By Maureen Hart
The Scranton Shakespeare Festival will be introducing a new kind of entertainment this holiday season with its Pantomime production of Snow White and the Seven Scrantonians at the Marketplace at Steamtown from Dec. 15-18 written and directed by Billie Aken-Tyers, an SSF alumna.
In addition to providing a jolly good time to audiences young and old, the show will raise funds to renovate the festival’s new space at the marketplace for more flexible programming.
Ticket buyers will literally be helping with both renovating the space and helping to fund the free professional summer season of musical and plays by Shakespeare.
Because Panto, a British tradition, is new to Scranton, we have conducted a Q&A with the playwright, and with Jonathan Stephens, SSF managing director, both of whom hail from the UK.
Help us out. What exactly is panto?
JONATHAN: Pantomimes pop up around the holidays and retell classic fairy tales through farce, song, dance, and slapstick fun! It’s a classic tradition that originated in the United Kingdom using a stylized theatrical performance rooted in the method of commedia dell’arte. Using comedy along with plenty of glitz and audience participation, pantos welcome all ages for an incredibly accessible evening of encapsulating storytelling.
Do you remember seeing your first panto in the UK?
BILLIE: Every Christmas Our school would take us to see the big pantomime at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle. It was a big deal, very expensive and flashy, and always so much fun. The kids would get very excited, and so would the adults. As I got older and started to realise how tongue-in-cheek panto was, I started to appreciate the humor more than anything else.
Panto has always been a part of my life since I can remember – the tradition is so embedded that I can’t even recall my first one.It’s symbolistic to me of a perfect family night out; there’s truly something for everyone. Dazzling colours, hilariously over-the-top characters, sing along songs – a whirlwind of memories to be made!
Billie, tell us about the original panto script you are writing and directing for ScrantonShakesl
BILLIE: The key to a good panto is that it feels like it is a part of the community. So, there will be plenty of NEPA specific humor happening. Pantos typically follow a basic fairytale plotline, with catchy pop songs thrown in, and the occasional vaudeville sketch. Lots of color, dancing, singing and silliness abounds. With the occasional tongue in cheek joke for the adults!
Why did ScrantonShakes decide to introduce this uniquely British theater experience to Scranton?
JONATHAN: We’re passionate about accessible storytelling at Scranton Shakes, and always love introducing fun new experiences to NEPA audiences that the whole family can enjoy. Panto provides all of those things! Given the amount of British collaborators (including myself) we’ve worked with during the life of Scranton Shakes, it was a perfect match for our mission and our know-how! We’ve wanted to bring a fun new tradition to Scranton and we think everyone is going to love experiencing Snow White and the Seven Scrantonians the Scranton Shakes way.
BILLIE: Clue us in. What kind of experience can the ScrantonShakes audiences expect?
Be prepared for lots of fun! Pantos are loud affairs, it’s interactive, and we want the audience to be involved. I almost can’t quantify what Panto is in a sentence because it’s so entrenched in British culture. But at its essence it’s about laughter, community and holiday cheer. Panto was and always has been theatre for the masses. Which feels very akin to what Scranton Shakes is doing in Lackawanna County!
How can people reserve tickets?
JONATHAN: Tickets are on sale now! The easiest way to get yours is via our website at Scrantonshakes.com. You can also give our box office a call at (570) 230-7277. We highly recommend booking tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.
Wbo we are:
Billie’s work as an Actor, Director and Playwright has appeared on numerous stages internationally. Selected Credits:Fairycakes Off-Broadway(Greenwich House Theatre) Ragtag Theatre’s Cinderella (Soho Playhouse,Redhouse Arts, Barrington Stage Company), Regional: Hood (Dallas Theater Center) The Revolutionists (Lake Dillon Theatre) Mamma Mia! (Mill Mountain Theater) How to Succeed, Footloose, Much Ado, Pirates of Penzance (Scranton Shakes seven seasons). Directing: Your Alice(BAM, Edinburgh Fringe, Arcola Theatre, London) Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (Shenandoah Music Theatre) Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat (SSF) and Lysistrata Jones (Nominated for Outstanding Production, NYIT Awards). Writing: Your Alice (BAM, EdFringe, Ophelia Theatre) Next Round, (Theatre Lab, Gala Theatre Online), We Carry On- A series of radio plays. Barrington Stage Playwright mentor. www.billieakentyers.com @billieakentyers
Jonathan has been with Scranton Shakes since its third season, in 2014. Initially seen “treading the boards” as Pinocchio inFairycakes and as a tap dancing police officer in Pirates of Penzance, he has since moved into arts administration and producing at SSF, Jonathan has also worked as management for Punchdrunk’s sell-out show SLEEP NO MORE in New York City, The National Theatre of Scotland’s The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart and on Broadway for New York City Center’s Encores! production of The Band Wagon. Jonathan also enjoys a taste of the TV and film industry, and is grateful to have worked with some of the greats, including Warner Brothers Studios and AppleTV+.
Maureen, who is editor of The Dunmorean, is in her third term as board chairman of Scranton Shakespeare, and has been involved with the organization since its founding 11 years ago.