Pantomimes: A Uniquely British Tradition No Longer

As we get ready for our sixth year of Pantomime here in rural Virginia I was asked to write something about my part in bringing this quirky British Christmas tradition to the USA. Here’s what I wrote.

I don’t remember my first pantomime. The early years have bundled together in a single memory of fun nights out filled with laughter, song, romance, and choc ices. A choc ice is the generic British term for something like a Klondike bar and a choc ice at the intermission was an essential part of the experience when I was a child.

Jack & the Beanstalk, my first time on stage in Panto

Jack & the Beanstalk, my first time on stage in Panto

It wasn’t really Christmas without at least one trip to the Panto. Often there were more as we went with our class from school, brownie/girl guide (scout) troop, family, and friends. It was always a magical evening as the tale was told on stage along with terrible jokes, yelling at the characters on stage, and various demonstrations of theatrical magic. This was how I fell in love with theatre and I remain in love to this day with the spectacle that can take place on a stage and carry you away with its magic.

I moved to the USA 17 years ago and didn’t realize just how many cultural differences there would be with which I would have to contend. It didn’t strike me that I was leaving behind my beloved pantomimes. Even as I grew older I took my younger cousins or the children I babysat as a special treat. As much a treat for me as it was for them. It wasn’t too bad until I had a child of mine and realized he would grow up without the magic of pantomime.

Playing the Evil Giant's Wife I Got l Lots of Boos!

Playing the Evil Giant's Wife I Got l Lots of Boos!

One day, while out working at the Waterworks Theatre, with Dudley Sauve and Bea Oyler I decided to ask if they knew anything about pantomimes. Dudley’s initial reaction was horror as he imagined I was asking about mimes, those creepy characters that lurk in city parks and harass passers by with lame tricks. I tried to explain but when you grow up with something that has so many traditions and customs it can be hard to explain. Even harder when it comes to mentioning things like cross dressing dames and principal boys. They were intrigued and with further urging from Bea the idea was pursued further. I brought a DVD to try and give the Waterworks Players board a taste of this uniquely British theatrical tradition. Thankfully they were with me and we decided to try and stage one that year.

That first year we took on Puss in Boots and it was a great success. Since then the show has gone from strength to strength becoming a part of Farmville’s holiday traditions almost as much as it is for the British. For me it has been a gift as my child has grown up knowing about Pantomime and the traditions that go along with it. This year my son will get to attend his first British pantomime but the Farmville Waterworks Players pantomimes will always be the most special to us.

Living in America, Parenting

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