Write a Brilliant Pantomime with Billy & Wolfy

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How to get the right structure

Best basic structure is the simplest and the simplest is this:

Division into halves

Divide the story into 2 halves with two crises. The second crisis is normally the first crisis writ large. The first half should end with the resolution of the first crisis and (maybe) rumblings of the second crisis on the horizon. The second half should be shorter faster and more dramatic than the first. The time for not-quite-relevant scenes and songs is in the first half, maybe at the start of the second, and (just possibly) as a sort of teaser at the crux of the action.

Telling the story

The plot should be bought in early on, preferably in scene 1. Pantos traditionally do not have subplots – the comic element is more a chorus commenting on the main plot. Comic scenes can be effectively `interspersed between plot scenes in the first half. This has the advantage of allowing the comic scenes to be played on the front of the scenes and gives time for the scenery to be changed at the back. (Pantos give you the possibility of having beautiful scenery so use it.)

The second half should have fewer comic scenes (maybe one or two) and, those there are, should move the plot forward. The plot is getting exciting and the audience are getting restive if you throw in too much irrelevance. Pantos traditionally end the plot 2 scenes before the end of the panto. The last scene but one is a community song. The final scene is the wedding and the applause for the actors and, maybe, a reprise of the best song. Keep the final scene short and sharp. It is often a problem in commercial panto which typically uses new spectacular costumes to breathe some life into it – for me this rarely works.

This chart shows the general dramatic intensity as the show moves through time.  The general direction is up with the second half faster and more dramatic than the first.  In this chart "Drama" includes music and laughter as well as action.


The plot, comedy, music mix

Here is a chart that you may like to compare your plot with. It is a sort of idealised panto showing where you want the music humour and story (which normally means action not talk . The chart shows a sensible mix of plot/music/comedy across a 12 scene pantomime. You may think that this is both prescriptive and mechanical – you’re right. But you are an intelligent person and perfectly capable of taking what you want from instructions and ignoring the rest.  Playwrighting is a craft as well as an art. If you are not using the analytical side of your brain, you won’t write as good a pantomime as you would if you did. There are lots of other ways to do it, but it is worth looking at your mix when the script is written and seeing how well balanced it is.

Notice most importantly that plot appears in every scene until the end

Scene 1:  Start plot, establish main characters, maybe have a song

Scene 2:  Establish comic characters, Dame and others.  Time for plot explanation.

Scene 3:  Time for a good song but keep the plot moving

Scene 4:  Pre-crisis scene.  Plot is paramount.  Season with music and comedy as seems right.

Scene 5:  Crisis resolved with comic assistance.  Move on to ...

Scene 6:  Maybe a happy song and comedy with perhaps the shadow of crisis 2 hovering in the background.


Scene 7.  Post interval.  Happy song and comedy.  But ends with the beginning of crisis 2.

Scene 8:  Time for comic relief but keep the crisis 2 rolling.

Scene 9:  Leading up to crisis 2.  All plot

Scene 10:  Climax.  Resolution of crisis 2.  Plot completed end with comedy and maybe a song.

Scene 11:  Community song.  Time for the audience to let their hair down and the cast to get ready for their final bows.

Scene 12:  Keep it fast and sweet with maybe a reprise of the best song.  Don't drag it out, but give all your cast the chance to be acknowledged by their fans.  Next

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