I walk in on the third or fourth show of Altrincham Garrick’s “Jack and the Beanstalk” (I’m not sure which now; it seems so far away) all doey eyed and ready to learn some new skills. No experience, very scared of getting it wrong… For someone who is a little introverted and not great at change, this was a huge step for me and even after a hectic two week run, I still do not regret it.
However, I didn’t just learn technical skill.
“OK so, someone’s pushed the panic alarm by mistake so can you just man the desk whilst I sort it out?” From walking in the morning with no lighting experience to manning a lighting desk for a 400 seat theatre; 30 cues, fast paced and quite complicated – I was thrown in the deep end. Those 3 minutes that the Lighting Manager was gone felt like 100 years, beads of sweat ran down my face. What if I get it wrong, what if I accidentally cue to the dance song or go to blackout whilst Simple Simon is singing “DEM BONES”.
Turns out, I’m not the only one that feels this way. The backstage crew feel as manic as the kids screaming angrily at the performers. (“LOOK BEHIND YOU GOD DAMNIT LISTEN TO ME” – every child at Panto ever).
The Dame’s just fallen on the stage during blackout. What happened to the monster’s head? That’s not the right cloth. Where is Paul? That kid is about to fall off the stage why isn’t anyone there to catch it. There is always something going wrong backstage as everyone is a volunteer – don’t get me wrong there are many retired professionals managing but most of the dirty work is done by students or bored accountants looking for a hobby. Everything just works for Panto though; its shambolic, hectic nature compliments the show. Mistakes are even written into the script; during the skeleton scene, the dame shouts off stage to the crew who have “accidentally” forgotten to put the bench on stage, and comically wheel it in for the parents to only laugh and sigh. What are they like, oh well it’s only Panto.
The Garrick’s Pantomime is almost always sold out, and funds a large part of the rest of their season which proves the successful formula Panto has. I learnt to embrace the chaos, and instead of trying to get everything perfect, inject personality and fun into my small cog turning round in the huge Pantomime machine. A celebration of the silly, of festiveness and of getting it (just about) right; I enjoyed working there and not sure any other show will compete.