‘He’s Behind You’ or ‘Ghost Gag’ is one of the most well known pantomime traditions appearing at least once in almost every production at Christmas. In this blog, I’ll set out some ideas on how to make your ‘He’s Behind You’ scene the best it can be.
Why is it Important?
- It usually gets a huge reaction from children.
- It’s often one of the most memorable sections of the show.
- It’s a chance for audiences to interact with the show.
- It’s an important pantomime tradition.
How to Set it up With Your Cast
The scene is so well known, it’s easy to assume that cast are totally comfortable with how to perform the scene. But that assumption isn’t always a good one to make. I usually start off by having a quick read through the scene (sometimes the wording may be slightly different to what they’re used to), and talking about the areas that might be suitable for embellishing with improvisations, and which are best to keep through. Next is to work out what the ‘device’ of your scene is. Some scenes use songs to form part of the sequence, some movement sequences and others just text-based ones. The most popular format recently seems to be using the lead in “we’ll have to do it again then won’t we, woo” before launching into a short, sharp number. It’s good to have all of this decided (and any related choreography learnt) before getting the scene on its feet.
Rehearsing the Scene
Once you’ve set up the scene, you can work on it with the cast up on their feet. One of the key things to remember with scenes like this is to make sure you’re giving prominence in the blocking to the leading comics in the scene. This is their chance to shine. In other words, whoever’s speaking at any moment in the scene needs to be easily identifiable by the audience. So I try and make this blocking as simple as possible to avoid confusion. Then once your case are confident with the blocking, begin to run the scene over until it’s slick and the cast are comfortable with it.
The Final Stages
Once you’ve set the blocking and the cast are comfortable, the final stage is to put it in front of an audience. Begin by rehearsing the scene in front of other cast and crew and encourage them to join in with audience interaction. Then once the scene is in front of a real audience, keep checking in to make sure you’re marking laughter points and keeping the scene as slick as possible – it’s easy to get out of hand and last for longer than it needs!
Tips and challenges
Are there any ways you can change things up and innovate with the scene? You could try:
- Adding additional gags and characters within the routines.
- Use a tongue twister to add an extra level of comedy when it goes wrong.
- Use difficult choreography to add extra comedy.
- Don’t always use a ghost – are there other scary things you can work with?
- Change the ending – the most common ending where the same turns around can get boring, why not change it up and use a different punchline for the ending of the gag.
- Read the scene through with your cast.
- Identify where might be good to improvise.
- Identify where you don’t want cast to improvise.
- Read the scene through on its feet with cast.
- Run the scene using other cast and crew as test audiences.
- Continue to adjust to make the scene slicker and more interactive where needed.
Have your own ideas?
I’d love to hear your best ideas about directing this scene – everybody has their own tactics and tips. You can email me here to get in touch.