When I was 8 or 9, I remember making a diorama with plastic figures in a shoe box with the lid off. I cut a hole in one side of the box and lit everything with this chunky mickey mouse flashlight we had. I have no idea where I got the idea from, but I later found a book of home projects for kids that describes this sort of thing, so maybe that's it.
Much later, I went to visit my sister in Amsterdam (she was an au pair) for a week and had two spectacular experiences that shaped this project. The first was finding a small, long, dark wooden dominos box that someone had drilled a hole in one end of to make a kind of theater. The second was going to the theater museum, where they had incredible theater models, drawings, and photographs.
I also came across a beautiful, small print object at the library in Spanish by the Uruguian poet Carlos Sabat Ercasty called Dramática de la introspección. Here is a rough translation by my friend Ana Farach of the opening line: "There is a moment in which the most profound introspections acquire (a) vitality so intense that they move/question/affect the one who makes them as if s/he were a spectator of a theater inside. The possibility of a firm unfolding/splitting of the self is required for this."
The Internal Theater that I made is four long, dark walnut boxes with lenses in one end. Viewers look inside and see a single image composed of receding panels, like the panels of a theater set. The image is predominantly water color, with some photographic elements.
One features two children listening to a gramophone attached to a pipe in the middle of a forest. Another has a person (me) dashed across rocks but half submerged in water with birds coming out of their chest. And the third has and older man standing against a building on a city street, holding tightly to a wrapped package as a hook descends from the clouds. Unfortunately, only these three were ever completed. The fourth was an older woman leading a younger woman at night to a cave hidden among plant life.
For the couple of times they were publicly exhibited, they were mounted to the wall at a low viewing height (but not ADA accessible or good for smaller children - putting them on tables would have been better). They were shown at the Snite Museum of Art at Notre Dame and the Jung Center in Evanston in conjunction with a talk by Frank Maugeri of Redmoon Theater.
They have since been destroyed.