The Capitol Theatre's Christmas Pantomime: A Homegrown Nelson Family Tradition
For many Nelsonites, the holiday season in Nelson doesn't begin with the first snowfall, or when radio stations start playing holiday tunes. In late November or early December, when the house lights go down in the Capitol Theatre and the panto comes to life, the holiday season has officially arrived.
For over thirty years, this fun-filled, family-friendly theatre show brings the community together every winter, to laugh, cheer, sing and get in the holiday spirit.
Looking to buy tickets for this year's production, Cinderallen? Head to the Capitol Theatre's website here!
Want to learn more about the Christmas Pantomime in Nelson? Read on!
The Capitol Theatre takes centre stage
The panto was the first theatre show I saw in Nelson, during my first visit to the incredible Capitol Theatre, the Queen City's crown jewel. At the risk of sounding, well, dramatic - I fell in love with the Capitol that day. From the gorgeous lobby, to the glorious proscenium arch and balconies overlooking the crimson curtains, seats, and carpet... it felt like I was home.
The theatre has a long, interesting history in Nelson, having originally opened in 1927, and then falling into disrepair in the mid-twentieth century, until it was fully restored and reopened in 1988. The Christmas Pantomime is an annual fundraiser for the Capitol Theatre Restoration Society, which formed to restore the theatre, and continues to make improvements. Just this year, brand new comfy seats were installed!
As my daughter and I walked to our seats, there was a palpable energy in the crowd, like something exciting was going to happen. We didn't know anything about the pantomime, so we had no idea what we were in for.
When kids (and grown-ups) started hissing and booing at the beginning of the show when the villain appeared, we realized this definitely wasn't the opera...
A recipe for a traditional pantomime
You won't see any mime at the panto, and there usually aren't any references to Christmas, either. That's because Nelson's Christmas pantomime productions are in the style of the British pantomimes. The old theatre style was performed without words at one point, and the shows are typically performed around Christmastime.
Other than that, Christmas pantomimes are delicious offerings of theatre that have a few common ingredients.
Here's a recipe for a well-baked Pantomime:
- 1 familiar fairy tale or children's story (substitute with an original story, if desired)
- 1 handful of stock characters e.g. a hero, a villain, a dame (man in drag)
- 1 quart of chorus members
- 1 bushel of costumes
- 1 peck of makeup
- 4 cups of live singing and choreography
- 1 sprig of slapstick
- 3-6 tablespoons of audience participation
- dash of topical and local references
- zest of double entendres
- Dress the stage with painted backdrops and props
- Wrap the characters and chorus in costumes, and blend in the makeup
- Take the story and gently mix in the stock characters and chorus members
- Arrange the live singing and choreography at regular intervals
- Toss in the slapstick
- Pack in the audience participation
- Season with topical and local references
- Sprinkle in the double entendres, to taste
A show for families, featuring families
The Christmas panto is one of those rare pieces of theatre that the whole family genuinely enjoys. It's visually and musically entertaining for kids, while there are plenty of nudge-nudge-wink-wink gags for the grown-ups.
For many kids, the panto will be the first live theatre production they see. And what a great introduction to the theatre, with all the excitement and interaction and comedic and musical elements!
Parents can relax knowing that the panto is the opposite of a stuffy theatre production, where an audience would be expected to sit still and quietly. Not only is the panto totally accessible to kids of all ages, but kids are actually encouraged to be vocally responsive throughout the show.
Starring Nelson's own kids!
Another aspect of the show that families enjoy is the presence of other kids and families on stage.
The panto features a multi-generational group of around 40 local performers. Kids as young as 6 can audition for the pantomime, and kids 13 and under must audition with a parent or guardian. Some kids (and parents or grandparents!) are appearing on stage for the first time, while others have previous experience in the panto, or other theatre productions.
Nelson's panto is an incredible opportunity for kids to be part of a live theatre show. They get a chance to learn the process and skills of theatre, in a safe, supportive environment. Plus, since a panto show is so raw and energetic, kids fit into the cast and aesthetic perfectly.
One of the best parts of having families participate in the show is that they get to go through the theatre experience together. Learning the songs and choreography, getting dressed up and wearing makeup, performing for family and friends - it's a wild, unforgettable ride.
This year, my wife (and Nelson Kids' founder) Jess will be singing and dancing in the show, alongside our 7-year-old daughter (who is already a veteran, having appeared in the show last year). Like many parents, Jess was initially reluctant to audition, but the memories she's made with our girl on and off stage has made all the awkward moments worthwhile (and I know she's having fun up there, too).
It takes a village
I had the honour of directing last year's production, Alice in Nelsonland, which gave me a firsthand look at how much goes into a Christmas Pantomime production.
A community theatre event like this truly brings the community together. Talented community members of all ages and backgrounds, from volunteers around Nelson to the amazing crew at the Capitol Theatre, come together every year to bring their skills and positivity to the production.
Behind the scenes, these hardworking painters, set decorators, makeup artists, props masters, costume fairies, band members, and stagehands help to make the Christmas pantomime look right at home alongside the other professional productions featured in the Capitol's season.
Cinderallen: the 2018 Christmas Pantomime
Come and experience a new twist on a classic tale! This year, Nelson’s Pantomaniacs will sing, dance and play their way through family relationships, making wishes come true and perfecting their fashion sense in Cinderallen!
Cinderallen is written and directed by a longtime friend to the Christmas pantomime, Laurie Jarvis, who has appeared in and directed many of the previous productions. Laurie is assisted by Tyler James, who is the musical director for the third straight year, and Glynis Waring, the show's choreographer for the second year in a row.
Get your tickets here, before it's sold out!
Tickets are $16 for adults, $11 for children, and a family of four is $50.
Cinderallen runs from Thursday, November 29, 2018, to Sunday, December 2, 2018
What are your favourite Panto memories?
Have you been in a show or seen one? Let us know about it in the comments below!