Pantomime is a rare genre in that it appeals so widely to all age ranges. From the youngest children to those who are young at heart, pantomime is a mainstay of the Christmas traditions. This is often the only time in the year that the whole family will visit the theatre together. It’s often the first experience of being in a theatre for many of the children watching. So what does the audience look for in a pantomime? The answer to this question lies in why the audience is so important.
Why is your Pantomime Audience Important?
The audience is integral to pantomime. Not only for the interaction for the live performance itself, but for the entire writing and planning process of a panto. It covers so many of the key elements of pantomimes: local gags, local celebrities, national current affairs, the latest song craze… the list goes on.
Writing with your Pantomime Audience in Mind
The audience is always at the forefront of my mind when writing pantos and I encompass lots of opportunities for groups to personalise their scripts throughout to create a truly local experience. If you can cultivate a loyal audience over the years, your ticket sales (and panto budget) will increase year-on-year.
What does the Audience Love in a Pantomime?
1. Simple Plot
Your plot must be crystal clear. From the start of the prologue to the final rhyme, everyone in the auditorium must be able to follow the plot. It’s just as important to hook in the smallest children as it is the oldest grand parents. It’s vital that the dialogue and performances keep an excellent pace (yes – even on the matinees!) and that the energy is never lost en route. (See my post about structuring a panto script for more info)
2. Jokes for the Whole Family
It can be a fine line between funny and rude, and never is this line flirted with more than in a pantomime. The comedy rests on the constant battle between pun and innuendo. Language matters. Getting the right jokes for your audience is key. Smut is rarely that funny, even in an adult panto and more often than not adult ‘jokes’ are actually just rude. Writing jokes that both children and adults alike will appreciate is an underrated skill and the line doesn’t look the same for everyone!
3. Story-book Sets
When you see a bespoke set, or particularly stunning technical effect, the likelihood is these have been carefully thought about and integrated from the very beginning of the production’s lifespan. There’s nothing more depressing than a dull or boring pantomime set design. My advice is to take inspiration from children’s books and animated TV series. These are often the gold standard in light family entertainment and give such vivid and bold imagery to ignite the imagination.
4. Colourful Costumes
The same goes for costume design. There are some really incredible costume designs and creations which you can get inspired by for your characters. They don’t always need to be done on a huge budget. Often the most effective costumes for the dame involve a simple headpiece with a basket full of things which really finishes off the overall look. Bold colours, glitter and bright patterns are usually good places to start for costume inspiration.
5. Larger than Life Characters
There is rarely a serious moment in a pantomime. Although we should always feel a sense of potential jeopardy, we should also always feel on the edge of a comedy routine. It is the push and pull of those two elements that make a panto so fun to watch. A lot of this comes from the characterisation that is created by writers, director and actors. Their work together can create feats of comic genius that will last in peoples minds long after they leave the theatre. I still remember some of the funniest moments in the pantomimes I watched growing up. It was these memories that inspired me to write my own pantomimes as an adult.