If it’s your first time directing or producing a pantomime, it can be difficult to know where to start, so I’ve put together this first-time guide to making sure your production is one to remember!
Step One: Picking your pantomime title
Pantomime titles go in and out of fashion. For example, until QDOS revived Goldilocks and the Three Bears at the Theatre Royal Newcastle in 2018/19 and the London Palladium in 2019/20, that title had slipped into obscurity somewhat. They’re hoping to repeat the success with a new production of Humpty Dumpty in Newcastle this coming season. Most groups produce a mixture of your traditional titles (Aladdin, Cinderella, Dick Whittington, Jack and the Beanstalk, Mother Goose, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) with more modern or obscure titles like Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan, Puss in Boots, Rapunzel, The Snow Queen, Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island. Your biggest sellers will always be the big hitters; Aladdin, Cinderella and Snow White, but once you’ve a local reputation you should feel excited by the opportunity to branch out with new titles, or those that are much neglected like the personal favourite of mine: Mother Goose.
Step Two: Picking the right script
There’s lots to consider when picking the right script for your production. Does it have roughly the right number of roles? Does it have a good ratio of male to female roles for your group? Can you accommodate the scenery required? That’s before you’ve even thought about whether you think the potential scripts are funny, modern and whether your audience will enjoy them. All of my scripts are deliberately flexible so that they can be produced on all budgets from shoestring to spectacular. Plus I’m always happy to extend or decrease the cast needed to fit your available cast members. Plus, with Panto’s happy tradition of gender-swapping fun, you can often be creative with your casting to achieve the best outcome. Don’t forget to ensure that all appropriate licenses for your chosen script and songs are in place before you start auditions. Ensuring that writers are paid the appropriate fee for their work helps keep freelance workers like me with food in the cupboards! You can see my range of fun-filled pantomime scripts here.
Step Three: Casting your pantomime
A key part of any production is getting the casting spot-on. Luv got to pick the right match of sure-fire choices and wild card decisions which might take a chance on a new member or give an existing member the chance to play a principal role for the first time. I always start with the pantomime dame and the comic. They often work together during the show and must have the essential funny bone and ability to improvise. There are lots of different styles of dames, so make sure you know the type you’re looking for. Then you need to find your principal boy and girl who ar young, ken-spirited and in love. Your baddie’s most important attribute is the ability to elicit boos and hisses from the audience without scaring the smaller children too much. While the good-fairy role must make us feel safe in their hands that the story will tie up with a happy ending. These are just the core roles in a pantomime and they are often joined by plenty of others like comedy duos, King’s, queens, policemen, skin-roles (animals) and more!
Step Four: Rehearsals the show
Rehearsals are often the trickiest part of the process. You need to balance calling the right actors for you to make good progress with not wasting anybody’s time. You’ll need to work with your musical director and choreographer to share the rehearsal venue, time and the actors so that everyone has enough time to do what they need to. Then you’ve got to take into account unexpected cast absences (always inevitable in amateur and professional theatre), holidays, and other scheduling conflicts. My best advice is to give yourself more time than you think you’ll need, and leave as much room for flexibility as you can in your schedule. That way you can make changes as you go along if you need to, and adapt your schedule around how things are progressing. I always like to start running the show as soon as you can so that the cast and creative team can get a sense of the arc of the show, before doing more detailed polishing to work out any problems. Always make sure you’re giving your actors good notes on what to do.
Step Five: Marketing your pantomime
Everything else is in place, now you just need to get the all important ticket sales. The best thing you can do with an amateur cast is to utilise your cast members, especially any children taking part in your production. Make sure that everyone has invited their family, friends, work colleagues, and neighbours to the show. Then why not think About weekly leafleting sessions in the town centre – these can be a fun chance to dress up in costume or perhaps perform some dances from the show. Then there’s the social media aspect of the marketing campaign. Is essential to have a Facebook page for your group and a Facebook event for your pantomime as you and your cast can invite their Facebook friends. It’s worth getting a Twitter feed setup and an Instagram account too. I find Instagram stories are a really simple and easy way to keep your production visible to the public – don’t forget to tag your venue as a location to help reach more people. Lastly it’s really important to design a clear poster and leaflet artwork for your show. I have some handy templates you can download for each of my scripts, but I’m also able to produce bespoke posters and artwork for campaigns such as Facebook cover images and Instagram stories, just get in touch for details.