Welcome to Pantoland: Introduction

Article by Michael Hoyle

As it is now November and the High Street shops begin to set their festive advertisement displays, I begin to reminisce about the pantomime seasons of the past and the many companies of people I have had the pleasure to work with. Pantoland now approaches for the majority of theatres around the UK and I thought I would take the opportunity to give you an insight into the world of the theatre pantomime.

A pantomime is a powerful tool for theatres. This interactive performance is full of fun for all and it undoubtedly maintains its strength through festive tradition.

Going to the pantomime has always been my first memory of the theatre and it certainly created a positive connection with the theatre from a very young age. Children’s theatre is perhaps my favourite of all theatre genres and gives me the most satisfaction to design for.

My current venue does not produce a pantomime but chooses to fill the gap in the local market and offer a Christmas production. The ticket price is more affordable than many other productions and the performance is set ‘in-the-round’. We aim for a more immersive feel to the performance than the traditional proscenium arch performance. We achieve this because the audience are just a few metres from the performers and the action takes place all around them. This format is great for allowing the actor to see the audience’s reactions, including smiles, growls and excitable cheering.

I am inspired to create the best experience I can, from the moment the audience enters the auditorium and enters into the world of theatre. This experience may be a child’s very first time seeing a live performance and I want it to be a memory that stays with them for life, inspiring a love of theatre.

A friend of mine brought his two boys to see a Christmas production of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. He stopped to tell me at the end of the show that he often struggles to get his boys to sit still anywhere for more than 30 minutes, but during the show they didn’t move from their seats. They watched intently throughout the entire performance and were engrossed in the action and storyline. To me, that one moment of feedback captured the magical essence of going to the theatre.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lincoln Performing Arts Centre, December 2013

I urge anyone with children to perform an internet search of your local theatres and take your family to see a children’s show, then simply watch their faces. I remember doing this with my son, Theo, he was 3 when he saw Peppa Pig on stage and I spent the whole show watching him. I hit a happiness high-point watching my child have so much fun. He even managed to get a ‘meet & greet’ with Peppa and George. I appreciate that financially, going to the theatre may not always seem possible, but I urge you to do your research. Many venues will offer low-cost shows or even free experiences. In addition to that, bookshops often host free storytelling for children.

Theatre Royal Lincoln 2009/2010

Theatres obviously benefit from the pantomime season in a financial capacity. There are few other productions that can fill theatres in the way pantomime does.

As most other forms of entertainment improve through technological advancements, I am sure many theatres have noticed a decline in ticket sales and subsequent revenue. The traditional pantomime is often the difference between staying open or closing the doors for good.

The theatres are not the only ones to benefit from the pantomime season; theatre companies, frequently working in partnerships with theatres, often produce the shows. In addition to this, the performers themselves find this season a lifeline to the industry that they love so much. I’m not talking about the celebrity names that headline but the dancers and actors that add the professional performance to the show.

I have met so many talented performers that have found themselves out of work for long spells but the pantomime season often proves to be a stable period of employment for most professional performers.

I have also met a number of professionals that snub the credibility of performing in pantomime. I am an advocate of commercial theatre and enjoy to see the theatre prosper. If it wasn’t for such traditions as Pantomime, there would not be a great deal of theatre venues open, or at least the theatre mailing lists would be a great deal smaller; having a hugely detrimental affect on the venues sales throughout the rest of the year.

Theatre Royal Lincoln 2008/09

This series aims to give you an insight into the traditional theatre pantomime and how a typical theatre company may be structured and operate behind the scenes. Initially, this will be split into two further parts:

1. The pantomime company: the roles and the responsibilities

2. The schedule: the ‘get-in’ to the ‘get-out’

This series is inspired by my own experiences of working in theatre. If you have read my previous 4 part series; A foot in the (stage) door (https://proreferoblog.com/2016/10/29/first-blog-post/), you will be aware that I started working in theatre in 2003 on the pantomime Aladdin. I worked all 60 something shows of that run and then more or less every pantomime show for the next 9 years. I am by no means an expert of all theatre companies, many of which will follow their own framework, but this will give you a solid generalised overview of the typical theatre company and pantomime production.

I once found myself “performing” in a production of Beauty and the Beast at the Theatre Royal Lincoln. I played the alternate Beast, drifting onto the stage and facing off with the Wicked Queen before dying on a concrete bed in ‘dramatic’ style. That was until the leading lady kissed me and then ’FLASH’; quick swap with the Prince (now no longer a beast) and I’m off stage again. Seamless.

The sad thing is; no one actually saw my face or knew it was me (that was the point), however, I was lucky enough to be kissed on stage during every show. I should have felt guilty for Mark, the extremely talented actor that performed as the Beast throughout the show, for stealing his ‘Beauty’ kiss… but I didn’t.

I hope you enjoy the series and that I deliver some information into the theatre industry that you were not aware of.

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