With professional theatres still unsure whether the Christmas season can go ahead or not, amateur pantomime producers are in a similar position. I’ve been thinking about some ways we can ensure the season goes ahead safely for audiences, cast and crew. Please note all ideas given here is subject to change due to government advice, and full compliance with the latest regulations should be adhered to.
Why is it important that pantomime happens this season?
- It is the highlight of the festive season for many performers and audiences.
- It is a key financial support to theatres and amateur producers across the country.
- It has the ability to entertain and cheer people up following a difficult time.
- It engages audiences of all ages, and particularly young children for whom it is often their first experience of theatre.
With that in mind, it’s vital that a pantomime season of some sort happens this year. I’ve worked with community theatre groups, I’ve produced an outdoor pantomime and I’ve worked on Christmas pantomimes in various forms. There’s lots of possibilities to consider.
1. Flexible Production Dates
Something I’ve heard being talked about a lot is being flexible on the dates of your Christmas pantomime. Historically pantomime seasons have lasted anywhere between November and March, sometimes even up to Easter! This is a huge opportunity for producers who might find that although Christmas dates are not possible, things might get moving more into the new year. The Birmingham Hippodrome pantomime is the biggest long-running show in the country – this year it lasted until mid-February, so there is precedent there. Easter and Summer pantomimes are also becoming more popular up and down the country with nearly 100 taking place last year alone. Could you consider moving your production further into the new year, or even postponing it to Easter?
2. Smaller Cast Sizes
A big problem point for venues and producers will be considering the social distancing and safety of it’s cast and crew during the production’s run. Many theatres and local community venues are not built with social distancing in mind, and this consideration is an important one for amateur pantomimes especially. One possible solution to this would be to alter the size of the cast (for one year only of course). I’ve seen many excellent pantomimes with only 5 or 6 members of principal cast, and no chorus at all. It’s an extreme example, but it can be done! I write all of my scripts with flexibility in mind – you can chop and change characters and scenes to fit your venue and cast, so adapting for a smaller post-covid cast is a real possibility.
3. Outdoor Performances
The thought of outdoor performances at Christmas is probably too chilly to bear thinking about, but snowstorms aside possibilities lie outside of the festive season. I produced an outdoor Easter pantomime that toured local tourist attractions and theme parks as well as popular public gardens at a seaside town. This year’s Pirates of the Pavillion, Weymouth’s summer pantomime offering have already announced that the pirates are on a new outdoor adventure at Nothe Fort. There are countless open-air venues up and down the country just waiting to be filled with fun and laughter. Bandstands, seaside towns, tourist attractions, wildlife sanctuaries, they could all be possible locations for pantomime to take place.
4. Spaced Out Blocking and Choreography
Your cast’s safety on stage will be paramount if productions do go ahead this year, so if you’re planning your production already, it’s worth considering how it’s going to be staged. Once you’ve chosen your script, think about how easily you can change routines to have more appropriate blocking for a post-covid world. For example, are there any bits of scenery which require cast to be close together? A great example of this is the flying carpet in Aladdin. Often there are a couple of actors who appear on the magic carpet. Perhaps you can adapt your script so that Aladdin journeys alone, and the Genie of the Lamp casts a spell to get the rest of the cast to the final destination? Or, better still, can you turn the circumstances into a gag? Perhaps the local regulations state that face coverings must be worn while travelling by magic carpet! Then you’ve got to think about your choreography and musical staging too. Ensure your choreographer is aware of the risks, and avoids partner work, or shapes that are too tight to achieve without 1m social distancing on stage.
5. Scale Down Your Show
A scaled down show might seem like a bit of shame, but it may well be the only way you’re able to produce your pantomime this year. Consider ways in which you can make your production more nimble and light-weight so that you are able to produce it on a quicker timeline than normal. Some of the above examples are ways to achieve this, but what about ensuring that your set is something you have in stock, or can hire rather than building lots of new pieces. This also lessens your financial output and mitigates the risk of a local-lockdown ruining a show. Consider purchasing some ready-made pantomime poster templates so that you’re ready to add your details and start advertising go as soon as your production can be announced.
The most important thing to remember is to ask for help if you need it. If you’d like to talk through different ways you could stage your production this year, drop me an email or give me a ring (contact details in the footer). I’m more than happy to talk through all the possibilities and make sure that your script is perfect for the production you’re able to put on.