My name is Nicola Miles; I have been choreographing shows and Pantomimes for many years. It’s a dangerous assumption that because someone can dance (at whatever standard) that they can put a show together. A professional Pantomime isn’t the same as a local school show or festival choreography.
The choreographer’s main concerns are the principle performers, adult chorus and children chorus. Working with the Principals depends on many factors; the scale of the production and who the “names” are if any. Many Pantomimes rely on actors from TV shows, as this produces familiarity with the public and in turn provides the essential “bums on seats”. However, there is no guarantee that they can dance or sing. Whatever their abilities, they still need to feel confident and look as good as possible on stage; having choreography they can perform with confidence twice daily. Most names I have worked with are keen to be included in the numbers, enter wholeheartedly into the spirit of the piece and have been absolutely fabulous to work with.
In today’s current climate it is quite a luxury to have a professional chorus. When there is one they usually have to double as understudies to the principals in which case at the auditions you need to strike a balance between the standard of dance and the ability to act and sing solo, you also need to take in consideration height and if the costumes will fit. You also need to cast the babes or children’s chorus. These are usually local children and standards and styles will vary considerably. In the case of there being no professional chorus you are totally relying on these babes and young people to fill the stage and perform all the routines. Patterning and use of the stage within the various sets during these numbers is important, allowing the chorus and Principals to compliment each other.
During Pantomime particularly, you should remember that there are two shows a day every day. Bear this in mind when setting the numbers. If you are using lifts ensure those performers are capable of them and have a contingency plan up your sleeve in case of illness, injury or understudy performance. Tiredness and the usual Christmas bugs and colds can run rife through a company, affecting performer’s abilities. Also due to the amount of performances minor injuries do occur. In order to help reduce the possibility of injury all performers should have a physical warm up before the first performance of the day. It is usual for this to happen after the vocal warm up. Ensure that each member of the chorus and cast knows the importance of a physical warm up.
When there are younger children in the chorus I like to include them in the show as much as possible. It’s an exciting time for them, not only are they in the show but hey it’s CHISTMAS! While it’s great for them to be in the show it’s really boring to spend most of it in a dressing room.
It is important to liaise with the Director who may be rehearsing in a separate room or in a different building altogether, to ensure that you are working in unison. Checking set and cloth positions and entrances and exits with the Deputy Stage Manager is vital, so you know exactly what space you have to work with in each scene. It is pointless choreographing a number in the rehearsal space only to discover at the Technical rehearsal that you have to completely re-block it because you either don’t have the space, or there are areas of the stage that are not being used. Also if you feel that a prop is required, discuss it with the Director and the Deputy Stage Manager. Don’t assume it will magically appear at the tech. If during rehearsals it is felt that the chorus needs another piece of costume, discuss this with the head of the wardrobe department as soon as possible. They will have a lot of work to do and will not thank you for requesting something at very short notice.
Usually you will set your choreography with the Musical Director in the rehearsal room which means you can discuss adding a few bars if needed or cutting a couple of verses of that song that seems to be going on for days.
Finally try to make the ensemble numbers interesting and not too long. You don’t want the little people in the audience popping off to the loo or reaching for the crisp packets. Movement, energy and sparkle are the key to making the plot move along in a believable and truly magical way for the children in the audience. Good Luck.
Nicola has worked extensively in TV and theatre playing a variety of roles including Mrs Giant, Enchantress and Fairy in Jack and the Beanstalk, Ping ,Genie of the Ring and Lou Lou in productions of Aladdin, Fairy Godmother and Dandini in Cinderella, Fairy and Bunny in Snow White, Alice and Cat in Dick Whittington and Girl in Lunch Hour, and was Assistant Director for Dick Whittington at Reading and tours of Give Life and Behave. Nicola has choreographed many pantomimes including Cinderella, Dick Whittington, Mother Goose, Robinson Crusoe, Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin , Snow White, Robin Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Peter Pan and Puss in Boots for Cambridge Arts Theatre, the Anvil Basingstoke, the Connaught Theatre Worthing, Horsham Arts Centre, The Hexagon Reading and Dorking Halls. She also choreographed an animation sequence for the El Nombre TV series. Children’s shows include Hansel and Gretel, Tales of Good King Wenceslas, Red Riding Hood and Sinbad for Warwick Arts Centre, Christmas 2000 at the Butts Theatre, Coventry, Christmas Cat and the Pudding Pirate for The Civic in Bedworth. Big Girls at Wimbledon, Classic Cats at Woburn Safari Park and subsequent tour, The King and I, Finian’s Rainbow, The Boyfriend and Hello Dolly. Television appearances include Only Fools and Horses -BBC, Blackadder- BBC, Whatever Next with Noel Edmonds- BBC, It’s a Square World – BBC, Debbie in Ever Decreasing Circles- BBC, The Benny Hill Show- ITV, Tenko (series III) BBC, The Bill – ITV and Mr Bean – ITV. Other credits include an Education video on Pantomime screened in Germany, a Public Service Announcement for The CAB – ITV and a TV commercial in Portugal. A photographic advert Slendertone for Cosmopolitan Magazine and advertisements for Ramada Group Hotels, Training video for Avon and Somerset Police and various presenting assignments.