NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

December 12, 2013

Holiday spectacle

Theater in the Open brings 'Winter Wonderland' to Firehouse

Theater in the Open’s artistic director wants to give audience members fair warning as to how they are expected to behave at this month’s holiday performances.

“Through the Wardrobe: A Winter Wonderland Panto!” is playing at the Firehouse Center for the Arts in Newburyport this weekend and next.

“There are no rhetorical questions in pantomime,” said Edward Speck, who is also the writer/director. “If we ask you how you are doing tonight, we expect a response. Half the audience responds immediately, and half the audience starts looking around, wondering what sort of strange thing that they’ve wandered into.”

This year’s panto is the second Christmas one and sixth overall for Theater in the Open, which is closing out its 34th season. The not-for-profit theater company, which seeks to further children’s exposure to the arts, has been putting on a holiday-themed show in one form of another for more than 25 years.

“It’s a relatively new form for us,” Speck said of panto, which Theater in the Open first performed in the spring of 2010. “But it’s actually a tradition that goes back 200 years in England. Pantomime is the holiday tradition in Britain. In America, we have “A Christmas Carol” and “The Nutcracker” every year. In England, the tradition is to go out to a pantomime.”

Lest anyone think that means there will be a bunch of mimes running around on stage, Speck is quick to set the record straight.

“It’s the same root word, but there’s no connection,” Speck said of mimes and pantomime. “Those roots went in different directions. Both are products of laws in England that disallowed speaking on stage.”

What a panto does allow is inclusion and encourages the audience to participate as much as possible.

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