Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Slapstick in the Panto, by Nancy Shaw.

The English Pantomime tradition (very different from the French mime tradition) is a popular form of theatre, performed especially around the holidays in England. It includes singing, dancing, comedy, and references to the events of the day - all gathered up in the outlines of a familiar folk tale or traditional story. The form of the Pantomime grew out of the Italian Commedia Dell-Arte. Like its Italian ancestor, the British Panto incorporates lots of physical humor, sight gags, and slapstick.

The word slapstick comes from a literal stick or paddle. In Commedia, an actor would carry with him a paddle made of wood that had a hinged flap. When the actor wanted to pretend to slap someone, he flicked the paddle and the wooden flap hit against the rest of the paddle to create a loud slapping sound. This sound effect increased the comic moment of the slap. A common "slapstick" routine most of us are familiar with is the pie in the face. As soon as we see a large meringue pie on stage or film, we can guess what’s going to happen.

In Pantos, it's traditional to include an extended messy slapstick fight or catastrophe. At the end of the scene, everyone is covered with whatever the messy substance is. At People's Light, our messy slapstick scenes in previous Pantos have used flour, soapy water with dishes spitting out of a deranged dishwasher, and ice cream (represented by shaving cream). Keep your eye out for what we use to make a mess in Cinderella!

Nancy Shaw
Director of Education