How did this happen? Somehow, I am on stage at the Stevenage Theatre! I am committed from the end of November 2018 until late January 2019… A trip to the Panto a few years ago has translated into me being actually involved in the Panto – stranger things have happened, but not in recent memory!
My initial visit to a signed performance was really a fact-finding exercise – I felt sure I could gain some useful tips; however, without wishing to disparage my fellow Signers or comment on the quality of the interpretation, I was left with the feeling that “I could do that”. To cut a long story short, after a chat with the Theatre Manager (TM) he took my details in case he ever needed any help for the future. I forgot all about the exchange – that is, until a few months ago when I picked up a voicemail.
The previous regular Signer had retired some time ago and, having been unable to find a permanent replacement, they were seeking my assistance. An initial volunteer had a bad case of cold feet, a theatre agency interpreter had received mixed reviews, there had been some difficulties over the ad lib nature of the production and, to cut a long story very short – they were stuck!
I realised my time had come – I could be of use! A meeting followed, and I explained my CSW background. Panto is a minefield for all participants, but signing organised chaos is certainly not an undertaking for the feint-hearted!
Where do I stand?
Should I attend rehearsals as part of the cast?
Do I interpret all the songs?
Should I engage with the actors?
My questions were endless.
The TM reassured me not to “overthink it … its panto…. Its children!" As he seemed pretty relaxed about the whole affair, I decided to take my cue from him.
However, the answer to the most important question of all – what to wear? - eluded me! I needed to feel comfortable, confident, have movement and fluidity and to set the tone as soon as I walked on stage.
How does one dress to achieve something in between a blank canvas and Widow Twankey?
It was my husband who suggested dungarees – perfect. Pockets to place idle hands when signing was not needed.
Now I was a fully-fledged Children’s TV presenter. Rod, Jane & Freddy – eat your hearts out!
58 pages of script were dispatched… Just a little light bedtime reading! Having ingested this information, 2 dress rehearsals followed. I felt I needed some additional advice, so a colleague was invited along to help with character assimilation, advise on which jokes would or would not work, and indeed what may be OK to leave out of the signed performance.
A baptism of fire ensued – a school performance before my official stage debut was described by one of the participating actors as “carnage”. However, the atmosphere was amazing and I was inspired to grasp the nettle (or the script in this case).
I had three sessions initially booked for the Panto – two Sunday Matinees and a Thursday evening in the run up to Christmas. I had survived my debut performance at the school – I could do this!
It became clear that I would need to address the entire audience – I would have no idea where any deaf attendees would be sitting.
To heighten my nerves, the opening scene was to be a voiceover… just me, on the stage, alone, standing in the spotlight. So, basically opening the show – gulp!
Pantomime is never the same from one performance to the next. Sometimes audience participation is so enthusiastic you cannot hear what the characters are saying. Note to self – learn the WHOLE SCRIPT BY HEART next time.
Don’t be surprised when the entire cast races on stage to The Proclaimers singing I Would Walk 500 Miles and mows you down in the process. Accept the fact that you may be blamed for the noises of certain embarrassing bodily functions “the signing lady did it”. Also accept the water pistols, the strangely worded version of The 12 Days of Christmas, the double-entendres, or indeed pretty well anything else!
I do not view any of the foregoing as negative experiences – merely character building! I am prepared for pretty well anything now, but maybe I am not quite ready for a production of King Lear – just yet?!
I have also learned some interesting panto folk lore along the way.
Did you know that the Dwarves cannot have the same names as the Disney version – probably a copyright issue I suspect?
The words “and they lived happily ever after” are never used until opening night (I had wondered what was missing).
Our Prince was Anthony Moon in EastEnders and had also participated in Dancing on Ice – I was star-struck – and he made the time to learn a little BSL along the way.
The cast tried hard to be inclusive too, and learned how to clap “the deaf way”.
Certainly an enjoyable experience … I wander what the production will be next year?
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