by Paul Tate
I am so lucky to have been in a business that I love for over thirty years now and I still get a buzz from treading the boards. Working with the odd celebrity (some of them very odd!!!) and being alongside people who have honed their craft for years still excites me. Now that I am in the second half of my century I am happy to say that I still get employed as a Dame or Ugly Sister and thank all of the Managements, Theatres, Casts and Crews from the past that have helped to make my panto season a happy one.
My first professional panto playing Genie of the Lamp was in Aladdin in 1984 alongside a wonderful Dame called Tommy Trafford. He was one of the last Actor/Managers and I used to stand in the wings when he was on stage and watch in awe. He was a real traditional Dame and I learnt so much from him. I like to think he is up there watching over me and that I have made him proud. I too am a traditional Dame (I make an ugly woman!!!) and I play it as a man in a frock, not too gruff and with a hint of my Nanny who I loved to bits. It is so important to give a 100% each time you are on stage and I had a wonderful costume designer, Susan Hale, who over the years has made many a costume for me, each one getting a wow, laugh or gasp that helps me so much in making me the Dame I am. As I get older and fatter the odd panel has had to be put in the back!
Whether I am playing Dame or Ugly I am always generous on stage to the other artists. I never steal the limelight or upstage anyone unless required, and if I have written the panto, or am directing it, I always make sure that everyone gets their moment to shine and it all balances out. It is essential to tell the story, the fairytale, and not to get tied up in ‘Who’s best?’ If you are playing Ugly then each Sister has to work together to make it ELECTRIC!!! Always remember that everyone is there to make something special and you are only one small cog in that enormous wheel. We can always learn something from someone. I am not a perfect performer and there is always room for improvement, but I still see performers today that inspire me so I might nick one or two ideas. LOL!!!
Playing a Dame or Ugly Sister is hard work. I like to have a costume change for each entrance (harking back to tradition) so every time you are off stage you are changing costume. You never really get a break because of this so you must take care of yourself. Yes, in my younger days I would be out every night after the shows partying but you have to pace yourself. The audience deserve nothing less that your full commitment for a few hours a day. This business is not always fair, you don’t always get the part you want (gone are my days of Romantic Lead) but if you are playing Dame/Ugly be prepared to climb that mountain twice a day, and make sure that when you get to the summit you can plant that flag with pride!