Jennifer Craig says she can’t believe her “oomph” has lasted this long.
But the experience of working with children of all ages and her own granddaughter in the 30th annual Christmas Pantomime at the Capitol Theatre has kept the 83-year-old author engaged. Twice a week since September she’s been rehearsing for this year’s production, Alice in Nelsonland.
It was her granddaughter Amelie’s idea, she says.
“It’s difficult but energizing to work with them,”said Craig. “And Amelie has really been wonderful. She’s got several costume changes and she’s only seven. I’m amazed it’s all coming together.”
Each year Nelson’s annual Christmas Pantomime brings together children and adults of all ages who put together a theatre production that is inclusive and accessible.
The pantomime is a centuries-old theatrical tradition designed for family entertainment that always involves a satirical take on a popular fairytale or folk story.
This year local audiences will fall through the rabbit hole and end up in Nelson, where Kootenay time dictates the schedules, the Mad Hatter of Hume wreaks havoc, everyone eats organic, and Alice finds herself suddenly immersed in a world unlike anything she’s experience in her hometown of Toronto.
But outside of poking fun at local life, the annual production is really about building community and making theatre something that absolutely anyone can do, regardless of their age or experience. Because if a kid who wants to be in it, it comes with one caveat: they need a parent to take the stage, too.
“The Pantomime is about making theatre accessible to anyone,” said 19-year-old cast member Xavier Petkau, who is participating in his third Christmas Pantomime. “It’s not trying to be perfect. It isn’t a professional production. It’s just about having fun.”
That fun isn’t just confined to the rehearsals. It comes home with the children who sing and dance with their parents at home, and make all kinds of friends in the process. It’s a large commitment for the actors who all volunteer their time to be a part of the production.
“It’s awesome,” said Eden Dupont, who is participating with her daughter Isla. “There are fewer and fewer opportunities to do these kinds of things with your children.
“So it’s really great to be able to do it together. It’s something that we can really share with our families at home. We couldn’t do it without them.”
The best part is that it’s all for a good cause. The annual Christmas Pantomime is a fundraiser for the Capitol Theatre, which regularly fills almost all the seats of all five of the performances.
This year, Avi Phillips — who brings a background in theatre to the task — took his first shot at directing a major production. Cast members say Phillips has really given them the opportunity to tell their own stories and share their own experiences in the performance. And the show is as much a reflection of local life as the people and community it represents.
“We are fundamentally a community theatre,” said Stephanie Fischer, the Capitol’s executive director.
“And this production is really our biggest community theatre event. It means all these people coming together to volunteer their time, effort, and ideas, and that is what theatre and community theatres do: we bring communities together. And it’s very special … We always have a very intergenerational cast and audience.”
Alice in Nelsonland opens on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and runs until Sunday.