How do you create an institution?

Tonight, the curtain will close on the final show of Coolera Dramatic Society’s 40th consecutive pantomime. This year alone, in a town with a population of 20,000, over 5,000 will have seen the show, and many more would have if they could have got tickets.

Indeed a combined audience of over 200,000 people have now seen a Coolera Panto. There have been 3 generations of some families have been involved in the show over the years, and for many people in our area, Christmas doesn’t start until you have been to the Panto.

Personally, I carried flax across the stage in 1991 (the last time the society put on Rumpelstiltskin), and have been involved on the music side of things for the last 13 years, and this morning I decided to reflect on how something becomes an institution in a town.

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  1. Find good people. There are special people at the core of this society. I have heard so many comments over the years from panto newbies to the effect of ‘the people are so nice’. Or ‘I feel so welcome here’.
  2. Be Committed and Consistent. 1 man has been in all 40 pantos. 3 others have missed less than a handful. More have been involved in over 30. This creates continuity of values and style from year to year.
  3. Make it Fun. It’s fun to perform, to sing, to dance, to be on stage with others, to dress up as The Spice Girls (see above). It’s good for you. Hence people want to be involved.
  4. Root it in community. Every year, every child in 4th class in the local primary school gets to take part in the show. Behind the scenes of this show is a cohort of people from the area in which I live who help out and keep everything ticking over smoothly backstage. They do this because they are proud of the show, proud that it represents their community, proud of what they have helped to create.
  5. Make it Great. You can do all of the above but unless it’s a great show, people won’t come. The society hires top professionals each year to look after certain aspects of the production. The actors themselves are comic experts, skilled at winding up an audience and delivering each punch-line in the right way. The dame is a local legend who takes it upon himself each night to say hello, sing Happy Birthday and congratulate as many people in the audience as possible.

Long may it last. Here’s to the 41st.

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