On Friday 8th December, CSVPA students showcased a fantastic rendition of ‘The Little Mermaid’ as a quintessential British pantomime. The collaborative efforts of musical theatre, acting, and music students brought this enigmatic production to life. Pantomimes, a cherished British tradition during Christmas, embody fun, audience participation, and unique storytelling.
For international students, a British pantomime was a very new experience. Not only did they have to learn about this tradition, but they also actively contributed to its production, broadening their theatrical skills.
We sat down with Drama tutor and Director of the pantomime, Chris McKay, to discuss the rehearsal process and the challenges students faced during this unique experience.
Chris, why did you choose The Little Mermaid?
Every year at the end of first term we perform a Pantomime which I write and adapt to suit the students available. This year we had a large group and I needed a story with lots of characters to give all students a chance to show off their performance skills as part of an ensemble and as individuals. When we cast a play, we consider each student and try to find parts that will bring out the best of them for performance.
Can you give us some more details on the rehearsal process?
For the final two weeks of first term, we move away from timetables and enter full time rehearsals for our Christmas performance. Rehearsals begin with a read through of the script. Then plenty of rehearsals on songs, any choreography and working through the staging and action of the story. During the last few days of rehearsal, we ‘run the show’, adding more technical elements such as costumes, props and lighting.
How did you prepare the students for the performance?
All of their classes in the timetable have been developing the skills required to produce and perform together. The Christmas performance is an opportunity to put those skills to the test in a performance open to the whole school – suddenly there is the pressure of a live audience, and we work hard to help students reach the level where they feel brave and confident in performance situations.
How do you support students with learning their lines?
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Lots of our students are international and speak a different first language – sometimes I encourage them to translate the words! One of my favourite things is to annotate, underline, circle, highlight and scribble on a script. It brings actors into a different relationship with the material and helps develop technique! Another technique is to make audio files of my practice so I can listen to the words – it’s a great idea to have a 30-minute practice file that you can listen to whilst getting ready in the morning!
Did the students understand what a pantomime is and how did you explain the concept to them?
Pantomime is such a British tradition that I sometimes forget that it is so unusual for our students and visitors from other countries. I explain it as a fairytale with larger-than-life characters and lots of engaging with the audience!
Why is it important for students to perform different styles of theatre?
“I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage” – Peter Brook. We work a lot on different approaches to theatre, as storytelling happens in all artistic formats, styles and genres. Performing Arts students need to develop the skills that will help them excel in any style of performance.
Did the students face any challenges during rehearsals?
Probably that my scripts are always quite fast-paced and lots of energy is required. The other challenge in a show like this is rhythm and timing. When working with comedy, rhythm is the heartbeat of the show and timing is the humour of the show. It’s difficult to get both right – particularly when English is not your first language!