In real life, Lisa Pavilionis manages the Melanie Lyne clothing store at South Point in South Surrey, while her sister, Sara, is an executive for film and television at the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada.
But ‘real life’ becomes a very flexible term around this time of year – particularly for anyone involved with the White Rock Players’ Club, where putting on a colourful, loud and over-the-top Christmas pantomime each December is about the oldest community tradition there is.
The Pavilionis sisters spent a chunk of this year living in ‘pantoland’ while they crafted their script for the current production (Dec. 4 – Jan. 2), a revamp of longtime favourite Cinderella at Coast Capital Playhouse (1532 Johnston Rd.).
Lisa, who also directed the family-oriented musical, following up on her panto directing debut with last year’s Babes In The Woods, acknowledges that the 1960 White Rock Players script, by the late Charlotte Johnson, supplied the basic plot structure on which she and Sara have hung new dialogue, gags and comedy business.
“I asked Fred (club president Fred Partridge) if I could have a copy,” said Lisa, who virtually grew up playing in White Rock pantomimes, and has fond memories of earlier Cinderellas. “I thought it would be valuable to learn from the old classic.”
“Lisa mentioned that she was going to take a stab at writing the script,” Sara said. “It sounded like great fun, and I asked if I could get involved. I think we work well together – we play off each other.”
It’s been her greatest involvement in the panto, so far, she said – outside of being an audience member and operating spotlights for a few performances last year (“you’re going to be operating spots for quite a few performances this year, too,” Lisa informed her during the interview).
Creating the show in a vacuum before rehearsals started – and before friends in the club could read the script and offer valuable advice – posed a few challenges.
“There were points where we were wondering ‘is this really funny, or just to us’,” Sara said. “Sometimes it was just us.”
“There was one line we kept in that is just for us,” added Lisa.
They were careful to keep the favourite fairy-tale elements are intact, of course, including the journey of Cinderella (Sam Brealey), who discovers a lot about herself – along with the requisite happy ending with her Prince Charming (Juliana Peralta) – while enduring the abuse of stepmother Clarice Cuttlefish (panto favourite Ray Van Ieperen) and step-sisters Mildred and Winifred, played by Jennifer Lane and (frequent Dame) Bryce Paul Mills.
“Sam is Cinderella,” Lisa said. “When (club member) Gordon Mantle and I were auditioning, we had a lot of great people come out, but nobody who really struck us as Cinderella. Then Sam arrived late and read for us – and she was perfect.
Johnson’s notion of having dolls who become Cinderella’s friends was retained as a vehicle for some of the younger members of the cast – although the dolls were changed to make them a little more up-to-date – but Lisa built up a Demon (Shaun McHale) versus Fairy Godmother (Katherine Lozada) battle that wasn’t in the original.
“I really like that demon-good-fairy-conflict,” Lisa said.
The colourful look of this year’s pantomime has been enhanced by original costumes by Pat McClean, and scenic design and painting by set designer Andrea Olund and well-known local artist Elizabeth Hollick.
Cinderella is also a very musical pantomime, Lisa said, enhanced by the piano accompaniment of Shelley Eckstein.
“I really, really enjoy music – even though I’m not musically inclined,” she added, noting that while attending a few concerts during the year she discovered plenty of music – including Elvis Presley’s Trouble – that would work with situations in the plot.
“Even so, when we started rehearsing we had to drop a song or two because it didn’t fit in with the overall show.”
And while she and Lisa acknowledge that they are “very, very different” in personality, they were able to navigate sisterhood and collaboration without serious conflict.
“It’s been great fun for me to be on this ride,” Sara said.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” Lisa said. “I’m so happy to do this with family – they’re involved in a number of ways – and they’re starting to combine with my other family, my theatre friends.”
Shows are at 7:30 p.m., with matinees at 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 6, 13, 20, 26, 27 and Jan. 2.
For tickets ($22, $15 children 12 and under and Coast Capital Savings members) call 604-536-7535, or visit www.whiterockplayers.ca