With this year’s pantomime cancelled, due to the pandemic, I thought it would be a good idea to delve into the blog archives and re-post ‘Putting on a Show’ in which Martin describes all the hard work that goes into producing a pantomime. The original post dates from January 2015.
Posted by Martin Gore
I’ve had the privilege of writing the Walkington Pantomime since 2010, having not done any theatrical writing before this. My method is self taught. As a group we have a rule that the roles of Writer and of Director are up for grabs each year, so I’m only as good as my last script. I take the role seriously, since my friends are going to spend their hard earned free time learning the lines that I write.
The script is just the framework of the show. For a successful show we need a Director, actors, scenery, costumes, make up, lighting, sound, dance, music and, of course, the audience. A good audience brings out the best in the actors. We do two matinees which draws in the children. They are particularly important because they are our next generation of Panto players.
The writing process starts in January when the Script Writer and Director are appointed. Ideas for what we might do are also discussed, although I ultimately decide what I write. I research the fairy tale and any film versions that are available, so I can get the story outline. I then write out a scene by scene synopsis, with some dialogue and song suggestions. I’m looking to stick to the expected story, but add a few twists which make it a bit different, but not TOO different! This is the toughest part. Some nights I’ll get nowhere. Then perhaps I’ll see something on TV or Film which gives me an idea. Writing comedy is tough, and I don’t provide all of the jokes. In panto visual humour works well, and is often a lot funnier. Quite a bit of what you see is the cast’s own characterisation, which can make a good script brilliant, or at least help salvage a Turkey!
The frame takes six weeks or so to produce in the dark months of January and February. Then I share the framework with the Director and the Musical Director. A Director looks at the show from a different perspective. They need to make the show work in a practical sense. We have a very small stage, and behind the scenes is tighter still. Having too many on stage is a problem, and getting them off can be too. Music is also very important, and the Musical Director reviews my suggested songs and adds his own ideas.
I incorporate these ideas as I write the script, which is around 45 pages long. It not only has the lines, but also entrances and exits, descriptions of the backdrops, and the curtain movements. I’ll also suggest how the actor might deliver the lines to best effect.
Generally I’ll complete the first draft by April. I need to bear in mind that we have more female actors than male, and that Walkington is a large group. I provide a cast list, which includes the number of lines for each actor. The Director and Musical Director review it and I redraft again ahead of the auditions.
I particularly enjoy the first read through. The cast reaction is the first live feedback on the script, and hearing the cast laughing is brilliant. They get the script by email a week or two before, so they can see which parts they want to audition for. We have a very talented group of actors, but we are always looking for more, particularly in the younger age group. You don’t need acting experience, just enthusiasm and commitment. It’s interesting to note that the lead parts aren’t necessarily the most enjoyable to play. Anyone who saw Peter Pan will tell you how much they enjoyed the Mermaids scene, but those roles were smaller parts performed brilliantly by two of our most experienced performers.
I used to go on stage myself, but I now tend to do sound. That way I see my script performed as the audience see it and get instant customer feedback. I’m still learning how to write better, and constructive criticism or suggestions are most welcome!
I love being associated with Walkington Pantomime Players. I have made many friends through it, have enjoyed many hilarious times, and being the writer has given me the chance to explore my creative side. I’m now writing my own plays, and would like to get this work performed when I think it’s good enough. I’ve had pieces on at Hull Truck and Fruit so who knows?
If you’d like to be in the 2015 Panto why not get in touch? We make new members very welcome, and there are many roles in the show, either on or off stage. We’d particularly like to see the youth of the village be more involved.