06 January 2014

Mother Goose: On Writing a Panto

For the first blog post of 2014, Mother Goose playwright Michele Amas tells drama on the waterfront about her experience writing a pantomime.

On Writing a Panto
By Michele Amas    

I know from my experience as an actor that pantomime performers are extremely versatile, far more versatile than I am as an actor. They sing and dance, they clown, they mimic, etc. as well as act. Knowing what they are capable of meant there was an unlimited scope for what I would like them to do performance wise. At times when writing the panto I would be relieved to think - well I won’t be in this show, so these quick changes of costume, etc won’t be my problem. Having said that there is nothing I have written that I know the actors can’t do. Actors love challenges so it’s fun to write with that in mind.

(left to right) Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, Kathleen Burns, Gavin Rutherford. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
Panto is different from other types of plays and other types of rehearsals. There is more direct input from the cast and it is fascinating to watch how they interpret and expand the roles from within the script. There seems to be more flexibility demanded of the writer. You have to be as relaxed about the process as you can. You have to allow the actors to play with what you have written, the important thing is for them to own it and keep it fresh. There’s more audience interaction demanded in panto so actors need to be good improvisers too, and if you have good improvisers in your cast it would be counterproductive for the writer to get too dogmatic about the script.

(left to right) Simon Leary, Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, Richard Osborne. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
The challenge I set myself was to create a theatre piece that served both children and adults, to be playful with the physicality and comic business, and also with the words, puns, double entendre, jokes etc. To have a strong storyline with all the twists and turns and drama you’d expect to see from any play and for that to be combined with songs and catchy music. I wanted it to be contemporary and have topical references to Wellington and have political shots across the bow that our audiences enjoy while still retaining the classical aspects of pantomime such as the dame of course.

MICHELE AMAS  -  Playwright

Michele Amas is an award winning actress and writer. Originally from Dunedin she graduated from The New Zealand Drama School, Toi Whakaari in the 80s and has been a professional actress ever since. Michele was worked throughout NZ  as an actor and director in theatre and television. Most recently seen at Fortune Theatre, Dunedin in Calendar Girls, Circa Theatre in Wellington in Peninsula and August Osage County, in which she won Best Actress in the Chapman Tripp Awards. Other productions include Joyful and Triumphant, The Clean House, Blood Wedding and Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll for which she won Best Supporting Actress. She also won Best Supporting Actress for Mammals and Best Actress for The Herbal Bed.

She has an MA in creative writing from Victoria University where she was awarded the Adam Prize for her portfolio 2005. Her first book of poetry After the Dance  was nominated for a Montana Book Award in 2007, and was shortlisted for that years Prize in Modern Letters.

Her poems have been published in Sport 33, online in Turbine and in Best New Zealand Poems 2005, as well as Sport, Bravado, Kaupapa global issues anthology 2007, Pacific Coast Review and the Iowa Review, Landfall, The best of the best anthology 2011, 4th floor, prize winner in the Casleberg Trust poetry competition 2011  Her short film ‘Redial’ that she wrote and directed was in competition in the 2002 Venice Film festival She also writes for the theatre and has had stories played on National Radio.

Mother Goose runs in Circa One until 11 January - to book, visit www.circa.co.nz or call the Circa Box Office on 801-7992.

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