Like a Virgin: An American in Panto

Last year, D, the lovely missus and I went to the Theatre Musical de Pibrac to see ‘Beauty and the Beast‘ by the Secret Panto Society.

For those of you wondering what ‘Panto’ is – like I was – it’s short for ‘pantomime.’ BUT it’s NOT mime. Even my FR friends thought that’s what panto is. Basically, panto takes a well-known children’s story – Snow White, Aladdin, Cinderella, etc. – and turns it into a very broad comedy. The SPS site has a good description of panto.

Audience participation is essential – “It’s behind you!” and “Oh yes it is/no it isn’t” are must-dos by the crowd – and, here’s where it’s definitely a Brit thing: the ‘Dame’ is played by a man (check out this NYT story about learning how to be a British citizen) and the leading man is played by a girl.

Back to my story. After seeing B&TB, both D and M said to me, “You should try out for this.” Having never acted anywhere, I thought they were having me on (as my Brit friends would say). But a few days later, I saw a friend of mine who was in B&TB – she even sang a solo and did it beautifully – and I asked her if SPS accepted Americans. “Sure,” she said, “just pay your membership fee and you can audition.”

And so I did.

I thought bombed in my auditions – I tried out only for medium to small parts – and my flabber was gasted when shortly thereafter I received a call saying I got a part in the chorus. I was to be a parson in the upcoming production, “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

We started rehearsals in September and met virtually every Sunday afternoon through the end of the year. Being clueless about acting, I asked my fellow cast members and the director (and anyone else who would listen) for tips and they were incredibly generous with their help.

Not having many lines to memorize, I was feeling OK about that part of the gig. But then I learned we – the chorus – had to perform a ‘flash mob’ at the start of play. Not only that, we were to come on incrementally and I was to be one of the first three ‘villagers’ to start the dance. My fellow people in the village – Village People? – were also, um, apprehensive. They may have felt that they had two left feet. Me? I’m convinced I have three left feet.

Mel, our choreographer, trained us enthusiastically. Eventually, we felt pretty confident that we could pull this off. Now, our dance routine had four elements: Boogie Wonderland, Can’t Touch This, Living on a Prayer, and Let’s Get Loud. We were relatively confident with the first three. But the ‘Let’s Get Loud’ portion starts off with a salsa step and none of us amateurs felt confident in that move. I eventually became perhaps the only ‘dancer’ to do a feet-stuck-in-place ‘salsa.’ With my long legs, by swaying at the knees, it actually sorta, kinda looked like I was doing a salsa. Mel laughed with me, not at me. At least she laughed and that’s what’s supposed to happen in panto.

In January, we started rehearsing on Wednesday nights as well as the (by now longer) Sunday sessions. Finally, we were ready – as ready as can be – to do this for real.

On our opening Saturday, we did two shows. I was a little nervous, but less than I thought I would be, before we popped on stage for the first time. We got our costumes on and then went to make-up. Our show really was funny, but for me, the funniest line I heard was when one of the make-up ladies yelled, “Males! Lipstick!” Oh the life of the theater world.

Our first audience was seated and we got ready to go on stage. We did the flash mob dance and got a great reaction. Then we delivered our first lines and got some laughs. We were off and running.

The show finished and we did our ‘walkdown,’ where the cast comes out for a bow. Talk about a rush! Getting applause from hundreds of folks gives you an adrenaline buzz.

And then we did the evening show and, again, a great reaction from the crowd. And, again, you got a high from the lights and applause.

Here are a few photos of the cast:

Me as Parson Wind.

Me as Parson Wind.

Jack, our fine figure of a, um, boy.

Jack, our fine figure of a, er, boy.

Mrs. Humbug (l), my love interest, and Mrs. Bun (r).

Mrs. Humbug (l), my love interest, and Mrs. Bun (r).

Mrs. Sprout.

Mrs. Sprout. We dropped her – literally – in every performance.

Fairy Doreen.

Fairy Doreen.

Magic Beans and a layer of golden eggs.

Magic Beans and a layer of golden eggs.

Mrs. Mopp and her long-lost son Willy.

Mrs. Mopp and her long-lost son Willy.

Slave Gang.

Slave Gang.

Fairy Doreen, Slimeball the baddie, and our beloved director.

Fairy Doreen, Slimeball the baddie, and our beloved director.

To see more photos of the cast, click here: Note: This particular folder has more photos in it than any other one I’ve done.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stories and photos.


About skinsphins

The stories of a 'never out of the country until we moved to France' American.
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6 Responses to Like a Virgin: An American in Panto

  1. David Sargent says:

    Your boys know you even better than you realized to make such a great suggestion. I’m glad you took them up on it. It was lots of fun!

  2. Galloise says:

    Sounds like you had a blast- I’m soooo pleased (and jealous cos I wasn’t it!). Looking forward to having a look at your photos. Thanks for the comment on my song btw!

  3. Galloise says:

    Sorry, didn’t mean to leave two comments. Was doing it on my phone when half awake and I didn’t think the first one had posted and now I can’t delete either of them!

  4. Angela says:

    Hi Todd, Delighted that you were inspired by BB to become involved with SPS ….I know you will have had a blast… Angela B (last year’s producer)

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