Oh yes it is! University launches world’s first panto degree

Staffordshire University launches the world’s first degree dedicated to the art of pantomime backed by some of the biggest names in the industry

The cast of Cinderella in front of the Regent Theatre

Jonathan Wilkes is currently starring as Buttons in the Regent Theatre's production of Cinderella (Clara Lou Photography)

When I was starting my pantomime career over 50 years ago, I wish I could have gone along the route of getting an MA. We should all be preserving traditions, celebrating specialised training and Britain's Heritage.

Christopher Biggins, seasoned actor and pantomime aficionado

The year-long MA Contemporary Pantomime Practice offers research and practical study of the much-loved British institution which brings in vital revenue to UK theatres each year.

Developed in association with Wilkes Academy of Performing Arts, and supported by the UK's leading pantomime producers, the emphasis of the MA is strongly vocational, providing formal industry training and careers networking through placements and work experience.

Behind the course is Richard Cheshire and Dr Robert Marsden, who are recognised researchers and practicing experts in the field with a wealth of professional experience directing and performing pantomime.

Course Leader Richard Cheshire, who is currently directing a production of Snow White at Stafford’s Gatehouse Theatre, explained: “Pantomime is one of Britain’s great contributions to world theatre and we want to increase respect for this interactive art form. It is an annual tradition for families and is often where children get their first experience of ‘live’ theatre.

“Much has been written about the history and development of British pantomime, but very little research is currently investigating and analysing contemporary manifestations of the form. It is a great period of innovation for the genre which we want to be at the cutting edge of.”

Associate Professor of Acting and Directing Robert Marsden, who is currently directing his 27th pantomime in Halifax, said: “Pantomime is unique – the style of performing and all that goes with it is very difficult. There is a perceived lack of formal training, mentoring and meaningful developmental opportunities for employment in this specialist art form. Training is informal, traditions are inherited or orally passed down and most pantomime performers are left to learn on the job. The reality is that producers won’t risk casting inexperienced performers, so formal training opportunities are badly needed.”

The MA, due to start in September 2022, will examine pantomime through a 21st century lens and offer hyper-personalised learning routes for students to suit their interests – be it becoming a panto dame or a director. Students will also devise, create, produce and tour their own original pantomime within the community.

Jonathan Wilkes, Principal of Wilkes Academy, is currently starring in his 17th pantomime at the Regent Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent. He said: “We are so excited to be launching this new degree with Staffordshire University. Pantomime is an incredibly important part of British culture which brings people together and is loved across all ages. It has been a big part of my life and I’m looking forward to passing on my knowledge and skills to support the next generation of panto professionals. At Wilkes Academy, we have 100 plus students all across the UK in pantomime and run modules in pantomime in our undergraduate curriculum. We are totally committed to this art form.”

It is estimated that more than 260 professional pantomimes are staged in Britain each year. This generates nearly £63m in revenue annually which helps to keep venues afloat and fund theatre productions throughout the rest of the year.

Employment in pantomime is also not just seasonal. Many producing houses employ set and costume designers, props and wig makers, script writers, dance specialists, musical directors and arrangers, marketing and publicity experts, producers, archivists and creators in managerial and leadership roles throughout the year.

The announcement of the new degree comes as theatres across the UK celebrate Panto Day which was founded by one of the UK's leading experts on British Pantomime Simon Sladen – who has acted as an advisor for the course. The new MA has also received overwhelming support from other big names in the industry.

Television presenter and experienced pantomime performer Stephen Mulhern said: “The MA supporting this great British institution is the perfect training ground for performers on stage, technical team, backstage to learn first-hand their skills within this live area of entertainment. Pantomimes have become the highest grossing theatre productions annually for theatres across the UK, often being seen as the lifesaver within the industry due to the profit each panto generates keeping theatres alive.”

Christopher Biggins, seasoned actor and pantomime aficionado, added: “When I was starting my pantomime career over 50 years ago, I wish I could have gone along the route of getting an MA. We should all be preserving traditions, celebrating specialised training and Britain's Heritage.”

Discover more about studying MA Contemporary Pantomime Practice or book your place at our next Postgraduate Open Day.

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