‘Theater and the arts were a very important part of our lives growing up. I’m so lucky that my parents work in the creative industry. My father is a bank manager and also a musician and my mother is a designer. Creativity is encouraged in our house and I was about four years old when I saw my first panto.
rowing up, I had very clear ideas about panto. For example, I had an image of the Fairy Godmother in mind, and that’s why, even after writing and directing 28 films for The Everyman, I’m still adamant about keeping what I call it. is the pure ‘line of the story’. I don’t want to disappoint any of the kids because the child in me will be disappointed.
I’m also wary of scared kids, especially if this is their first exposure to art as a spectator. I have petrified the giant in Jack & the magic bean when I was a kid, I took care not to scare the kids when we first produced it in 1996.
Of course, times change. What I did 28 years ago, I dare not dream now because I will not work. I remember I used to have actors running through the audience! You will not be able to do that now due to health and safety.
Children are also different. The first panto I directed was Cinderella, with Jim Mulcahy playing dame. Jim was running through the audience and a boy about eight years old reached out and tripped him. When Jim got up, the kid said, ‘Come on, you son of a bitch’. His voice was captured on Jim’s mic so everyone could hear it but Jim handled it very well. He started crying and said, ‘I’ll take my sister with you’. Of course, the child replies back and says: ‘I’ll take her too!’. The audience cheered, but I’m sure the child’s parents wanted to get into their seats.
I am proud to say that I have never repeated a scenario but you have to remember that every 5 years a new generation comes out, with new jargon and new ideas. So you’re looking at modernization, speed, and then you always put it back where it is.
We must also be aware of the fact that we are living in a faster digital world and that our attention span is decreasing. And we really need to train children how to pay attention and how to focus. Activity plays a big part in this, and one thing panto doesn’t lose is the human interaction, going from the cast to the audience. It’s a great form of conversation — kids love it and the kids among us adults love it too.
I think you are never too old to wear a panto. Okay, maybe at 15, if kids don’t see drama, they’ll go through the ‘it’s childish’ phase, but if they’ve gotten used to it, they’ll come back to it another time.
Last year I was surprised by the number of young adults – even 18 and 19 years old – in the audience, but as someone told me at the time, all nightclubs were closed so it was a night of fun for them !
We are rehearsing at the moment with Cinderella but we talked about the title of the next one. The whole process can take a whole year.
First, I come up with an idea and then I discuss it with young people before the script is written. Along with writing and directing trousers, I run the Cork Academy of Dramatic Arts, and I would ask older kids between the ages of 10 and 16 questions like, ‘How can I expressing it in today’s world?’ and ‘What would you name these characters?’
Children love to be involved and we should tap into them more often. Remember that our heads are filled with businesses, mortgages and whatever; Their heads are filled with creativity. Every child has that and it just needs to be developed.
Video of the day
Once we had the idea and the plot, we started thinking about the characters. Then, when we had our first draft, we got together as a team – the choreographer, the music director, me and my husband, Ted, who’s really good at music. We always dub popular songs into the script, changing the lyrics accordingly.
During our first meeting, we made a list, such as 100 matching songs. Then we met again and we gave each of these songs a number of stars, before weeding out the ones that didn’t get four or five stars. Then we consider the placement of selected songs in the script.
It’s been a long process and we could have an eighth or ninth version of the script by the time we’re into opening week. I then continued to work on the program for another eight days after opening night.
We’re constantly testing scripts because things that seem funny on the gym floor can die on stage. And you have to be big enough, strong enough and capable enough to say ‘cut’.
At the end of the day, the audience is there to be entertained and that’s our function. The show comes first and I always remind people, ‘It’s not personal’ when they are suddenly informed that the song they spent hours practicing has been cut.
We are still rehearsing with this year Cinderella and the scenario is a bit different. For a long time I hated her for being a weakling because I considered men and women equal and I didn’t want her to be a poor little creature waiting for a prince to come save the world. .
So this time she is an entrepreneur trying to make her mark in the business world, even though she is living in the same house with very demanding people.
I drew inspiration from the story of actress Joan Crawford when I wrote the script. She is said to have adopted her children because she wanted attention but then, as they got older, she didn’t want them because they were already her age. So she kept them from growing up. I took a bit of that plot and developed it. And in this CinderellaIt’s the stepmother chasing the prince!
This year our two ugly sisters are named Kourtney and Kim. I didn’t choose those names, the kids in the academy did. Our Kourtney and Kim are teenagers on their social media and they’re at the stage where they can’t be bothered with, you know, the ‘hands-on’ kind of thing. I think people will sympathize with them.
I will always remember the last time Cinderella we did in 2017. There was a scene where two ugly sisters messed up the place and then the cook, played by Ciaran Bermingham, walked in and said, ‘Oh my god, who did it? Is this place messed up?’ He didn’t expect the three kids in the audience to stand up and tell him those were ugly things. They told him what they did, why they did it and how they did it!
The next person on stage was Cinderella and she said, ‘Oh my god, look at this mess. Who did it?’ And Ciaran clapped his hands in response, ‘Ask three spectators’.
It just goes to show that you need to be a very special performer to play panto. You must be able to act, sing and dance, but more importantly, you must be able to work on the script and also work off the script.
And adults love it as much as children. In fact, sometimes the adults in the audience are worse than the children at answering back – they forget about themselves!
I have a strong motto: keep the child in you alive and you will stay young forever. And how wonderful it is to forget yourself for two hours of entertainment?”
As told by Katie Byrne
Cinderella runs at The Everyman, Cork from December 3 to January 15;
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/theatre-arts/ive-been-doing-the-panto-for-28-years-and-you-never-get-too-old-for-it-42162301.html ‘I’ve been making panto for 28 years and you’re never too old for it’