There is nothing like a dame!
I’ve already mentioned that I used to love teaching during the Christmas period – the decorations, the pop corn on the last day and the excitement of the children. However, there was one more thing that I really enjoyed about Christmas. It was the one thing that brought a huge amount of work, stress and arguments but one that definitely brought the biggest rewards. What was it? Well the Christmas Pantomime! Oh yes it is!…..
I was reading the news feed on my Facebook Page, when I noticed that one of the teachers I taught mathematics to had his first Nativity that afternoon. After wishing him the customary good luck I got thinking about the plays that we had delivered to the often un-expecting parents and children in the school. So this week’s waffle is about the Christmas Pantomime!
In the beginning – I have always worked as a team for the pantomime, each member having an expertise that they contributed to the overall final play. In later years I actually did more and more, but initially I was in charge of stage management (yes the organiser!) music, songs and finally, dances! (yes you heard that right!). Other members of staff took other roles including writing and directing the play, creating the props and backdrops and the costumes. There was always a limited amount of time to practise the play – this was 90minutes a day for three weeks. Although initially this might appear a lot, the lessons were altered so that art and music were included in the practise, so the focus out of the rehearsals was focussed on mathematics, literacy and science. Although you still might be shocked – I would argue that the benefits of the plays were huge – even for the children who didn’t want to perform. They also became something that the children, and parents, looked forward to participating in and watching as they progressed up through the school.
Children’s Roles – One of the rules of the pantomime was that everyone was involved. Initially the roles were defined according to age groups. Year 3 would be in the choir, Year 4 would have group dancing parts and Year 5 would have the speaking roles. As the structure of the school changed, Year 3 gained the dancing roles with Year 4 taking the lead speaking! Each pantomime had to be created from scratch with the right number of roles being created for the number of children in the year. Every Year 4 had a speaking role, no matter how big or small that part was, every child went onto stage and said something. Complete inclusion.
Script and songs – The script was carefully written so that the main roles could be played by different children, with the swap happening some point through the play. With the pantomime dames, these were always one boy and one girl and we used to have three different groups to play the roles. This was part of the pantomime tradition. Of course, in order to support the boys who had to dress up as dames, on the performances I also dressed as a dame – in fact I think I still have the costumes somewhere! The songs were based on familiar tunes for the children with the words altered. I would play the piano for these, since many of the phrases had to be changed in order to fit the new words in! Song writing is not one of my strengths! Examples would be – “We are the lost boys” (Peter Pan to the tune of Football Crazy), “There is nothing like a dame!” (original tune :)). We also had a ‘pop song’ in the pantomime with a group of children doing the dance – these includes classics such as “Reach!” and “I’ll be ok!”
Costumes and Backdrops – We were lucky to have a wealth of very talented and creative adults in the team. Children were requested to provide items from home for their costumes, but I remember that numerous items were made from scratch and seemed to appear over a weekend, including once a full ABBA outfit for our rendition of Waterloo! On a Friday night the week before the performance, I remember spending the night…and I do mean the night…painting the backdrops onto huge white sheets. These were suspended from poles and changed throughout the performance – often to much hilarity! This was one thing that we never really had time to practise!
Looking back on the process I have some very fond memories of the whole procedure and performances. I remember firing water from water pistols over the audience during the Incy Wincy spider song, Batman running in to save the day, a two headed ogre! (yes – you heard that right) and the Strictly Come Dancing event at the ball in Cinderella, with children dancing with dummies attached to them, the latter having very flimsy heads! Parents would come every year and congratulate both the children and the staff on their performances and although these were great moments, I think the most rewarding parts were seeing the children enjoying and smiling, performing so well, and often exclaiming – I never thought I could do that but I did! For some children the pantomime was where they excelled and for that reason I considered it a valuable part of the school year.
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