By Lauren Waine
For many, Christmas means joy and cheer, parties and socialising, snuggling under a blanket with a hot chocolate (or toddy!) and feeling warm, fulfilled and merry. However, for many, Christmas means one thing and one thing only... pantomime! Panto is the highlight in every actor’s calendar; secure a lovely pantomime gig and you are set for winter. Store up your earnings and you are set for a secure and safe New Year too. After gruelling auditions where you have to sing, dance, act, show your best party trick and tell a joke to a panel of people who demand the very highest of standards for their panto, often you are exhausted before you’ve even began rehearsals for the thing!
Nonetheless, we all love it. Or loathe it. Or love to loathe it. ‘Oh no we don’t! Oh yes we do!’ You get the gist. One thing is for certain, panto is hard work. In no other job are you subjected to a room of screaming, snotting, sugar-fuelled children who have the potential to deafen you with their frequently wonderfully timed comments and yells of “it’s behind you”! For those of you who have yet to experience pantomime, I understand this description could be off-putting but do not fear; once you have finished that show, there is only another 73 left to do in the run! Joking aside, the hours are long and that’s before you even get to tech. How to describe a technical rehearsal for a pantomime? Imagine being trapped in an empty auditorium with various actors shaking from the high intake of caffeine they’ve been topping themselves up with, all the while there’s a large volume of people dressed in black running from stage right to stage left trying to stop pieces of the set from taking out one of the child dancers and the director is sat with their head in their hands as the custard for the ‘mess/slop’ scene is congealing and spurting out of all the wrong pipes making the entire scene look like a rough and ready adaptation of Willy Wonka.
As tech ends and the run begins, the real fun starts! This truly is the time that all of the long hours and hard work comes to fruition and seeing the reaction on faces both big and small makes you realise the real reason why you do it. Looking out into that auditorium, or community hall or old folks home, you should always feel that extreme rush or pride and joy that you are bringing theatrical magic to a bunch of complete strangers who are ready to be taken on a journey through an enchanted woods, or are magic castle or far off lands or across the seven seas. Performers can gain a bad reputation for being self-indulgent but, in my experience, pantomime is a fantastic tool for actors to forget their inhibitions and have a whale of a time in that world that so many enjoy.
Don’t get me wrong though, sometimes at 10am when you have a hideous cold, your chest is so tight you can’t breathe and you’ve taken enough Jakeman’s throat sweets to last a lifetime, the last thing in the world you want to do is sing another song from The Greatest Showman. My advice in those moments is to look out into that audience and see the little boy or girl in the front row who is singing along with you, never taking their eyes from yours and wishing that one day, they will be on that stage doing what you are doing now. For me, that is what helps me whack out my best ‘5,6,7,8’ even in those moments of fatigue and winter flu. Many people ask about what the hardest thing about pantomime is. Is it the stamina required to get through 3 months worth of shows? Is it remembering all the lines? Is it being heard over the screams of children?
There are two most difficult things about being in panto-
1: Getting your fake eyelashes to stay on fleek for 73 shows, day in, day out
2: Working out ways to make your other colleagues outwardly corpse on stage. Once you have number one sorted, it’s time to focus on number two. This is what makes panto so fun to do and keeps every performance fresh and interesting. I’m sure everyone will have some hilarious tales of things they have done to their friends, some classics include: covering your teeth in lipstick and smiling your biggest, teethiest grin to Prince Charming, meddling with props to make them fall apart as soon as you touch them and adding some of the deadliest adlibs that you know your scene is going to crack at.
I have created a list of my top tips for surviving pantomime season:
• Buy a toothbrush- you don’t want to be kissing your prince or princess with the lingering smell of your boiled egg salad.
• Echinacea- this is some form of herbal miracle.
• Use a steamer.
• Never annoy a techie or you could find yourself suddenly plunged into a blackout in the middle of a scene.
• Always ensure your microphone is turned off before you stub your toe backstage or before commenting on your fellow cast-mates’ performances.
• Don’t sleep with a co-star- they are never as attractive offstage as they are on.
• Always say please and thank you to the cafe staff if you ever want a free coffee.
• Remember to laugh at yourself and others.
• The Stage Door Keeper has the best stories- listen to them.
To conclude, I leave you with a little festive rhyme...
Panto comes just once a year,
Filled with song and dance and joy.
It fills us all with Christmas cheer
For every single girl and boy.
It is a time to show the folks
That princesses can be brave.
That the baddie’s schemes were all a hoax
And the kingdom can be saved.
And the dame will always be a hoot
And everyone will yell.
There’ll be laughter and fun to boot,
As all’s well that ends up well.
Panto is for me and you,
Whether you’re big or small.
And so without further adieu,
A Merry Christmas to you all!
Make the most of your time this festive season, remember your lines and don’t walk into the scenery. What could possibly go wrong?
Lauren is an actor from the North East of England, currently based in London. For more anecdotes, you can follow her on Twitter @LaurenWaine_ Lauren is a working class actor and is a huge supporter of working class artists in the industry and is a co-company director of Unearthed Theatre (@unearthedThr). She listens to The 98% on the go and recommends listening to the podcast whenever and however you can!!