Behind the scenes at Waterford Panto

Waterford Pantomime Society marks its 31st anniversary production next month with the classic fairytale Beauty and the Beast, which runs from 3rd to 30th December at the Theatre Royal.

This year’s show, which includes a specially adapted sensory show for people with special needs and autism on 8th December, will be once again directed by Richie Hayes with choreography by Erica Delaney-Hayes, musical direction by Wayne Brown, sets designed by Spraoi and lighting by Eoin Sheridan. With chart hits and Disney classics, it will feature hi-jinks and shenanigans from some of Waterford’s best known and emerging comedy and musical theatre stars.

Every year, in the run-up to the panto, we interview one of these stars. But this year we’ve decided to turn the spotlight on, arguably, the hardest-working members of the team – the backstage crew. In a rare break from stitching and gaffa-taping, Patrice Power (costuming, props and make-up) and Anne Corcoran Brown (costuming) described to us the behind-the-scenes hilarity of Waterford Pantomime.

Waterford Pantomime Society’s hard-working back stage team at last year’s show

Waterford Pantomime Society’s hard-working back stage team at last year’s show

For Anne, the youngest daughter of the Society’s original director and Waterford musical theatre legend Denny Corcoran, panto is ‘in the blood’

“I’ve been involved in the panto for its 31 years in Waterford, since 1985. I would have performed up to four or five years ago, when I took a step backstage and that’s where I got to know Patrice. It was a whole new world back there but the two of us work as a partnership, with me doing mainly costumes and Patrice doing props, costumes and then the make up for the show. She’s a very busy lady.”

Patrice first joined the panto 13 years ago.

“I always wanted to be in the panto but I thought I was too old so I asked a neighbour, Anne’s brother, could I do something backstage. I stared doing the make-up with Mags Keane and when Anne and Wayne took over the panto I started working with them.”

Hard at working rehearsing for this year’s panto

Hard at working rehearsing for this year’s panto

Panto season for these queens of backstage starts as early as September, Anne explains.

“It’s a busy job from the minute we get the script. We like to start planning and ordering from September but it takes us until the last minute, that opening show, to have everything in place. There’s always something to be done. Patrice would be very creative, she can come up with an idea within seconds, she amazes me.”

“Panto is different to any show in that everything has to be bigger, more animated”, Patrice continues. “You make a lot of stuff because it can’t be bought. It’s a collaboration, somebody in the cast would often have an idea and Richie and Erica are great as well. It’s a whole backroom team effort but we would often be stretched to the limit to get things done.”

And that frenzied pace backstage doesn’t stop when the show finally opens, according to Anne.

“During the shows we’re on hand to help with the quick changes, which can be chaotic.
We’ve had some funny ones over the years. The Dame (played in recent years by Anne’s brother, Tony) would have a selection of dresses and to get him into them every night is some job. He’d be the biggest costume person in the show, for a man to become a woman but it’s good craic. Not that Tony’s fussy, but he likes to know who is dressing him so we take responsibility from the start of the run. He has so much to get on. And Wayne Brown would say that the Corcorans are divas, at the best of times!”

Musical director Wayne Brown

Musical director Wayne Brown

Patrice names Scol Grant, Brenda Corcoran Giles, Nicky Cummins and Davy Sutton, along with director Michael Grant, as some of the many panto stalwarts that she’s loved working with over the years but it was the late Bryan Flynn who elevated the Waterford show to new heights, she believes.

“When Bryan took over in 2006 he raised the bar. In terms of props and costumes, he doubled our workload but the result was amazing.”

“Bryan was rarely wrong”, Anne agrees. “He had such great vision and he created such a high standard to follow.”

The ladies agree that the week immediately preceding opening night is ‘the most manic’ for them.

“It’s all hands on deck that night, completely manic”, Patrice says. “It’s the same for the first few shows as well, everybody is uptight. The once everyone gets into the timing, people start to enjoy things a bit more. But for me that week is also the most magical, because you get to see everything you’ve been working on for months come together.”

“It is crazy, trying to get everyone into costume, match them with accessories…”, Anne continues. “Sometimes things don’t work and then you have 24 hours or less to change it all. And then you have the rips. Patrice is a dab hand with the gun when that happens!!”

“Up to last year I had the sewing needle and thread at the side of the stage, in case of accidents”, Patrice quickly explains. “And then we discovered this wonderful invention called the tag gun, which puts them back together in a flash.”

“It came in very handy last year when somebody pulled the zip up wrong on the dress of the leading lady and her dress ripped open on the stage”, Anne recalls. “She came off in the middle of the song and had to be gunned in. Yeah, that gun is very fast alright. Between that and the gaffa tape, we’ve had to learn to be very creative over the years.”

You couldn’t make up some of the weird tasks set by panto directors over the years, Patrice says.

“The year we had the broken plates springs to mind. That was Aladdin, in 2013. Richie had created an apparatus where you break plates. Every night we were terrified that that the plate splinters would go out into the audience. Richie assured us it wouldn’t happen but every night we were still stood there, watching and waiting for it to happen. Wayne Brown got a whack on the head of one, one night in the pit. Eventually Mary Doherty, who was working on props, discovered that if you break them and the seal them together they would just break in half.

“This year we’ve been asked to come up with an oversized Pokemon ball. Of course it doesn’t exist, but we still have to come up with one. But it’s those oversized props that make it such fun, for the kids especially.”

“Or what about the bra that fits three for this year’s show?”, Anne adds. “I’ll say no more, we won’t spoil it for people.”

Patrice Power and Anne Corcoran Brown

Patrice Power and Anne Corcoran Brown

This year’s run will include the Society’s first ever ‘sensory performance’, which is designed especially for people with special needs and their families.

“This will be a great achievement to pull off”, Anne says. “It’s a special performance for children and families who can’t go to the ordinary show for a variety of reasons, maybe the lighting would be too strong, the strobe lighting might affect them, it might be too loud. At this special show, we’ll take the lighting and the sound down so that children with sensory issues can enjoy the panto with their families.”

Finally we asked Patrice and Anne whether their happiest back stage or would prefer to tread the boards with the stars of the show.

“The cast are great, so hard working but we could not put on a show like this if it wasn’t for the people back stage”, says Anne. “I’ve seen it from both sides and the work that goes on behind the scenes is so tough and difficult. The team back there are an integral part of the show but their never even seen by the audience… or the critics. Pat McEvoy did give us an award last year for costumes so, hint hint, maybe Liam Murphy {The Munster Express’ arts correspondent} will think of us this year. We do it because we love but it’s nice to be acknowledged just the same.

“The last night before the first show, when you see it all together, that’s your thrill, your big moment”, Patrice continues. “It’s very emotional, to see all the lads looking stunning. It’s magical really, especially when you hear them perform to a live band {editor’s note: that last comment was prompted by a gentle nudge from Wayne Brown}.

“Sure the band get plenty of recognition down in the pit”, Anne quickly adds. “And they get fed. The bass player brings in the Christmas ham with loads of crackers and relishes on the 27th December while we’re upstairs with a few measly biscuits.”

Tickets are still available for every performance of Beauty and the Beast at the Theatre Royal, apart from Sunday, 11th December. Family nights are also available, where you can avail of special rates for family groups. Contact the box office for more details on these shows.

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