An East End Holiday Tradition – East Van Panto presents Beauty and the Beast

Grab your pitchforks and prepare your most questionable French accent, as flurries of wonder and whimsy blow into the York Theatre. The 11th annual East Van Panto is reimagining a classic: Beauty and the Beast.

“Panto” – short for pantomime – is a participatory form of family-oriented musical comedy developed in England that has spread to many English-speaking countries. Loosely based on fairy or folk tales, a panto is usually performed during the Christmas-New Year season.

From Nov. 22 to Jan. 7, the Cultch and Theatre Replacement are bringing audiences an updated version of the classic tale which removes the original’s more troubling undertones and thrusts its modernised characters into the heart of East Vancouver.

Representing a community

The East Van Panto’s annual fairytale adaptation has become a tradition for many Vancouverites and provides some important representation for the diverse East Vancouver community. Anita Rochon, the director of this year’s show, says that representation is part of what makes the show great.

“The fact that the stories are rooted in East Van is quite a special thing, even if you’re not from here. These stories are happening within your city and speaking to the realities of your daily life.”

The panto integrates aspects of life in East Van not only into the setting and plot, but directly into the characters.

“Belle’s father Maurice is a found materials artist, and so we go okay, we’ve seen guys like this on the Drive, what does their outfit look like?”.

For newcomer Steffanie Davis, who is leading the cast in the pivotal role of Belle, the show displays “Certain East-Vanisms that only East Van people really know about.”

A show everyone can enjoy

Davis became involved with the panto after being a fan and a member of the community for many years. Davis says the show helps represent the community, and that the community itself helps to make the show special.

“There are certain iconic East van people, East Van businesses, East end archetypes that people are going to be pleasantly surprised by in the show,” says Davis.

East Van Panto’s take on Beauty and the Beast gives the classic tale a local twist. | Photo by Emily Cooper, Illustration by Cindy Mochizuki.

Davis also points out the importance of the pantomime format (which usually involves audience engagement, singing, and satire) in popularising the show.

“It’s immersive, people get really excited when they figure out the rules of panto,” says Davis. “In terms of the callback system, I think it gives, especially kids, this permission to be included in a way that they can’t sometimes when they go and see other kinds of theatre.”

Although it is a welcoming show for children, Davis says the panto is fun for the whole family.

“I think it’s the same for the adults. It makes you feel connected and included, you’re part of something,” says Davis.

The East Van of it all

Some of the more significant East Van style choices for this year’s show are directed at Belle, who, according to Davis in this version, is more independent and self determined than her princess predecessor. This Belle is also business minded and finds herself at odds with her community as a result.

“She ends up kind of being the oddball out because she’s prioritising going to school and studying and getting perfect grades.” says Davis, “Then also being met with the kookiness and the fun energy that is Commercial Drive.”

While this is the first year in the panto for Davis, this will be the third time Rochon has directed an East Van Panto. Rochon says she is happy to return to the team to help make something that is so beloved and such a positive force in
the community.

“We spend our day trying to figure out the silliest, funniest way to make a moment work. It’s a really wonderful way to spend your day, it’s a huge show to get up on stage with a small amount of people and a small amount of time with an East Van kind of budget,” says Rochon. “It requires everyone to be inventive and incredibly committed. But the undercurrent in the room is joy and laughter and happiness to all be together to be making something that we know the audience will enjoy.”

For more information, visit: