One classic scene from an Austin Powers movie depicts two people in a tent with a back-light that throws a shadow on the tent for all outside the tent to see. When viewed from outside the dark images look like all sorts of vulgar and inappropriate acts are taking place in the tent, when in fact only ‘innocent’ activities are going on.
This type of skit or sketch has been popular for many years in theaters and private parties. One popular shadow theater performance is the “Operating table”. For the general set up you need to hang a white sheet in a dark room with a back-light that throws the shadow for all the audience to see (on the other side of the sheet). The basic set up is further described in Victorian parlor games of shadows.
The Operating table shadow sketch takes place by having the ‘patient’ lay on a table near the sheet and the surgeons standing behind the patient. At this point various objects can be made to appear as though they are coming out of the patient, sausages, an old telephone, that happens to ring and can be answered, etc.
An extremely large syringe (that only needs to be a cardboard cut out) can be used to ‘sedate’ the patient as can a comic ‘sledge hammer’, which again is a flat cardboard cut out throwing a shadow. In fact all the objects (telephone etc.) can be made of cardboard, it is only the outline that casts the shadow that is important.
The trick with this illusion is precision, in terms of positioning. Just watch some clips from Austin Powers on YouTube (search Austin Powers tent shadows) and you will get an idea of the precision needed in terms of the positions of the objects.
For preparation and rehearsal all you need to do is set up the basic shadow theater and practice, you can also have someone video your shadows so you can review what works and what doesn’t.
To incorporate the shadow theater into a party you can either ask the guests to prepare their own shadow sketches or you (as the organizer) can put on a performance, using your friends, for the party.
Shadow theater sketches can also be included in Halloween or horror movie themed parties. In any event this type of amusement will prove popular for a teens party today.