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Putting panto on at Torquay

By Kim Risdon

Princess Theatre Torquay

 It's panto time . . .Oh yes it is!

A lot happens in panto world before the curtain rises on the opening performance. Here we reveal all that happens at The Princess Theatre before the pantomime begins.

Our pantos in Torquay are produced by New Pantomime Productions and have been for over 13 years. During this time we have built up a great relationship with Simon Barry the Executive Director and Producer.

1. Deciding which panto to put on

We enter into discussions about the following year's panto whilst the current one is still in full swing here in Torquay. There are about four pantomimes that we have found to be the most popular and so generally we pick from these: Jack and The Beanstalk (this year's special), Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or Aladdin.

Jack and the Beanstalk

2. Putting the panto on sale

The pantomime generally goes on-sale around June which sees the marketing machine judder slowly into action. Things start off slowly as it just seems odd looking at Christmas when we are sweltering under the summer sun!

Once on-sale, the show will be advertised in our forthcoming brochures and the word starts to get spread around through emails, press and social networking sites.

3. Casting the panto

The next step is probably one of the most important - New Pantomime Productions cast the show! 

Trying to find cast who will appeal to all age groups and can perform to the high standard we expect (plus are available at that busy season), is not an easy task, but we get there in the end - oh yes we do.

It seems as though a switch has been flicked in September, and as autumn starts, our minds turn to Christmas and therefore panto.

Every September, auditions are held at the theatre for local children to play the dancers in the show. The lucky few are picked after a highly competitive dance audition and rehearsals start on 1st December. There are two teams of younger dancers, known as babes who perform in alternate shows. They can be as young as seven years old so we need to make sure they are looked after and not put under too much strain.


Stuart Wade getting a smooch from the ugly sisters in Cinderella, 2012

4. Marketing the panto

The marketing team are busy sourcing fantastic promotional ideas to get the word of panto out there and this usually starts with groups and schools and if you have ever been to a panto performance in Torquay you will probably have noticed groups of people enjoying the show. This show is popular with schools - perfect for an end-of-term treat, in-fact one whole school books the entire performance on Christmas Eve - that's nearly 1500 seats!

As soon as the leaflets and posters arrive they are distributed far and wide. 

5. Rehearsals and introductions

Rehearsals in the Theatre Bar

 The biggest point that signals to us that panto is here (and we should really have at least started the Christmas shopping), is when on the first week of December, the principal pantomime cast arrive in Torquay. They rehearse in the theatre bar area which is situated right outside our office, and across which we have to dash to visit the little girl's room after too many cups of coffee!

The first morning they arrive, we set out jugs of coffee and mince pies to make them feel welcome. Then follows a couple of hours of 'shall we introduce ourselves, shall we not?' We don't want to ignore them and appear rude, so in the end, after spying on them through the office door to see when they seem to be having a break, we all troop out on mass and form a rather awkward 'receiving line'. 'Hello, how are you, welcome to Torquay' etc, etc. Once this mortally embarrassing, (but necessary) parade is done, the ice is broken and we can all get back to our jobs.

There follows a busy rehearsal period where they learn their parts and the show. The songs in the show are chosen to keep them current and to ensure they compliment the cast's voices. Lots of knocks at the office door for help with internet searching and printing - thank god for for google!

The Babes who will dance in the show join the principles just prior to the full rehearsals on stage, there are people everywhere and the venue is brought to life from early morning right through to the end of the day.

6. Getting the set ready

As the cast are busy rehearsing, the boys backstage jump into action unloading lorry loads of set and props and get to work creating the magical pantomime scene for the entire run of the panto.

It is great to see the show gradually take shape. After seeing rehearsal after rehearsal we generally get the gist of the show and could almost perform it ourselves, oh no we couldn't! Let's leave that to the masters themselves, and they are our amazing pantomime cast!

A full dress rehearsal on stage before the first performance just two hours later