Supporting creative work by women
Jenny Green is a producer, actress, writer and jill of all trades. She has a big project this December at Dixon Place in downtown Manhattan. She is the force behind Dick Whittington: An Xmas Panto for NYC — a new piece written in the British holiday tradition with a dash of New York thrown in. Across the pond, audiences of adults and children go wild for Panto, which takes a recognizable story and updates it with cheeky references and lots of call and response. Filled with innuendo and song and dance, Panto is a fun way to celebrate the holidays and the absurdities of life. In Dick Whittington, you’ll find Mayor Gloomberg and his new bride Sara Pain (played by Jenny) as well as a young boy Dick (always played by a girl in Panto tradition) who comes to the Big Apple to fulfill his dreams of being a singer.
This endeavor is the first in a hopefully annual Panto event in New York. Works by Women spoke with Jenny about her inspiration for this project and how the New York version differs from those versions performed in the UK.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Why Panto? Why now?
JENNY GREEN: Panto is the most democratizing form of theatre and genuinely offers something fun for everyone. Seems like an absolute no brainer that the United States should not have the tradition as part of its rich theatrical landscape, especially in the face of dwindling and homogenous audiences and sometimes elitist productions.
WORKS BY WOMEN: How does Dick Whittington differ from traditional Panto? How is it similar?
JENNY GREEN: We had to integrate a ‘Panto Primer’ section to tip-off the previously uninitiated on the quirks of the form. As a product of New York, this Dick Whittington is sassier than some of the traditional British fare, and we have a Transatlantic cast and perhaps a little more technology than usual and a very urban set. There are a few extra characters to bring this Dick to life, but then it is conventional for characters, and situations to evolve a little to reflect the environment local to each production. Apart from that we have worked to retain the hallmarks of the genre, from an over-arching theme of good versus evil, and the broad Dick Whittington plot of a poor boy making it big in the Big City and practical conventions like cross-dressing, audience interaction and big comic and musical moments
WORKS BY WOMEN: For American audiences who haven’t been exposed to this tradition, what should they expect?
JENNY GREEN: American Panto virgins should expect to laugh their asses off and be prepared to leave their reserve at home. It really is a comic feast and the audience is often part of the shtick. It is very cheeky but has a real heart and the most colorful assemblage of characters they will have ever seen. I like to say it’s like the Simpsons in three-dimensions with fewer yellow people.
WORKS BY WOMEN: You play a parody of Sarah Palin, who is married to the mayor of the Big Apple. What’s it like playing one of the most famous women in American politics or a version of her?
JENNY GREEN: It is such a riot playing Sara Pain; she became a northern British hybrid of Alaska’s favorite soccer mom as I was traveling to record her Panto Campaign speeches in Times Square and realized there was no point in aping the legendary imitation of Tina Fey (and indeed Julianne Moore), and it would add another comic layer if she was from somewhere a long way from Wasilla (and closer to my own home). I very much had in mind British MP Hazel Blears, who was one of the so-called Blair’s Babes after the 1997 election, and had an unnerving (Palinesque) ability to deliver nasty news with a chirpy smile and disarming perkiness.
WORKS BY WOMEN: What are things you miss about the UK — theatre or otherwise?
JENNY GREEN: I miss the tradition of PANTO of course. I miss my favorite theatre in the world, the Royal Exchange in Manchester, where, aged seven-ish, I saw my first ever non-Panto show, Andy Capp and fell in love with the stage (although I don’t recall ever not wanting to be an actress, making my debut as a Bell at a school concert, aged 4); even though it was a play based on an adult’s cartoon about a put-upon working man. I also miss the National Theatre in London and the Royal Court where you can see such exciting new work for as little as $10. I miss the architecture and easy access to the BBC, and of course, my oldest friends and my little family and dog. And yes, there is some food I miss – like it is very easy to get taramosalata over there.
WORKS BY WOMEN: What are the challenges facing women in American theatre?
JENNY GREEN: I am not so sure that the challenges facing women in the American theatre are so different from those facing men, or theatre in general, although it is disappointing to learn of the still too big gap in pay rates for men and women, as it seems that it is mainly women who are prepared to work in the field for way below their worth. American theatre must continue to make itself relevant in an ever splintering society of niche interests and diverse technologies competing for people’s attentions.
WORKS BY WOMEN: What gives you hope for women in American theare?
JENNY GREEN: The creativity and passion of the women i have met in American theatre gives me hope for the future. Such positive energy can’t but improve the sum total of human happiness and understanding in the end. And awesome initiatives like 50/50 in 2020 mean that we might actually achieve more just financial rewards for our efforts.