Panto Day 2020
Friday 18th December

Panto Advice

Crystal Clear: Sound Design

In my 27 years working in theatre, I had managed to avoid the ‘Christmas shows’ aka pantomime for 23 of them! That is until the wonderful team at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre approached me back in 2016 to design their family panto Aladdin. Having just worked on the Disney production of Aladdin, I thought it would be a nice book end to the year and gladly said “Yes”. Four years later, I am still designing the traditional Yvonne Arnaud Theatre panto and loving it!

My experience of working on big budget commercial productions definitely helped me navigate my relatively inexperience of working on a panto. I quickly realised my workflow and approach had to be quick and flexible in order to produce the design required, and needed for the traditional pantomime.

In terms of Sound Design, I like to break it down into the following components for which I am responsible for in order to give the audience a pleasurable aural experience ( well that is the aim! )

  • System Design
  • Programming
  • SFX
  • Band Mix
  • Vocal Mix
  • Track Mix
  • Personnel
  • Cast Interaction

The biggest challenge for me is producing the quantity of sound effects (SFX) in such a short time. Once I have read the script and talked with the director about what they want, I get to work straight away with compiling and/or making the list of SFX. This can be as early as September and usually consists of 20 – 30 SFX for a 2hr show, that is on average a SFX every 5 minutes. Fortunately at the Arnaud we have a great technical team which allows me to offload the SFX triggering to the DSM via a remote, leaving the already busy Sound operator to concentrate on mixing the 16 cast radio mics, 4 piece band and playback tracks.

Being prepared as much as possible prior to the 1st day of technical rehearsals is key as things will change and being able to respond quickly will make it a smoother experience for all involved. I like to have all my SFX edited and loaded onto the computer as well as the desk programmed in advanced according to the latest version of the script.

The most important element of panto sound design is vocal clarity followed closely by the SFX. The audience of screaming and shouting kids (& adults) have to be able to hear the actors in order to respond and enjoy the performance. SFX also enhances the audience and cast experience by helping with the storytelling and atmosphere.

I like to work closely with the Director, Musical Director, Choreographer, Lighting Designer, Technical Manager, Stage Management, Stage Crew and of course the Sound team.

Ultimately, it is about teamwork and every department having the same end goal to create an entertaining traditional family pantomime.

Anyone wanting to Sound design a panto, my advice would be to be flexible and prepared as much as possible and don’t spend too much time trying to perfect that one song or SFX…you have a million other things to do.
Oh yes you do!

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