Shadow Play: Children Co-creating Scenography

How the Lion Learned to Moonwalk
And Other Stories on How to Design for Classical Music Experiences

TABLE OF CONTENTS | 1. Introduction | 2. Weaving Audience Engagement | 3. Creating Visual Design and Meaningful Audience Experiences | 4. Teddy in Space | 5. Shadow Play | 6. The World Online Orchestra | 7. Joystick | 8. A Concert with Striking Force | 9. Lots of Brass, Lots of Colors | 10. Opus Lux | 11. Epilogue

HOW-THE-LION-CHAPTER05-FIRST-PAGECHAPTER 5. This text was originally published on pages 48–55 in the book ‘How the Lion Learned to Moonwalk’, which summarizes the Designing Classical Music Experiences project.

Download the book here.

FULL REPORT | Shadow Play

The case description below is a shortened version of the report ‘Shadow Play: Children Co-create the Scenography for Peter and the Wolf and The Carnival of the Animals’.

Author: Erling Björgvinsson, Malmö University.

Preview or download the report (3.2 MB).

Shadow Play: Children Co-creating Scenography

Grandparent: “In the foyer, our boy started playing in front of the lion he had made. Later at the concert he whispered ‘Grandma, that’s my lion jumping right now!’”.

Parent: “We weren’t sure our niece would want to participate in the workshop, but she did. And it was great that we could bring the shadow figures home. She was quite engrossed in them afterwards!”

Boy: “I saw my lion on stage! I knew it was mine because it moonwalked”.

Supporting co-creation and musical exploration
How can you support musical exploration and co-creation among children before, during, and after a classical music concert? Through Shadow Play workshops, the project explored how children can engage in co-creative activities where, in this case, the music of Prokofiev (Peter and the Wolf) and Saint-Saëns (The Carnival of the Animals) was in focus. The idea was to combine pre-produced visuals, made in workshops with design students and children, with short video recordings of ‘shadows’ that had been made by children and their parents a few hours before the concert. The pre-produced visuals and the children’s recordings were then mixed together by a visual artist during the concert.

Audience engagement activities
A few weeks before the family concert, workshops with kindergarten children were held where they made silhouettes and animated shadow figures (figure 1). At the Copenhagen Opera House, just before the concert, Shadow Play workshops consisting of several stations were run:

  • a music-choreography station where the children listened to parts of the music and, with assistance, tried how to move to the music (figure 2)
  • a station for making paper shadows where children cut out silhouettes from cardboard paper and put them on sticks to be used in the analogue animation station (figure 3)
  • an analogue animation station where the children could ‘perform’ by wearing props (figure 4) or dramatizing their shadow figures (figure 5)
  • a digital animation station where the children could animate animals that were part of Prokofiev’s and Saint-Saëns’ musical pieces—this by moving in front of the motion-sensing device Kinect (figure 6)

Finally, the concert, where children and their parents could see their work being used in the scenography (figure 7)


Diverse activities make room for diverse participants
The Shadow Play experiment shows that it is possible to ‘stretch’ a concert to include engaging experiences where most concertgoers can participate. Having several and quite different activities enabled both small and large groups to take part. The diverse nature of the activities led to that most of the children were able to find an activity that they enjoyed.

Evaluations show that taking part in activities before the concert affected the children’s experience of the concert. The children were loaded with anticipation and excitement as they waited for their animals to appear on stage, which increased the feeling of being part of the concert. At home, during the days after the concert, many children also re-enacted the experience by playing with the stick-figure silhouettes, which they were encouraged to bring home.

The evaluations also show that the children’s and the adults’ views of the concert and the Shadow Play are quite different. The adults emphasize the importance of ‘schooling’ their children into classical music, while the children highlight how the Shadow Play allowed for creativity, playfulness, anticipation, and togetherness. In a similar vein, the adults who were happy with the Shadow Play workshop emphasized the experiential value and not so much the pedagogical value. Even though the children did not to a great degree talk about the value of learning or gaining deeper understanding, some of the children expressed how the Shadow Play increased their understanding of the music.

What divides the adult concertgoers the most is the usage of visuals during the concert and the aesthetic language of the Shadow Play. Some found the visuals distracting and stealing too much attention from the music. Others found the aesthetic language too primitive. According to some of these adults, the concert did not play up to their expectations: The Royal Danish Theatre stands for refinement, which the ‘crude’ shadows wavered too far away from. Most of the children were not, however, critical to the aesthetic language—only a few adults reported that their children had found it too simple or boring. A certain difference in attitude between ‘heavy users’ and ‘casual users’ of the Royal Danish Theatre can be detected. Heavy users are more satisfied with the Shadow Play, while the casual users to a larger degree want the concert experience to confirm their expectations of what the Royal Danish Theatre is, namely professional, stylish, and refined.

How can children engage in the whole creative process?
Many things could be developed further. The narrative and the dramaturgical framing could be given a more cohesive shape. The pedagogical format could be explored further; children could be given more time to learn and explore both the music and what is possible to do with shadows. The Kinect station would need considerable development to allow for greater expressivity and for collaborative play.

On a more general level, it would be interesting to explore how the children to a larger degree could engage in the whole creative process. With the Shadow Play, the creative work is ‘refined’ by professionals. A question worth addressing is if the Shadow Play could become a more direct representation of the children’s creativity. Further, the Shadow Play format did not at all attract new audience groups to the Royal Danish Theatre. It would therefore be necessary to explore how such a format could be developed so as to establish relations with groups that the Royal Danish Theatre does not reach.

Royal Danish Theatre, researchers and students at Malmö University, researchers and students at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts—School of Design, visual artist Thomas Romlöv, production designer Tine Lylloff, children, parents, and grandparents.

The Shadow Play concept built upon previous productions developed and run by the Royal Danish Theatre, who had already engaged school children in making drawings used as scenography. A participatory and aesthetical framework for the Shadow Play concept was then developed by the Royal Danish Theatre and researchers at Malmö University. The detailing of the framework was done in collaboration with design students from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts—School of Design, who made the visual schemas for both musical pieces, the shadow-animation film for Peter and the Wolf by using silhouettes made by children, and produced the visual backgrounds for The Carnival of the Animals. An interaction design student from Malmö University conceptualized and programmed the Kinect animations in near dialogue with the Danish design students. Silhouettes for Peter and the Wolf were made by a group of children at a school in Valby, which were later animated and filmed in black and white by design students from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts—School of Design.

Learn more
Read the full Shadow Play report
Barn skapar scenografi till familjeföreställning med Det Kongelige Kapel
“Ved at komme ud i Operahuset bryder man grænser”

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