Cloverdale actor tackles Crusoe Panto

Michelle Gaetz.

It takes talent and timing to pull off five different chorus roles in a single stage production.

Fortunately for fans of British-style pantomime, Cloverdale’s Michelle Gaetz has both.

For the third year in a row, she’s appearing in White Rock Players’ Christmas panto, a wacky version of Robinson Crusoe, literature’s ultimate shipwreck survivor.

In panto, the chorus is no mere backdrop – it’s a centrepiece of the production. Chorus actors sing, joke and interact with the story’s main characters.

Pantos are a traditional holiday offering the whole family will enjoy, blending acting, music, song and dance with broad, slapstick comedy.

It’s tantalizing turf for an actor, but surprisingly, Gaetz never wanted

to go the community theatre route. She has always set her sights on film and television.

But three years ago, she auditioned for the popular holiday panto – on a dare – and won the role of Princess Alice in Puss in Boots.

The stage experience fanned the flames, turning a love of acting into a full-blown passion for her craft. She set out to take acting classes, branching out into film and TV clinics at Chameleon Studios with White Rock’s Wendy Bollard. It was the push Gaetz needed to take her craft more seriously.

More recently, she’s been working with a Vancouver-based, private acting coach.

Unfortunately, her dream of working at Disneyland has hit a wee snag (no U.S. work visa) and her hope of landing auditions south of the border is so far proving elusive.

But the determined Gaetz isn’t fazed; she’s just getting on with it.

The task awaiting her in Robinson Crusoe might seem daunting; she’s playing five

different chorus characters, a job that requires multiple, lightning-quick costume changes.

“It’s a tight squeeze between entrances, but that’s what makes the show that much more exciting,” she says. “It keeps me on my toes.”

Gaetz can’t wait to see the audience’s reaction to this year’s show, presented at Coast Capital Playhouse. It lampoons the story of Crusoe’s voyage through the Seven Seas and adventures that follow after the crew’s shipwrecked on Cannibal island.

Directed by Katherine Bethell, the production boasts a top flight creative team that’s breathing new life into an annual event now in its 56th year, making it Canada’s longest-running community Christmas pantomime.

The set is inspired by illustrations in a children’s book. The music is a medley of classic tunes to sing and dance along to. And it’s a pantomime, so there’s the usual dames in drag, vile villains and cheesy laughs.

Robinson Crusoe, by Charlotte Johnston and adapted by The Charlottans, runs Wednesdays through Saturdays from Nov. 26 to Dec. 26 at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees are at 2:30 p.m. Visit whiterockplayers.ca.

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