During the fall months each year, Alan Cedargreen can be found telling bad jokes, singing silly songs and prancing around a cold rehearsal hall or warm stage, with or without a wig.
It's been his annual ritual for about a quarter century and, at age 75, the Surrey resident is still thrilled playing the dame in pantomimes brought to the stage by director/writer Ellie King and Royal Canadian Theatre Company.
This season, he's witty Kitty Crusoe in Robinson Crusoe and the Pirates, a family-friendly adventure at Surrey Arts Centre from Dec. 20 to Jan. 6 (for details, call 604-5015566 or visit www.rctheatreco. com).
Cedargreen has been King's go-to dame in her pantos since the early 1990s, save for a couple shows over the years.
"He just gets it," King told the Now. "The dame is a very difficult role to play. It's not a drag act, it's a man in a dress, and there's a big difference. The man in the dress can make jokes about both males and females equally, and Alan somehow manages to walk that line."
Cedargreen's dame is a particularly nice one, she added. "There seems to be two kinds of dames: there's the motherly, nice, sweet and friendly, almost childlike dame, and then there's the fierce, man-hungry, booze-guzzling, out-of-left-field kind of dame.
Alan is the nice one, and he has a particular rapport with kids, he really does. The kids just love him, and the adults love him, too."
Up until age 45 or so, Cedargreen couldn't stand to speak publicly.
"Something in me was let loose around 25 years ago," he said during a break from rehearsal Sunday at Newton Cultural Centre.
"Not until I was 50 or so did I start playing the dame in these pantos on a regular basis - it just came to life for me. I don't know where that came from."
Today, no members of Cedargreen's family play a part in the Royal Canadian pantos - they all just accept he's a busy man in the weeks before and after Christmas.
Growing up in Britain, his family made a tradition of seeing a panto on Boxing Day. The dame was always played slapstick by a comedian of note - cream pies in the face, outrageous costumes, funny stuff. It's a tradition Cedargreen warmly embraces, especially for kids in the crowd.
"It's such a great way to spend Christmas, it really is," he said.
"It reminds me of when I was a child, so to be able to spread a bit of Christmas cheer, it's a good feeling."
Such acting is also a good way to stay fit, he added.
"This helps!" he said with a laugh. "It's about three months of rehearsals and show dates, and it's pretty physical. It's a lot of energy, especially when you go on stage - the adrenaline shoots up and I feel like a kid up there. And then I go home and crawl up the stairs and my wife just laughs at me. And I overact, so everything is big and it does drain you a bit. I just don't feel that on stage, that's all."
The stage for Robinson Crusoe and the Pirates will be populated by more than 40 performers - cannibals, fire demons, cruise ship captains and others, plus a volcano, hula dancing and tropical colours.
Describing it all, Cedargreen smiled.
"This is going to be a good one," he said.
Later, King said she's amazed by how Cedargreen is still able to "skip around the stage like a two-year-old.. I don't know many more years he'll be dame-ing, to be honest, but he's a bit of an icon in a small way. I don't think he's ready to retire or anything, but when he does, it will be a sad day for panto."
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