As has become the norm on this blog, a round number (in this case Story 2300) calls not for a story as such but a conversation about something taken from real life.
Since we are nearing the feast of Christmas I thought I’d tell what I used to do once upon a time when I had a bit more energy than I have today.
The last ten years or so of my teaching were at a mixed sexes high school. The thirty or so years teaching before that were in all boys’ high schools. I think New Zealand has a higher percentage of single sex schools than some other parts of the globe. The New Zealand School year goes from early February until early December. The Summer Break is December-January. It follows then that Christmas and New Year fall in the longest school break.
It used to be that secondary schools finished a week or so earlier than the primary schools. Every year I would write a Christmas Pantomime about an hour long. I would then ask for volunteers from the students and between 12 and 20 would be about the right number. We had wonderful painted sets (we used most of the same every year!) and the students had only a few days to learn the script and rehearse the pantomime.
In the meantime I had written to every primary school in the Province and given times of performances. It would be 50 cents entry per child – and “You know the ones who can’t afford it so just let them in!” There would be three performances per day – one at 10 am, one at midday, and one at 2 pm. They would have to book by phone. On top of that, they were welcome to use the expansive school grounds for picnics or sports or whatever.
Whole schools would come, often paid for by a school’s Board of Governors as “an end of year treat”. The auditorium held around 700 and it was full for each of the 15 performances.
Local businesses donated prizes for a colouring-in event which had the theme of the pantomime that year.
Buses would arrive in droves. For the week there were kids all over the place! And they were allowed to make as much noise during a performance as they wished – shouting at the Dame, and calling out at the Wicked Witch, and applauding the Prince and Princess. Each performance was always a great success.
We did this for ten years. Secondary School education lasted 5 years; that meant that an actor at the end of his time at school had done 75 pantomime performances. They were masters at controlling a crowd! Throughout the school year, for theatre performances, it was a breeze. They already had a huge experience. That is why, I think, that at inter-secondary school Drama Festivals our performances always stood out, and we were even selected to represent New Zealand at International Festivals.
The waiting list to come to that school was enormous – almost every primary school boy in the Province wanted to come to the secondary school that did the pantomimes!
Oh! And I forgot the most important thing. At the end of the week the student actors would divide the spoils. It was always a healthy sum. It was after all their “holiday job”.
Unfortunately I have only one photo of the ten years! It is the Big Bad Wolf in the pantomime called “The Horse’s Wedding”.