So panto time is on us again. Who doesn’t love the weird and wonderful world of panto? My daughter auditioned again this year but she was simply too tall and they couldn’t squeeze her into a costume. She has done panto for 3 years and as she walked out of the audition room I rushed to console her trying to reassure her that it wasn’t the end of the world. But when I looked at her she was smiling and wasn’t the distraught child I expected. I then realised the crushing disappointment I was feeling was all mine! I wasn’t going to be a part of the panto team this year. I’m going to have a Christmas without being part of something special that only a few get to experience.
I have two daughters who have both done pantomimes for three years. Always both in different ones and they range from a village hall with amateur performers to a large 1500 seat theatre with celebrities. The thing all of these have in common are that children are part of the production and parents join the team as chaperones. Some productions pay the mums, some don’t. Some rely on parents volunteering and some insist that you chaperone at least a few performances. But they all require chaperones to be licensed. This can mean a 2 evening training course or simply a visit to your child protection office, depending on where you live.
I volunteered. I was already registered and have worked with children before so it made sense. Ever since the first session I have been hooked. It does take a lot of organisation, juggling work, school, rehearsal runs and performances is hard enough without having to actually chaperone back stage, but the atmosphere and the feeling of really being involved is worth missing out on the Xmas films and the extra chocolates and mince pies.
So for any parents (I actually wrote “mums” here but changed it…I know very capable male chaperones, it’s just usually mums!) thinking of chaperoning for your local panto its worth knowing what you are letting yourself in for.
The basic duties seem simple enough: Look after the children, get them on stage at the right time and in the right costume. Easy if you have runners and the children get called to stage, but this isn’t always the case. Chaperones have to think on their feet, I still smile when I remember being confronted with 3 little girls close to tears because they were due on stage in minutes and had holes in their black ballet shoes. I smile now…it wasn’t funny at the time. But black duct tape works fine on leather and they all got on stage…in fact we went through several roles that year due to a very rough stage. The fact is you can’t list all the duties a panto chaperone will have to do. Sorting costumes, helping tie laces and running up and down LOTS of stairs is something every venue has. But I have also had to deal with asthma attacks and minor injuries, I’m now an expert at securing wigs and I think I could break the record for the fastest French plait. I know one mum who had to be a dwarf in the frieze scene at her local panto! Every performance will be slightly different. You will have to calm children down for the first performances and then through the middle when they are flagging you will be trying to inject some energy. You will have to comfort a child who forgot a move or a line and congratulate a child who finally got it right. You will be able to fix pretty much anything with a safety pin or a roll of tape and learn that even if the orchestra pit is flooding at the rate of knots and the babes are slightly hysterical at the thought of having to row home, the show will go on and you will help that happen. But most of all you will have an experience that you won’t get doing anything else and the memories will stay with you forever. I guess I’ll just have to cope with watching this year. But I’ll be smiling knowing the chaperones are frantic whilst I boo and hiss with the audience.
Donna has 2 daughters who love all things theatre. She has always worked with children, her various jobs have seen her working in a nursery, as a children’s rep in the South of France, exploding volcanoes at themed birthday parties and most recently tutoring maths and science. She entered in the world of chaperoning 11 years ago, helping out at her daughters’ dance school shows. She has chaperoned 6 pantomimes in the last 3 years and is now fully registered and also chaperones for other performances at her local theatres.