hand-to-mouth dollhouse builders traveling on credit. And there was the trivial matter of how to get it home. And where to put it. I still kick my practical mind for leaving that treasure behind. But there was also the day’s visit to Sienna, and the home of one Dottore G., the collector of vintage toy theaters.
“We should treat all trivial things of life very seriously.”–Oscar Wilde
Il Dottore treated toy theaters very seriously.