Our sensational Showstoppers issue was packed with fun – and there’s plenty more where that came from! An exciting array of Awesome Activities awaits our AQUILAnauts this month, let’s dive right in! 

Make a Theatrical Mask

Beauty masks, surgical masks, masked singers on the telly, face cover masks, there’s masks everywhere! Theatrical masks have been around since the beginning of theatre in ancient Greece. If you think about the classic symbol for the theatre, chances are you’re picturing the comedy and tragedy masks. These were first worn by actors not just to communicate these emotions during plays, but also to allow spectators sat far away from the action in those vast amphitheatres to follow the plot. At this time, actors in the comedy roles would wear a thin-soled shoe which was called a ‘sock’, and actors in the tragedy roles would wear a boot called a ‘buskin’ – and at the risk of sounding like a modern-day solicitors’ office, the masks were known as ‘Sock and Buskin’. How’s that for interesting? Head over to our Awesome Activities and have a go at making your own Theatrical Mask.

Tim Green from Bradford, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Setting the Scene

What’s the most impressive theatre set you’ve ever seen? Perhaps you’ve heard of An Inspector Calls, where a replica of a wartime house was positioned on stage, balancing on stilts, in 1992. Or The Tempest, in 2000, where the stage was transformed into a watery landscape – yes, with real water! Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to go and watch Matilda in London’s West End, where thousands of brightly coloured blocks are suspended from the ceiling! Or Frozen, where Elsa’s Ice Palace is brought to life. Stages can be wild and so exciting. On the other hand, they can also be minimalist and allow the focus to remain solely on the action. Here we have another make for our readers, which could go hand-in-hand with the Mask activity above, if you like! Have a go at building a minimalist stage with just four items and put on a show for your family, here!

Illustration: Liv Bargman


Have you ever wondered why we clap so enthusiastically at the end of a show? Or in slow-mo when we’re being sarcastic?! (and jolly rude, ed) Clapping is a behaviour that us humans have displayed from the beginning of civilisation. During the Roman Empire, it was used as a popularity indicator – seeing who got the most thunderous applause let chief politicians know who was liked and disliked. Later, people would get hired as a claquer – tasked with clapping at just the right moment to encourage others to laugh, or to fill those awkward moments that fell flat.

Sort of like canned laughter on the TV! Ed

Yes! Largely though, clapping shows appreciation for what we’re watching, and is a very effective way to communicate enthusiasm as a collective audience. It can be tiresome though, the clapping, don’t you think? That’s why we’ve put together a nifty little make for you to take to the theatre next time you go – click on Bravo!

Bravo Awesome Activity - make some cardboard clapping hands!

Showstoppin’ Poppin’ Toppin’

OK, what’s your favourite show-time snack? Have you eaten it all before the show even starts? If you manage to make it halfway through with food leftover, then we salute you, you have excellent self-control! Speak for yourself, ed. Popcorn has to be THE most popular snack consumed by cinema and theatre goers EVER. It’s super easy to keep shovelling in and with salt and sweet options (or a combo!) available, there’s something for everyone. Did you know that popcorn has been enjoyed for a seriously long time? In our Night at the Movies issue (December 2020) we learnt that archaeologists discovered some popped corn kernels in Peru that were 6,700 years old! Mmm, stale popcorn. Between then and now popcorn has remained a classic treat – and in our Awesome Activities this month we have some flavour-fusing recipe ideas for you to try. Let’s get Showstoppin’ Poppin’ Toppin’! Try saying that with a mouthful of popcorn – and not spraying it everywhere in the process! No, can’t be done! Ed

Aquila December 2020 - Night at the Movies - Illustration by Nolan Pelletier

Boo! It’s Pepper’s Ghost!

In 1862 on Christmas Eve, the Victorian audience watching The Haunted Man by Charles Dickens were in for a spectacular fright when a ghost appeared on stage! This was a very long time before the special effects we know today, and we can only imagine how some of the more delicate audience members must have reacted! Despite the enormous technological advances, sometimes the oldies truly are the, um… besties. The Pepper’s Ghost technique is used to bring characters to life on certain Disneyland rides, and as recently as the 2010s, it’s been used to make pop stars appear on stage! Get Ghosting, here. 

The Haunted Man - Le Monde Illustré, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Showstopping Special Effects

Speaking of the 1800s, it’s interesting that it was during this period that what is recognised as the first special effect in a movie was produced. In 1895, American cinematographer Alfred Clark was the mastermind behind a rather gruesome illusion! The production was called The Execution of Mary Stuart, and involved a re-enactment of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. Clark positioned an actor at the block dressed as Mary, and all the supporting cast were to stand completely still. The prop axe was then brought above Mary’s head, the recording paused, Mary was then replaced with a dummy, filming was resumed, and quite literally, OFF WITH HER HEAD! Eek! This must have blown a few minds back then! Fancy having a go at creating some simple, COMPLETELY SAFE AND AXE-FREE special effects with some ordinary household items? Check them out here. 

The Execution of Mary Stuart - Edison Manufacturing Co. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

We hope you’ve enjoyed our selection of Awesome Activities this month; for more amazing articles and perplexing puzzles sign up for an AQUILA subscription today! 

Words: Jennifer Newton-Brown