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Provo resident brings funny, English-style theater to town for Christmas

By Genelle Pugmire - | Dec 3, 2021

Courtesy Stephanie Ollerton

Shannon Ricks and Chris Last act during rehearsals for the "Cinderella" panto, with performances Dec. 13 and Dec. 17-18, 2021.

When you think of an English Christmas, you may have visions of sugar plums, roasted chestnuts, Victorian carolers or maybe even Scrooge dancing in your head.

One tradition you may not think of or be fully aware of is the panto. You are more likely to ask, “What the heck is a panto?”

Provo native Stephanie Ollerton, producer/cinematographer in film and television, is hoping to educate area residents on this humorous art form this Christmas.

“I went to grad school in London and while there saw a panto,” Ollerton said. “I loved every minute of it. I had so much fun. When I moved back to Utah, I kept thinking, ‘Man! Provo would love panto. Why don’t we have one? I need to get a panto going in Provo.”

Panto, short for pantomime, is an English Christmas tradition that started in the 1700s. Every year, theaters all over the U.K. put on a family-friendly, interactive play.

Courtesy Stephanie Ollerton

Tiffany Gale and Brandon Vance will appear in the "Cinderella" panto, with performances Dec. 13 and Dec. 17-18, 2021.

“No, this is not mimed,” Ollerton said. “Think of it as a cross between melodrama and vaudeville. Pantos are traditional fairy tales with oomph. There’s singing, dancing, jokes, exaggerated characters and a lot of audience participation. In fact, the more the audience boos, cheers and calls out, the more fun the whole night is.”

Ollerton said her goal is to establish panto as a Christmas tradition in Provo. “I’m starting small by planting the seed in the confidence that it will grow into an annual event that brings families together and visitors to downtown Provo.”

Pantos work on two levels. The interactive element keeps the kids involved, and the jokes keep the adults engaged, according to Ollerton.

This year’s panto is “Cinderella.”

“We have been lucky enough to get talented, experienced improv actors who are excited to be a part of this production,” Ollerton said. “An unexpected and happy surprise: Almost everyone in the cast has red hair. This wasn’t planned, it just happened.”

Courtesy The Hive Collaborative

The Hive Collaborative presents an English Christmas panto in the form of "Cinderella," with performances Dec. 13 and Dec. 17-18, 2021.

Ollerton said they are also keeping the show to a short one hour, so people have time to go out for dinner, take the kids for a treat and get back home for bedtime.

“We’re doing ours a little differently than strictly traditional pantos. First of all, ‘family friendly’ in England is different than it is in Provo. There’s a lot of innuendo in English pantos and we won’t be doing that in ours,” Ollerton said. “Secondly, pantos are usually scripted and have big costumes and sets. We are doing ours as musical improv. It won’t be scripted, our costumes are minimal and we’re using the Hive’s existing set. Like I said, we’re starting small but we have a lot of heart.”

The Hive Collaborative, 290 W. 600 South, is partnering with Ollerton to make this dream come true. She is grateful for their support.

“The Hive is an incredibly welcoming and intimate theater. The Hive’s last show sold out — every night — so we’re encouraging everyone to get their tickets early,” Ollerton said.

“Cinderella” will play at the Hive beginning at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 13, Friday, Dec. 17, and Saturday, Dec. 18, with an additional matinee Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 each or four for $24. Tickets may be purchased online at thehive.ticketleap.com/panto/. For information on the Hive, visit thehivecollaborative.com.

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