Every year there is a remarkable tradition at People’s Light and Theatre Company, a Panto. This year’s Panto is Arthur and the Tale of the Red Dragon: A Musical Panto. These shows are a family friendly event that the entire family will enjoy; there is something for everyone in these productions. I had the opportunity to talk to Pete Pryor who co-wrote this year’s Panto as well as directs the show. I talked to Pryor about the show as well as the importance of taking children to see live theatre.
Kelli Curtin: What can audiences expect from this year’s Panto, Arthur and the Tale of the Red Dragon?
Pete Pryor: This year’s Panto is Arthur and the Tale of the Red Dragon. Samantha [Bellomo] and I wrote this year’s Panto, and Michael Ogborn wrote the music. It tells the tale of Arthur on a journey to become king. He meets a dragon, animal friends, and Merlin along the way. In Arthur’s journey, he learns important lessons about life.
Kelli Curtin: Could you describe to me what a panto is for those not familiar with these types of shows?
Pete Pryor: It is an interactive theatre experience. Even though these shows are for families, it is not just the children who will enjoy the show. There is slapstick, music and audience engagement. The actors go in and out of the house and interact with the audience. It is unlike a musical because the actors onstage acknowledge everyone is in the same room, and this makes the show really fun. Audience interaction is encouraged. The tradition of the Panto is British and there are certain elements to these types of shows. There is always a dame – a large man in a dress who is the narrator, a messy bit where candy is thrown into the audience, a villain who is booed by the audience and songs.
A Panto is traditional to Britain, and is very successful overseas. It has become an annual tradition at People’s Light, and people love it because it is unique. The Pantos have been very successful at People’s Light.
Kelli Curtin: Why are the Pantos unique to People’s Light?
Pete Pryor: The Pantos are just a fun experience. There are no rules, and there is lots of audience interaction. The experience involves people getting in and out of their seats. The audience is encouraged to yell and cheer at the different characters. Also, the Pantos deal with things topical to Philadelphia. Every year the Panto takes place in a geographic area that is a named after a Main Line area. This year’s Panto, Arthur and the Tale of the Red Dragon, takes place in Nrevlam which is Malvern spelled backwards.
Kelli Curtin: Are there subjects/issues that you feel are important to kids that you try to address in your plays?
Pete Pryor: In Arthur and the Tale of the Red Dragon we deal with the idea of leadership. We used T.H. White’s Once and Future King when writing the show. There is a strong thread about seeking truth in this. Along the way, Arthur meets characters such as Merlin and magical animal friends who all teach Arthur a lesson he needs to learn. We adhere to this strong narration thread in order for the shows to be relevant to children.
Kelli Curtin: What is your greatest challenge in writing/directing these shows?
Pete Pryor: In writing it is meeting deadlines, how to be the clearest and how to support the story. As a director, I need to step outside myself to see what the process is and to see the show as fresh and new. Also, I want to make sure these shows are wonderful and I do everything I can to make that happen. In order for the Pantos to be successful there has to be a community to make it all come together.
Kelli Curtin: Where do you find motivation as a writer/director/actor?
Pete Pryor: As a writer for Pantos, I like it to be a story everyone knows, and allow for the story to be redirected and silly. As a director, I need to have the right people in the room and have them be behind the project. Michael Ogborn writes the music and lyrics for the Panto and we are very lucky to have him. As an actor, Pantos are a blast to do and getting to engage with the audience is great.
Kelli Curtin: Why do you think taking children to see live theatre is important?
Pete Pryor: It is a positive experience that will expand children’s horizons. A Panto is for families, and it is the aspect of coming together as a community and participate in this experience together that makes this experience so wonderful. It is a cross-generational experience and there is nothing else like it.
Arthur and the Tale of the Red Dragon: A Musical Panto runs at People’s Light and Theatre Company through January 11, 2015. For more information and tickets visit their website at www.peopleslight.org or call their box office at 610-644-3500.
Photo credit: Mark Garvin
Kelli Curtin is editor and writer for theatresensation.com. In addition, she is a contributor for the online site broadwayworld.com and is a freelance writer. Kelli is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on twitter @theatrescribe and on Facebook/theatresensation.