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Audience engagement drives in-person theatre show: Richmond artists

Ninth annual East Vancouver Panto: Alice in Wonderland returns with live show
Pantos Show Cast
Richmond performing artists Amanda Sum (left) and Angus Yam are performing in this year's East Vancouver Panto: Alice in Wonderland

There’s no better story to compare a pandemic with than the classic fairytale Alice in Wonderland. At least that’s the thinking of the creators of this year’s East Vancouver Panto: Alice in Wonderland show.

COVID-19 has been a year and a bit of discovery and adapting to a new world of meeting people virtually and learning new ways to adapt in the performing arts industry, according to Richmond musician and actress Amanda Sum.

And there’s nothing other than being in a weird world than describing it like in the story of Alice in Wonderland as it is a “weird story in itself,” said Sum, who is a returning cast member of the Panto show.

“The story of Alice in Wonderland sets a good baseline story for this year’s show writer Sonja Bennett and director Meg Roe to fill in a variety of East Vancouver and global references that everyone will recognize," she added.

However, when it comes to “Panto land,” what is most important about the show is the audience and community engagement, something everyone has been missing this past year and a bit, according to Sum and fellow Richmond actor Angus Yam.

Both Sum and Yam are looking forward to seeing faces in the seats at The Cultch in Vancouver again.

Sum said engagement from the audience is what makes a Panto (short for Pantomime) work.

“Last year was tricky because we were doing so many silly and funny things on stage but we didn’t hear any laughter because everyone was watching the show online,” she said.

“Having the audience in the theatre seats sets the mood, creates excitement and we build off of that.”

A Panto show, explained Sum, takes a familiar fairy tale or story and adds music, contemporary references and audience participation to create the show.

And, of course, the East Vancouver Panto always includes “East Van quirks here and there,” she added.

Meanwhile, first-time Panto chorus member Angus Yam, described the rehearsal energy as “atmospherically fun, warm and absolutely hilarious.”

“Working on a Panto show for the first time and with so many cast members and staff is such an amazing experience,” said Yam, a student with Langara College’s Studio 58.

“This show is very special because there’s this underlying message where we’re empowering the children in our community to speak up, to be themselves and be confident.”

The Steveston-London alumnus added that the show also touches on the idea that “children need to stand up, take on responsibilities and trust in themselves.”

Both Yam and Sum believe that “in true Panto form,” the show is about being together, family and hope.

“After such a wild two years, with twists and turns it’s something that we need – coming back together,” said Sum.

The East Vancouver Panto: Alice in Wonderland show kicks off on Nov. 24 and runs until Jan. 2 at The Cultch in Vancouver.