How to Stage a Family Play With Your Kids
Do your kids love the limelight?
Do they like to dress up and impersonate other people?
Have you considered channeling all that energy into a family play?
Make your kids the writers, directors and stagehands in your own family play.
In this article, I’ll show you all you need to know to produce and perform a fun family play that’s sure to get lots of applause.
Why Put on a Play?
A play is fun and easy to do. You can perform just about any kind of story with things you already have in your house. And you can spend as little as half an hour or as long as a whole afternoon on your theatrical adventure.
A family play can create lasting memories and help boost your child’s self-esteem. I’m living proof. As an adult, I have the confidence to be a bumblebee, thanks to my experience as an insect in a childhood play.
In this article, I’ll show you how to create your own play as a family with an audience, stage, story and costumes.
If your child loves to draw, ask him or her to make tickets or programs for the audience.
Grab your tickets and let’s get started.
What You’ll Need
- At least one child with an active imagination
- An audience (optional)
- Props and costumes
All the world’s a stage… See below for some locations you can try.
Here’s all you need to make your play:
#1: The Production
A play will feel more fun if you have someone in the audience to clap and giggle at the right time. Plays can be performed for big groups or small families, or even for no audience at all.
Do you and your kids want to act out a favorite bedtime story for your spouse? Perfect!
Is extended family in town? That’s perfect, too. Perform for aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, or get them involved in the show.
Need an audience when you don’t have one? Have actors take turns sitting out every few minutes so there is always someone watching. Create an audience from dolls or stuffed animals. Imagine a crowd of eager fans.
Programs are waiting on the seats as the audience members take their places.
Or skip the audience if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
Remember, the point is to have fun with your kids. Your child will have just as much fun spending time with you whether you have an audience of one or a whole houseful.
Truly, all the world’s a stage. You can stage your play anywhere you have chairs. If you want a piano in the performance, use the living room. If the hero shoots hoops, bring some deck chairs onto your driveway.
Announce the start of a play with sheets as the curtain.
I like to start the performance by holding up a blanket as a curtain. This gives the illusion of a real playhouse, but it also gives me the authority to end scenes by holding the blanket up again if things get out of hand or we need to take a time out.
Also consider other things you can do to mimic a real theater, such as:
- Dim the lights before the performance.
- Ask the audience to prepare for the performance by taking their seats and shutting off their cell phones.
- Collect homemade tickets at the door.
#2: The Story
Decide on the story you’ll act out. A story is nothing more than a beginning, middle and end, so don’t stress about memorizing lines! You only need to agree on a few basic plot details. You can wing the rest from there.
Cater to Your Kids’ Strengths
The goal of this play is not to launch your kids’ Broadway career (or else I would be a world-renowned actor!)—it’s to laugh and bond as a family. Tailor the play to your children’s strengths, so they feel good about themselves.
- If your child is learning piano, have the hero play a song to win all of the king’s gold.
- If your child loves basketball, make the astronaut out-shoot an alien.
- If your child draws, have him or her create tickets ahead of time for all of the guests.
Focus the play around your children’s strengths and interests. That will help turn your performance into a powerful, uplifting memory.
To figure out what your play will be about and establish a plot, ask your children the following questions:
Who is the main character?
Make the story revolve around your children’s passions. Is that currently dinosaurs? Space? Pirates? Talk to your kids about what they love and choose a hero they’ve always wanted to be. If your child loves stegosauruses, make this story about a friendly dinosaur.
If you have several children participating, create a story about multiple heroes who need to work together. Instead of one dinosaur, maybe it’s about a family of dinosaurs.
“Hunter and Ballerina” was inspired by the children’s passions for the outdoors and dance.
What does the hero want?
This is the most important question because it will determine how the play will end. The play will be over when the dinosaur reaches his goal.
Ask your child what the character wants to do. Perhaps the dinosaur wants to go to the moon. The hero’s goal can be as trivial as wanting a sandwich or as complicated as flying into space.
Who is standing in the hero’s way? How?
Every play needs a villain. Create some conflict by including a bad guy. Some villains are evil (like the witch in Snow White), but others simply have conflicting interests (like two baseball teams that both want to win the World Series. The other team isn’t actually evil unless you talk to a mega-fan like my uncle).
Everything was fine until pirate “Yellow Hook” showed up. My costume is made from a bathroom towel, my wife’s shawl, paper folded over my glasses and a yellow pipe cleaner.
In our example play, we’ll have pirates stand in the way of our dinosaur… but how? Brainstorm lots of “hows” with your children because the “hows” will be the meat of the play. Just when the dinosaur thinks he’s going to make it to space, the pirates should throw up another roadblock.
In our play, perhaps pirates steal so many spaceship parts that nobody can finish a whole rocket. The dinosaur will have to recover all of the different parts and then escape from the pirates’ lair by rocketing safely to the moon.
How much structure should you have?
Deciding how detailed to make your outline is more of an art than a science. If you define every little detail ahead of time, it will be hard to memorize and that could frustrate your children.
But on the other hand, if you don’t know when the play ends, it will go on forever until everyone is bored. So you do need some dramatic structure. Know the following three things. These provide enough structure for most families. Trust your gut and do what works best for your own.
- Who is the main character?
- What does he or she want?
- Who is standing in the way?
Children will use their amazing imaginations to fill in the details.
Even though we’ve only decided that a dinosaur will outsmart pirates to make it to space, your children already have hundreds of ideas about what that means. Trust their ideas.
#3: The Costumes and Props
Be sure to include costumes and props to help tell your story. They should be silly, not professional, to help keep the performance lighthearted.
Shop for costumes from your own closets. Image source: iStockPhoto.
You should be able to find everything you need around the house. Have everyone look around for things to create their own costumes. Take hats from the front hall closet, grab silverware from the kitchen and wear Mom’s cheapest jewelry. (Be sure to ask first!)
Old Halloween costumes are a great resource.
Talk to your children about their costumes. Ask them how they came up with them or what their props are for. Maybe our dinosaur dresses all in green because he has green scales.
You can also make your own costumes and props. The pirates could make eye patches with string, paper and tape and wrap towels around their shoulders like a cape.
There are no theater critics here, so don’t worry about dressing perfectly. But do dress up. The costumes are half the fun.
#4: The Rehearsal
A rehearsal is optional. If it makes everyone feel more comfortable, run through the play once before performing it. That will help you see which ideas worked well and which ones you struggled with.
A rehearsal will help everyone feel ready for the big performance. Image source: iStockPhoto.
If you choose to do a rehearsal, keep it short and positive. Don’t criticize your children’s choices. Instead praise all the brilliant ideas they came up with.
Think of the rehearsal as another way to extend the family fun. Make jokes and enjoy yourself.
#5: The Performance
Make your performance as long or as short as you want. There’s no magic length.
If the audience and actors are enjoying themselves, stretch it out. If the performers are frustrated and the audience is distracted, cut it short. There’s nothing wrong with a two-minute play.
The important things are to make sure everyone’s having fun and to end on a high note.
Kids getting a little crazy? Call an intermission and take a break. Image Source: iStockPhoto.
Call an Intermission
If the play devolves into chaos or your child is too shy to say anything, hold up the curtain and call an intermission. Then change course.
Give a shy child a single line he or she can repeat throughout the play, like “I sure can!”
If the play gets chaotic, assign each person a clear task to accomplish in the scene.
Once you’ve sorted out the play, hold up your curtain and start your second half!
#6: Take a Bow
It’s the end of your play! Your hero has defeated the villain and overcome the obstacles to achieve the goal. The dinosaur finally made it past those nasty, thieving pirates and landed on the moon.
It’s time to take your bows. Announce each character and let your kids revel in the glory of a wild standing ovation. Congratulate and thank them. They just completed a play and that’s a big deal! Give them the credit they deserve for a job well done.
Make sure the kids take a bow at the end of the performance. Image source: iStockPhoto.
And then be sure to put the silverware away.
Over to You…
I hope I’ve shown you how putting on a play can be a great experience for the whole family.
What do you think? Did you ever make up a skit or a play as a kid? Have you put on plays with your own kids? Tell us about your experience or post a picture in the comments below.