I’m not an expert on pantos, but I’m pretty sure that every panto, professional or amateur, always has a chorus of kids. Specifically girls.
The girls seem to be arranged in perfect size order – there’s usually eight of them, of four different sizes – two little, two a bit bigger, two a bit bigger still and two almost like full-grown women. When they stand on the stage, they stand in this perfect size order.
Well, from what I’ve learned over the last few weeks, size really does matter! My daughter is a ‘little one’. The girls in the panto are aged 8-16 and she’s little due to her size, not her age. The other little ones are 8 and a tiny 10 year old. She is the biggest of the little ones. There are advantages to being little. They seem to get extra comedy roles to play, entirely based on their size and cuteness. The chorus seem to have numbers rather than names. As the second smallest in the panto, she is number 2.
In my head, the chorus dance slowly and saunter round marketplace scenes in character shoes, swinging baskets.
In reality, they do full-on, high energy dance routines. Although they wear the exact costumes I had in my head – lace up bodices and long skirts. The main dance style for musical theatre is modern, but my daughter’s panto mixes it up with a bit of street and a bit of ballet. They need to be good all-round dancers.
And there’s no Mrs Nice Dance Teacher gently helping them to learn their routines in their own time. They’re working with a professional choreographer and professional actors. They have to learn fast. The choreographer is strict.
Being in the chorus is a huge commitment – for the child and the parents. You don’t get good enough to dance, sing and act in a professional production by skipping rehearsals or turning up late. My daughter had 17 rehearsals and she has 27 performances. For every one of those, she needs to get to the theatre/ rehearsal venue on time, delivered by a parent (me) who already has a lot on her plate.
She’s had to give up school activities she enjoys, dance lessons she enjoys and even miss a fair bit of school (all perfectly legal and above board – they get a proper performance licence).
There are also cost considerations. Yes, it’s a professional production, but your child isn’t getting paid. And they’re also expected to provide a fair bit of kit themselves – my daughter needed a black leotard, black jazz shoes, natural coloured dance tights and black jeans – none of which she possessed (although I guess lots of kids will possess them). She also had a big list of make-up she needed to provide. I don’t wear make-up myself, so we had to buy it all (although thank goodness for Boots Advantage Card points!).
Add to this the cost of travel, parking and having to buy drinks while you’re hanging around in cafes and it all adds up.
In this situation, it’s important to see the pantomime and the chorus as a hobby rather than a job. You get paid for jobs, you pay for hobbies. You pay for dance lessons and leotards and dance shoes, so you’re paying to take part in a pantomime too.
If your daughter loves dancing and is good at it, and if you go in with your eyes wide open about the commitment and impact on your family, being in the chorus of a pantomime is a fantastic experience.
My daughter has loved it and has learned so much. Will we be able to resist taking part next year? I’m not sure.
Because of the rules regarding children working, pantomimes always have two separate choruses. So the chorus is made up of 16 kids altogether, but working in two teams of eight. This means they will only do half of the performances and be working approximately three days a week.