|How to shape
Just as the complete pantomime needs shaping, so do the individual scenes within it. A good analogy is with a piece of music with themes coming and going and being repeated in slightly changed forms.
Lets move from the sublime to the ridiculous. Here are two rules:
Rule 1 is to be broken frequently in the letter but hardly ever in the spirit. Rule 2 should never be broken at all.
More about the rules
Rule 1 can more acceptably be put as "anyone who comes on must have a good reason for coming – anyone who goes off must have a good reason for going".
Rule 2 is that each scene must change the situation. Think of the beginning and ending of the scene. A scene should begin with a high point and end with a higher point. As the plot winds up (that’s until the last of the action scenes), the tension should be higher at the end of every scene than at the beginning. Towards the end, when the tension is being resolved, the requirement is not so strong. Ends of course have to be real resolutions of the plot with the "Oh thank goodness it’s all worked out" factor. "Oh thank goodness she’s escaped", "Oh thank goodness she’s married the prince" or whatever.
Here are some scene shapes to aim for and others avoid.
Scene shape charts
A few things about specific scenes. Mostly random thoughts that don't fit anywhere else:
Opening scene: Try to start with a bit of a bang and try to get the plot moving before the scene ends. A song is nice, getting the whole cast on at the start (a tradition in commercial panto) is probably more bother than it's worth, particularly if you are managing a cast of children.
Scene 2: I've always used this to introduce the comic characters and to do such explanation of the plot as is necessary. I tend to use a talk to the audience by the Dame character. It works well, but there is nothing sacred about this scheme.
Slapstick scene: I love slapstick scenes and so do the cast if you are working with children. Adults are harder I imagine because they are more self-conscious and so the audience is not naturally on their side. Traditions are the food scene and the wall paper scene. Food is probably psychologically best because it contrasts effectively with the magic element of pantomime. Costume people and stage hands hate slapstick as it is mess to clear up. But if you can, include it. It is worth its weight in gold.
Community Songs: The audience love a good community song and the best time for it is after the action is over and before the final scene. It has to be a song that the audience will know, so a good idea is to give new words to a well known tune - Clementine or something else that is easily singable. The words should be relevant to the audience and the occasion - by this time there is no need to keep them relevant to the plot.
Final scene: Keep the final scene short and sharp but be sure to give time for everyone to take their bow and have their applause. A reprise of the best song is often a good way to end.
The dangers of writing a "masterpiece"
There is of course a danger in trying to write a masterpiece. The traditional advice has been "if you write something that you feel is particularly fine, put it in the desk drawer for three years. Then take it out and throw it away." There is a danger in being too "poetic". If you've aimed for a masterpiece, read your piece through (preferably aloud and recorded) and be ruthless about such things. Seek a second opinion, and heed it if the holder of it thinks you are going over the top. But don't aim low "man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's heaven for?" as Billy would, no doubt, have said, if Browning hadn't said it after him.
It's fun to write in verse but the danger is you take a couplet to express every thought: Consider these two pieces:
We are the fairies of the wood,
We're always kind and always good.
We've come here in the darkest night,
To help save beautiful Snow White.
We are the fairies brave and bright
We've come to save our dear Snow White.
Neither has much merit!! But the second is half the length. So watch for make-weight lines that are used only to make a rhyme and cut them out. Billy Shakespeare had a knack for keeping verse tight, so try looking at Richard II if you don't like my samples.
1: Panto Home 2: The tradition 3: The story 4: Pantomime Structure 5: This page - Scene shape 6: Use of music 7: Children The Essay Nick Mellersh's scripts Email Nick Mellersh - the author