'Tis the season - pantomime season, that is.
The British pantomime, traditionally performed at Christmas for family audiences, is quite a popular form of theatre here on the West Coast of Canada.
Pantomimes incorporate song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick, cross-dressing, in-jokes, topical political references, audience participation (boo the villain, cheer the hero) and, of course, some double entendres.
This year's selection of panto showings are steeped in their own traditions.
In our area, White Rock Players' Club presents Pinocchio at Coast Capital Playhouse starting Friday (Nov. 30) and running until Dec. 29. Tickets, phone 604-536-7535.
At Surrey Arts Centre, Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society is recreating Phantom of the Opera to become Phantom of the Panto from Nov. 29 to Dec. 8, and Royal Canadian Theatre Company, under the direction of Ellie King, is presenting Robinson Crusoe and the Pirates, at Surrey Arts Centre from Dec. 20 to Jan. 5 (Christmas and New Year's Day excluded, of course).
For tickets at Surrey Arts Centre, call 604-501-5566.
Tom Saunders is among the many occasional, behind-the-scenes members of White Rock Players' Club. Many talents are required to produce a show, and most of his activity has been in writing music and making props for the Christmas pantomimes. And why does he do it? Tradition.
"My earliest memory," Saunders related, "was as a three-year-old, sitting between my parents and being just a little freaked out by people being boiled alive in a cannibal pot in Robinson Crusoe."
This was at the old White Rock Little Theatre, which has been transformed into the lovely Coast Capital Playhouse. "And the next year," he continued, "when one of Aladdin's enemies was squeezed completely flat through the mangle of a wringer washing machine - also a little freaky. And all of it happening right in front of our eyes."
It wasn't until Tom was much older that he began contributing to the White Rock shows.
"In 1997, I co-wrote the script and songs for one of the pantomimes, and I've been involved one way or another since then."
Saunders' contribution this year is another rewrite for the lyrics for "The Wonderful Year We Fell in Love." This song is one of the iconic traditions for White Rock Players, along with Shenanigans the Pantomime Giraffe, which Saunders built.
For more than 25 years, many people have begun their holiday season by attending Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society's annual musical pantomime. This year's production of Phantom of the Panto is written by Clive "The Hitman" Ramroop. Clive's first performance in a pantomime was in G&S Society's Excalibur. He was the witch's cat, and I was the witch - first time for both of us in lead roles. Thank you, Clive, for getting me through the performances!
Clive has loved the panto tradition since high school, when he viewed his first panto, Sinbad, produced by Ellie King. Somewhere, a notion formed in his brain that he wanted to write a panto based on his favourite story, Phantom of the Opera. He wanted a huge variety of musical selection and even has created an interesting mesh (or weaving) of music from The Barber of Seville and Lady Gaga. There is a surprise ending; Clive wouldn't tell me exactly what - didn't want to ruin the ending.
All I can tell you is that it is true to both Phantom of the Opera and pantomime style.
Meanwhile, Ellie King is traditional British pantomime personified. "I grew up with pantomimes," says the local Queen of Pantos. She also believes the traditional British pantomime is a standalone theatre genre and should not be confused with any other style. And for the 20-plus years she has produced her pantos, no one can argue that she has stayed true to the art form. "We are so very, very traditional," she quips. "We always include one gag or joke from the early history of 19th century panto - and very often these gags are the most popular with audiences."
Iconic to all of King's pantos is the finale. She has the copyright to set piece, "Ring Out the Bells." This "march down" is very British, and very pantomime. It is King's passion in life to keep the genre of pantomime pure and alive. Yes, panto people are a different sort of people. Tom Saunders, Clive Ramroop and Ellie King are just a few of the hundreds of panto people who participate in pantos in this community every year.
I love panto people - and have the bumper sticker to prove it. Long live the genre. firstname.lastname@example.org
For the record
Rob Gloor is the executive director of Alliance for Arts and Culture, an organization based in Vancouver. An incorrect spelling of his name appeared in Melanie Minty's arts column in the Thursday, Nov. 22 edition.