Written by Lara Falkner
1 Year Diploma Course student
"Hello Boys and Giiiirls!"
Coming straight out of the Chekhov and Ibsen study block, the last two weeks before Christmas are dedicated to the Pantomime here at DSL. As a foreigner I had not encountered the British Pantomime tradition before – and was I ever in for a surprise and lots of fun!
THE REHEARSAL PROCESS
Beginning with a lecture by Crispin Harris, who writes the Pantomimes performed at DSL, we were introduced to the main aspects that make a traditional Panto: The fight between Good and Evil (the Goodies and the Baddies), lots of play with language and nursery rhymes, plenty of catchy songs and dance routines, audience participation and something I hadn't come across yet – cross-dressing for the lead roles. Hello there, Dame and Principal Boy.
As if that didn't already seem strange and exciting, the next surprise was our first rehearsal. It was the first time I held a script in my hand that stated "Business" as a stage direction. Huh?
Now it was up to us to get our creative juices flowing and come up with ad-libs and physical moves etc. to fill in the gaps. It soon became apparent that any talent is useful in a Panto - apart from the obvious ones such as singing and dancing, we packed quite a lot into our 50 minute show: beat boxing, gymnastics, breakdance and even a Miley Cyrus style hammer - reference that evoked tons of laughter from our adult audience members.
Overall I loved that there was so much room for exploration and our director Matthew Parker was fantastic in encouraging us to bring ideas in, fully commit to them and just giving things a try! It made me realize how important it is to sometimes not overanalyze but simply get up and give it a go!
On the technical side, to succeed as a character in Panto I learnt how important it is to have a clear physical mask that the children can easily read and the ability to speak fast but move slowly and calmly. It also taught us to keep our faces alive and joyful at all times – especially during songs - to keep the children engaged.
Finally after a long, intense week of rehearsals (doing Panto means bye-bye weekend) we really had a show we could be proud of. On Sunday we got to perform in front of our fellow DSLers and some of the staff's kids. I am not sure what I enjoyed more, presenting our own show 'Beauty and the Beast' or watching my fellow students perform their shows 'Jack and Jill', 'Mousella' and 'Sleeping Beauty'.
Now I really understand why Pantomimes are such an important part of British culture. The entire audience at our Grange Court Theatre who had enjoyed Super-objectives and deep, emotional truths in our Chekhov/Ibsen block just a week prior, became a bunch of 5 year olds, singing along to the Sausage song and screaming "He's behiiiiind you!".
During the following three days we then toured the local schools, performing our Panto two - three times each day in front of 6 -10 year old school children.
Thankfully I live close to the school, but the 7.45 call time still meant getting up at around 6 to be ready to leave DSL in makeup and costumes as early as 8.15. Hence we all arrived at DSL slightly sleepy but excited, got into our Victorian costumes, febrezed ourselves (it gets hot in Victorian frocks and stockings!), did our makeup, made sure we got the most important things on board our van: the prop box, the cast members and *drumroll* – the Sausage Song sheet! and set off to perform at the schools in the area.
This was definitely the most amazing experience! The kids loved our show – they laughed at our slapstick elements, gave us incredibly loud "ewwwws" for our Justin Bieber references, helped us create "forest noises" (yes I can now say I was officially a tree at Drama School) and sang along LOUDLY in the "Sausage song competition". It was so rewarding to get such an instant and intense audience reaction. As a performer it made me aware of how important it is to engage your audience right from the start and give a 100% each time!
After 11 days filled of Panto-joy we then all ended our week with a nice cast get together and a well-deserved pint.
Looking back now I can say that these 2 weeks of Pantomime at DSL have taught me so much. It's incredible what you can achieve in such a short time. For me personally it meant building my stamina, creating a big, physically clear character, being inventive, using my singing and dancing skills and sharing responsibility for the musical direction. You work so closely as a group (the 1 year and 2 year students are mixed) and with a director who encourages and supports everybody. The Panto really is a unique part of the course at DSL, which makes it so very valuable.
Yes, I can now proudly say I have for the first time toured a show, sung the Sausage Song approximately a hundred times and most importantly have created memories for the kids – which I hope they will remember in years to come!