Finding your next script to perform can feel like an endless yearly task. You order lots of perusals, perhaps include writers whose scripts you have performed before. Or perhaps you’re a first-time producer/director and you’re looking for a fresh script to whisk you away on exciting adventures. Here’s my list of key things to make sure are present in your next script.
Why is your chosen pantomime script important?
Your chosen script will be the glue that holds your production together, and choosing the right one can make your life a lot easier as the director or producer. A good script will entertain the audience to keep them coming back, give your cast and crew challenges to get their teeth into, give you plenty of opportunity to show off the talent within your cast, and allow you to produce your show within budget and with the appropriate amount of spectacle for your scale. So if you choose the wrong script, it can be an expensive mistake that you could end up paying for in more than one way!
1. Does it make you laugh?
I always think that the mark of a good pantomime script is that it gives you the giggles the first time you read it. Of course, not every gag will land first time, and some are more visual than others, but if you’ve read through the script and you haven’t cracked a smile, that’s not a good starting point. Last season I watched over 10 pantomimes and only laughed at a couple – you’d be surprised how many writers focus on character over comedy, at the expense of the audience’s entertainment. I always try and include a few ‘signiture scenes’ in my pantomime scripts which the audience should remember long after the end of the performance!
2. Does it have the right number of characters?
When writing for a professional panto, you are often constrained by the number of roles you can include in a script due to the budget that the producer has available to pay the actors. However, in amateur productions, size of the cast is usually less of a problem. However, you don’t want to set yourself a casting challenge and be left with lots of roles to fill. My pantos are deliberately very flexible so you can add and remove characters, adjusting the cast size to fit your available team, but this isn’t always the case so it’s worth checking your license agreement. You also want to make sure you have enough characters to show off all the talent that’s in your group. I write for a good mix of principal roles, supporting roles and company roles so that there’s plenty of opportunity for personal growth and helping people gradually improve and gain confidence on stage year-on-year.
In a similar vein to the number of characters, you need to make sure that the characters balance out well. Most pantomimes will feature a principal boy and girl, a comic, a dame, a baddie, an immortal spirit and mixture of ‘henchmen’ and supporting roles. In lots of scripts, there are additional featured roles which are a great opportunity to give someone with less experience on stage the chance to gain confidence and improve. Another thing to consider is the male/female split. Luckily with pantomime you can often change the gender of characters, how about changing Abanaza to Aunty-Banaza in Aladdin, or King Rat to Queen Rat in Dick Whittington? I list the gender split on all of my pantomime scripts, and I write as many flexible-gender characters as possible to give you as many casting options as I can.
3. Does it have the right songs?
Some casts and creative teams are more/less confident with music within a pantomime than others, so it’s worth considering how many singing parts you want to include and how many/long songs you are going to have in the show. Some scripts are very specific about this, and some are more relaxed. With my scripts I write in songs, with title suggestions if I have any, but I always leave it up to the individual producer to decide which and where the final songs included are (not least because you need to ensure you have permission from the appropriate rights owners to use the songs.) If you are unsure about songs or licensing, it’s best to get in touch with PRS/PPL who are usually able to help.
4. Can you produce it within your budget?
Making the sums add up is sometimes considered the boring side of producing, but I love a spreadsheet, and it’s often easier than it sounds! Have a look at the scenic requirements of a script you’re considering. If there’s too many scenes for your budget (or for your backstage space!) then perhaps you can combine a couple of the scenes into one? Or cleverly adapt one scene to transform into another with just a couple of additions? For castle-based scripts like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast, you can often swap around flats, or add/remove furniture and props to swiftly change between a bedroom, a kitchen, and a Courtyard. You also need to consider the costumes. How many are you able to use from your store? How many will need to be made new? How much will all that cost? Some costumes will be specific to that title, like a crocodile costume for use in Peter Pan. Finally you also need to work out any special effects that are included and whether you are able to create them within your budget. Think about innovative ways to create a flying carpet for Aladdin and the pumpkin carriage in Cinderella.
5. Can you sell it as a title?
In many ways, this may be the most crucial element of all. Do you think your audiences will buy a ticket? I know some amateur theatre groups who have great successes alternating between performing more traditional titles like Jack and the Beanstalk and less traditional titles like Rapunzel. Some titles come in and out of fashion like Puss in Boots, and some are timeless classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. My take on selling a title is this: if you’ve built a loyal audience by producing great quality productions year-on-year, then choosing a more unusual title should be fine. If your sales are consistent, and you have a good local reach then I’d give it a go. However, if you’re a new group, or you are recovering from some bad financial hits (as so many often are), go with one of the most assured titles.
I hope this list has given you lots to think about when picking your next pantomime script. Why not write up a tick-list so when you read scripts you can write notes on each one and compare them afterwards? And of course, there is an element of just reading lots of scripts and seeing which one you like best! There might be a particular gag, or idea which you enjoy, and groups often have favourite writers to use year-on-year. If you’d like to pick my brains, or get further advice on choosing a script, don’t hesitate to drop me an email and I’ll be happy to advise or arrange a good time to call and talk through your thoughts.