ARE YOU DAME FOR A LAUGH? Bring The Magic of the Panto Season Into Your Own Home – Top Tips for the Perfect Panto

Christmas cross-dressing and a dancing horse signal the start of the uniquely British tradition of the Pantomime Season. Bringing festive cheer to whole families, these magical adventures are often the first taste of theatre that children get.

Susie McKenna, Creative Director of the Hackney Empire who are doing Cinderella this year, explains: “Pantomime is an important cultural step for children as it can be the only experience of theatre that they get until adulthood. Getting it right can mean a wonderful experience that lasts them a lifetime. We find the audience participation is crucial as it really engages the children and encourages their imagination.”

But the economic squeeze may make a family trip to the pantomime beyond the reach of some. Lucy Quick, Principal of Perform Drama School says: “With many of us tightening our ‘Christmas belts’, some may find it too expensive to take the family to a traditional panto this year. So we at Perform have put together some top tips for creating the perfect panto at home.”

Top Tips for the Perfect Panto

• Choose a favourite fairy tale that everyone knows – Cinderella is a nice easy classic

• Give out parts right at the start. You’ll probably need a Principal Boy (often played by a girl), the beautiful princess he falls in love with, a Dame (usually played by a man), the Fairy Godmother and an Evil Queen or Baron.

• Make sure the evil panto characters enter from the left (from the right of the audience), and goodies from the other side. This comes from a Commedia dell’ Arte tradition which always placed the entrances to heaven and hell on these respective sides of the stage.

• Encourage audience participation in the form of shouting familiar panto lines – “He’s behind you!” and “Oh, yes it is!” and “Oh, no it isn’t!” The audience is always encouraged to “boo” the villain and “awwwww” the poor victims

• Add some popular songs and dances, including solos for the lead characters

• Incorporate slapstick comedy including messy substances if you don’t mind a bit of clearing up. Otherwise, try the bucket of ‘water’ at the audience that is actually full of streamers

• Costumes should be as colourful as possible especially the Dame’s outlandish outfit

• Always end with a wedding followed by a finale at the end where all the characters come onto the stage and bow.

For the Dads out there tempted to give the Dame a go, Simon Fielding, Pantomime Director of Basildon Towngate Theatre, has some advice: “I adore pantomimes and a panto isn’t complete without a knock-out dame. There are three rules for a great Dame: have outrageous costumes that are different every time you go on stage (don’t forget the bloomers underneath!); get yourself a memorable ‘naughty, naughty’ one liner; and never forget you’re a man in a dress, not a drag artist!”

Founded 2000 Perform is a different type of drama school. They use a unique mix of drama, dance and singing specially formulated to bring out every child’s true potential. Classes are kept small to ensure lots of individual attention from their experienced teachers – hand-picked for their warmth, energy and professionalism. Perform focus on your child’s enthusiasm and engagement in the activities rather than their precision and will support them every step of the way to guide, inspire and encourage. Perform is constantly growing with nearly 200 venues which encompass Perform for 4-8s, Mini Ps for 3 month – 3 year olds and Perform Plus for 8-12s as well as Perform Parties, holiday Experience courses and a thriving programme of workshops in primary schools – Perform4Schools.

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