A Toolkit of Theatrical Devices

Inspired by the many shows across the Cradle of Creativity.

Using film techniques to tell theatrical narratives.
From the production: It’s Dark Outside (dir. Arielle Gray, Chris Isaacs, Tim Watts)

Paying homage to both Film Noir and Western movies, torches and shadow work were used in It’s Dark Outside to create movie-esque “shots” in the hero vs. villain final scene.

  • Shot 1: A torch is shone on a gauze. Our hero doffs his hat to the villain. Lights out.
  • Shot 2: The villain responds by removing his hat.
  • Shot 3: Our hero flexes and tightens his fingers as he holds his walking stick.
  • Shot 4: Our villain creepily beckons our hero closer with his finger.

Combining Film and Theatre in this way elicited both surprise and delight from the audience members around me.

Surprising bystanders by appearing in public places before the performance in sheep costumes.
From the production: Transhumance: The Sheep are in Town (Concept and choreography: David Danzon & Sylvir Bouchard)

The cast of Transhumance appeared in the foyer of the Baxter Theatre Centre, bleating and baaing before being herded to the Performance by the shepherd. Bystanders were left really intrigued and interested in the play.

Using a puppet to depict the different stages of a character’s life.
From the production: Moi, Monsieur, Moi! (trans. Me, Sir, Me – dir. Isabelle Verlaine)

Senegalese actor, Patricia Gomis, introduced a miniature puppet which looked just like her character. Making use of the puppet in order to speak with the character’s former self (as a little girl), this device lead to some truly heart-wrenching moments in the play.


Who needs clothes? Use balloons instead.
From the production: Zick Zack Puff! (dir. Teresa Rotemberg)

The Actors of Company Mafalda (Switzerland) emerged at the end of the Performance wearing fabulous costumes made entirely of balloons. They paraded their flamboyant outfits around the stage while playing recorders – I found it to be a total delight!

Making a grand entrance through a giant paper bag!
From the production: Anziehsachen (trans. Clothes – dir. Melanie Florschütz and Michael Döhnert)

Theaterhaus Frankfurt incorporated many unique props into their performance. For example, they had a huge clothing rail and oversized costumes. The Children watching the Performance seemed to find these larger-than-life props really amusing.

Using powerful voice-overs to narrate your story.
From the production: Full Moon (dir. Karim Dakroub)

Dakroub cast a Narrator whose deep and melancholic voice had a timeless quality about it. The performance also incorporated voice-overs to depict the sounds of animals, which meant the Puppeteers could focus on the physicality of their puppets so as to make it feel like they truly came to life.

Co-ordinating colours in the costume design.
From the production: My Culture, My Strength, My Identity (dir. Chipo Precious Basopo)

As well as wearing beautifully co-ordinated dresses, the Actors in My Culture, My Strength, My Identity had bright colours braided into their hair. This was a striking way for this piece to highlight their celebration of colours and light.

Bringing audience members onstage.
From the productions: Pockets of Knowledge (dir. Menzi Mkhwane) and Tears By The River (dir. Fedelis Kyalo)

Pockets of Knowledge whipped the audience into a captivated frenzy with their singing, dancing and use of a bucket as an instrument. When one of the Actors needed to change costumes, another Actor pulled an audience member onto the stage to replace him temporarily, directing the individual to ‘play’ the bucket. Once the costume change had completed, the Actor re-emerged as a strict head teacher. he demanded to know what the audience member was doing and mocked her dancing. The audience around me were in hysterics over this playful banter.

The Actors in Tears By The River also involved their audience in the Performance. I really enjoyed the two Actors joking with us and initiating some call-and-response style interaction. “Come on,” said Actor Chrispin Mwakideu, “Say it like you’ve actually had breakfast in the morning!” The audience relished this challenge, which made for a truly energetic show.

Using visual aids to bring in new characters and themes.
From the production The Kids from Amandla Street! (dir. Binnie Christie)

This Performance used chalk, chalkboards and hats to create crowds of spectators. The Actors also used the chalk to draw symbols and words around the set that reflected the themes of the play.