Well, we’re open… and it’s SO much fun! After a mildly stressful tech week (nothing new there – most tech weeks are very stressful!) our first performance was at 11am last Friday followed by a second show later that day at 7:30pm. The audiences that day were nothing but positive in their praise for the production, something that I know pleased all the cast, crew and creatives greatly. Although we all knew deep down that the show was set to be a good one, it’s always fantastic to have feedback from people that agrees with what we thought. In the front of house bar on Friday night I lost count of all the lovely people who came up to us to congratulate all involved. The Theatre Royal, Bury, is very fortunate to have such a loyal and honest following!
A lot of people that aren’t involved in theatre (or panto in general) don’t necessarily appreciate how important the audience are to the production. By that I don’t mean ‘we need the ticket sales to pay our wages’, I mean that in a panto the audience are actually a character in their own right; they have lines, they help progress the plot, they often provide a stooge (usually a chap near the front) and quite often some kids might go up on stage. During rehearsals we leave gaps where we expect the audience to shout it’s behind you or oh no it isn’t along with various other lines but it’s never the same when it’s only the director and the deputy stage manager responding compared to the many hundreds of voices you’d usually get. The thrill on the opening night of hearing the audience respond how and when you’d anticipated sends a lightning bolt of excitement through your veins!
In panto there are essentially 3 types of audience. The first type is a schools show. Before term finishes most theatres put shows on at 10:30 and 2pm (give or take half an hour) when schools essentially bus all of their pupils in. These tend to be the noisiest shows as they are predominantly young ‘uns (think 20 kids per teacher!) and they laugh a lot at the physical comedy (people getting hit or falling over etc) plus the sillier gags usually told by the comic (Wishee Washee, Buttons, Silly Billy etc). That isn’t to say the adults in the audience get a bum deal, as performers we don’t change anything, it’s just that the audibility of the laughter varies. The second type is an adult audience – and by that I don’t mean we do a… *ahem* … ‘blue‘ show! These tend to be the 7:30pm performances when it’s too late for the little kids to stay up (not many parents let their child still be at the theatre at 10pm!) so the ratio tends to be more like 3 or 4 adults per kid. These audiences usually laugh more at the Dame’s gags, the cheeky double entendres and witty wordplay, with the comic’s bits getting less. When I’ve been the comic before and I’ve come off after my opening spot to tell the Dame that it’s his crowd tonight and similarly (or adversely if you prefer) that he might as well not bother as they really went for my bits! You can generally tell quite early on in the show. Even though both types of audience are always fun and rewarding, it’s the third type that are the best. The perfect mixture. When you’ve got just the right amount of kids and just the right amount of adults the show is usually at it’s best. There is no hard and fast rule as to when these shows happen, different theatres in different towns have different demographic and different schedules so it’s always a nice surprise for us as performers. The perfect mixture does tend to happen more often than not, though, it’s not the case of only getting one of these per run, quite often you could do a week with 13 shows in where 11 or 12 have been perfect mixtures. There’s no science to it at all! I want to point out that these are just my opinions, though, and are by no means definitive – there are always exceptions to the rule!
Anyway, I digress. The Theatre Royal is just as unique as any other theatre (bit of an oxymoron, I know!) and so far we’ve had nothing but great houses. I’m writing this between shows having already had a packed out crowd in at 10:30 this morning and before we have another load in tonight at 7:30. I’m back in my digs, I’ve had lunch, walked the dog, done some Christmas shopping online and now I’m writing this – a productive way to spend my 6 hour gap!
Right, I’m going to put the kettle on and have a brew before I head back into the theatre. Have a great weekend folks. Oh… and don’t forget to BOOK YOUR TICKETS!!
(L to R): Leonie Spilsbury, Chris Clarkson, James Parkes, Oliver Mawdsley, Nancy Hill,
Alan Mehdizadeh, Louise Olley and David Zachary