The Penfold Pantomime Story
One of the things that make us proud about being part of Penfold is that as a group we are not afraid to take on a challenge, this is shown by the varied choice of pantomimes that we present to our audiences. Many professional theatres only have a library of six or less pantomimes they can or are willing/able to stage, which may be down to budgeting restrictions. Penfold, on the other hand, is different we love to vary our productions because we love these old stories with their colourful characters that we treat as old friends, but we also like to keep our audiences entertained and as our audiences come back time and time again, year after year, we need to keep on our toes and have a wide choice of productions for them to enjoy.
Having a large library of scripts means that sometimes there is a 10 year gap before we repeat a pantomime, but even then we will re-write our story to bring it up to date, changing characters where necessary and bringing in new ones that may be topical at the time of the production, but there is always a baseline of the original story that we adhere to. Before we carry out any re-write of an old script we put together a synopsis for our new production and then stick to it, by doing this we can adapt the story to suit our stage and the membership of the group at the time.
As you may be aware we perform at the Washingborough Community Centre which actually has no backstage or corridor that leads to dressing rooms as there would be in a normal theatre so long ago we had to think outside of the box of how we could create a theatre with a full size stage, back stage areas, storage and a dressing room and also provide an auditorium for our audiences.
First of all we added on our own stage blocks that we were able to purchase through Arts Council funding, on top of that we added on a run of side flats (scenery to you and me) to create a corridor which takes us from the corridor door to the stage enabling the actors to enter and exit the stage without being seen, and across the back of the original stage we have installed a runner system for inserting more scenery flats into, behind this there is a convenient support pillar that sticks out from the rear wall of the building which provides us with 2 rebates either side for us to store scenery and props behind the row of flats. As the side piece of scenery starts at the corridor door this enables us to use the small hall as a dressing room and allows the actors to enter either from the side flat (Stage Side Prompt to us). The reason for calling it Stage Side Prompt is because directly behind that side piece of scenery sits the Prompt who hopefully we never see or hear but many an actor has been grateful for the odd word or three when they go blank!
Another place we use for our actors to make entrances from is to get them to run around the outside of the building and enter from the rear of the tiered seating which keeps our audiences on their toes and adds to the fun as many an actor gets lost amongst the audience as they wander down the steps, some of this scripted and others times not!
In addition to this and especially for our pantomime audiences we install tiered seating for their comfort and to increase the enjoyment of the show, the main reason for this is that the original Community Centre stage is only concert height and not theatre height so if you have chairs laid out on the floor in rows only from the first few rows can you see all of the action, so hence the need for tiered seating.
We write our scripts so that half of the scenes are performed on the full set and the other half are performed as a FOT (Front of Tabs) which means in front of the Centres stage curtains, the reason for this is so that the back stage crew can change the scene behind the curtain whilst the FOT is performed on the apron (stage blocks). This is why it’s important for us to have control of our script because unlike a professional theatre we cannot just fly in a backstage cloth to change a scene.
Over time we have become expert at calculating how many flats we need to paint and how many times we need to rotate them during a performance, in addition to the scenery flats we use tormentors to create a 3d effect, these are 3-sided free standing pieces of scenery that when painted give perspective to the scene, the reason they are called tormentors is that traditionally the baddie would torment the audience from behind these pieces of scenery. We have also installed a runner above the proscenium arch for us to hang extra backcloth curtains so that when the FOTS are performed we can have a scene for the audience to look at instead of the Tabs. Did you know the reason that stage curtains are called Tabs is that historically scenes in theatres were set as a tableau so that when the curtains were pulled open the first thing the audience saw was as set scene rather like a picture on a wall, over the years this has been abbreviated to Tabs.
Another part of our stage work is our props (properties) these can be both small and large and we are lucky enough to have storage to keep our large stock of them, we have become experts at re-cycling and making over, as the saying goes waste not want not.
The same goes for our large collection of costumes that we have accumulated over the years, we always make some new costumes for every pantomime but we also adopt and adapt existing ones to freshen them up. Our Stitch and Bitch team always discuss with the scenery painters and backstage crew what colours they intend to use for the scenes so that they can use sympathetic colours for them to blend into.
To make any scene come alive you need scene painters to create sets for the actors to perform in, Penfold has been blessed over the years with brilliant people who have made our sets come alive and a great backstage crew who make everything come together and run the shows performances.
Together with our actors, brilliant make up team, expert lighting and sound crews and our marvellous Penfold Band supported by a happy band of volunteers who come in and help during productions the Penfold team all pull together to entertain our audiences, both young and old, with a traditional family village pantomime which we hope you will enjoy as much as we do.