When I picture the coming autumn and winter ahead, one thing dominates my thoughts. The panto.
I picture myself waiting in a cafe while my daughter rehearses. I picture her in her bright red lipstick and neat plaits skipping excitedly into the theatre. I picture her on stage, dancing beautifully and smiling fit to burst.
I simply couldn’t imagine autumn and winter without the panto.
I hate winter and I’m not madly keen on Christmas, but I’ve pretty much been counting down to the auditions ever since the panto finished on 2nd January.
I felt that, as she’d been in the chorus before and done a good job, that she would get in again. Especially because some of the girls had done it for four, five or even six consecutive years. But there was still that little bit of uncertainty. We had to say ‘when’ not ‘if’.
As soon as she walked into her audition last year, my daughter made friends with another little girl. They both got into the panto and were both on the same team. They spent eight weeks being pretty much inseparable. I got on well with her mum too and we stayed in touch. She was so scared that her daughter wouldn’t get in. I tried to reassure her, because all the evidence pointed to them getting in again.
But this time there was farther to fall. Last time, they’d never done a panto. I had no idea how many people would audition and didn’t know whether my daughter would get in. If she hadn’t got in, we would have been upset briefly, then we would have carried on with our lives. This time, we knew exactly what we were going to miss. To not get in would have been devastating.
My panto friend texted me in a panic because her daughter’s dance school had been promoting the auditions to its students. What if they all turned up? I actually woke up from a bad dream about them all auditioning.
We both had a policy of ‘don’t mention the panto’. We didn’t mention the audition to anyone we knew who danced, because they were all potential rivals.
Last year, 40 girls auditioned for 18 places. Those seemed like pretty good odds to me – nearly 50% of the girls got in. But what would happen this year? Would 100 kids turn up?
One the day, my daughter and I arrived in good time, seconds before her friend. They immediately saw some of the older girls from last year, who went up to them and hugged them. It was so lovely to see they still had that bond. There were a lot of parents milling about, but actually there weren’t that many kids! Bit by bit, pretty much the whole of her team from last year turned up, along with quite a few of the other team. There were a few strange faces, but not many. And a lot of them didn’t look like dancers.
By the time they went into the audition, there were only 24 kids there. For 16 places! The odds were looking pretty good. Especially as size is important in panto (they like to have the full range of sizes from tiny to woman-size) and there weren’t many little ones there.
I sat with my friend and one of the other mums nervously and excitedly chatting. It’s amazing how slowly the time goes when you’re nervous.
After less than half an hour, a handful of kids, all of them new ones, came out. Most of them were crying. Poor kids. Unfortunately for some of them, their parents had left the building, so they then had to go back into the auditorium to watch the other kids carry on with their audition.
I really felt for those kids, and their parents. How devastating to be knocked back so quickly.
But our kids were still in there.
An hour later, they were still in there.
From the moment those first kids had come out, I was confident it was good news. But my friend wasn’t counting her chickens. Last year, they’d had ‘reserves’, who never actually got used, and she was worried her daughter would be a reserve.
Eventually, 16 smiling girls appeared, all clutching letters.
They were in!
I gave my daughter a big hug. I was so happy and proud of her.
Now the hard work and excitement starts. Here we go again!