For the past five years, Theatre Replacement has been putting on pantos, setting them in local places. This year’s is set at the PNE. Theatre Replacement founders James Long and Maiko Yamamoto asked Mark Chavez to write this year’s panto.
“They convinced me to do a panto because they wanted something different because they wanted to lean on my strengths, which are character and story,” says Chavez, who also wrote last year’s panto, which was about Little Red Riding Hood.
The Cultch is presenting Theatre Replacement’s East Van Panto: Snow White & the Seven Dwarves at the York Theatre from Nov. 29, 2017 to Jan. 6, 2018.
From the North Shore to the PNE, going over the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge, Snow White ends up on a ride, dances a bit and befriends has-been ‘80s rocks stars “The Seven Dwarves.”
The cast includes Ming Hudson, Chirag Naik, Amy Rutherford and, the return of Panto favourite, Allan Zinyk.
Pantos are traditionally based on a fairytale. They are also based on rules. Chavez follows some of them. For example, it’s a holiday show and a musical. There’s also always a dame, an often villanous character played by a man. Another rule pertains to audience participation. For instance, when somebody on stage says, ‘Oh no it isn’t,’ the audience will yell back, ‘Oh yes it is.’
“If someone is sneaking up behind a character on stage, if it is a villain [the audience] is encouraged to boo, or if it is the hero to cheer. It’s a very boisterous crowd. We also throw candy at the audience,” says Chavez.
Long and Yamamoto started creating pantos as something their children could watch and enjoy. Their children, who are not trained in acting, are also included in this year’s panto.
“The panto is so visual that you usually can tell what’s going on basically. Sounds like it dumbs it down, but it doesn’t; but how do we keep it interesting and how do we keep it moving?” says Long.
During rehearsals, actors are invited to add or tweak the script. For example, Zinyk will come up with suggestions.
“Every so often, he’ll come up with a great zinger or some funny movement thing that I wouldn’t have been able to write in. Just yesterday, we came upon a moment in the script,” Chavez says.
One of the challenges of writing a panto is trying to entertain people of such a wide age range − whether they’re four or 40. The panto also has to be simple enough for people who speak English as a second language to follow the plot.
Collaborating with actors of different backgrounds
The panto incorporates actors from a variety of backgrounds. Chavez, a comedian best known for his work in the comedy duo the Pajama Men, thinks Theatre Replacement in general has always been interested in having as many voices heard as possible. The cast is reflective of this interest in diversity.
“I love working [in] a company like that. Everybody has a different point of view. It’s nice to have all those points of view chiming in to create something. It doesn’t have the feel of something made by a committee. There’s very strong choices that are made. There are things that are daring and interesting,” he says.
Chavez had never written a musical before last year. Now, he all he wants to do is write them.
“It’s no wonder they’re so popular,” he says.