Caleb Miller – firstname.lastname@example.org
Jen Stout – email@example.com
One of the biggest traditions in the Reading meteorology department is the yearly Christmas pantomime. Because of lockdowns and safety measures in the past several years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2022 was the first year to return to a live performance since 2019, and it was a lot of fun!
The panto this year was directed by Jen Stout and Caleb Miller. We were asked at the end of the summer by last year’s organizers if we would be interested in the roles of director, and we both agreed to it — most likely only because we didn’t realize how big of a task this would be!
The original idea for this plot was Jen’s idea. They suggested that we create a plot based on the story of Rapunzel, particularly on Disney’s adaptation in the movie Tangled. This turned out to be a well-loved story for many of the PhD students in the department, and when we met early in the autumn term to vote on a plot idea, Tangled won unanimously.
It wasn’t long before we began to adapt the story to our own department and the field of meteorology. The original movie centers around the story of Rapunzel, a princess who was kidnapped at birth because of her hair’s special abilities, as she escapes the remote tower with the help of an outlaw. We quickly recognized the similarity between the original story and our own department’s move from the old Lyle building to the main Brian Hoskins building which was taking place at the time.
The Lyle building was famously tall (with many, many stairs), and it was isolated from the majority of the department, much like Rapunzel’s tower. We even had someone to rescue the poor Lyle residents: head of department, Joy Singarayer!
But who would take the spot of the villain, the woman who owned the tower and held Rapunzel there? Why not the Remote Sensing, Clouds, and Precipitation (“Radar”) research group? Jen and Caleb were both members (as were two of our supervisors), so we could make fun of ourselves, and the group had many members who were still in the Lyle building at the time.
Soon, the story began to develop. Caleb wrote much of the initial draft and dialog, and several of the seasoned panto writers from last year stepped in and peppered the script with jokes and radar-related puns, much improving the final story!
In the end, FORTRANGLED told the story of a young PhD student, Rapunzel, who wanted to use her invention, the Handheld Advanced Imaging Radar (“HAIR”), for in situ measurements on a weather balloon, but she is stopped by the Radar group. Thankfully, she is rescued from the lonely Lyle tower by Joy Singarayer, and finally she joins her original supervisor King Professor Sir Brian Hoskins and launches the balloon.
Of course, the panto wouldn’t be the same unless it featured popular songs with brand-new lyrics full of meteorology puns! We decided to use several of the songs from the Tangled film, while adding a few others where they fit.
The band was headed by Flynn Ames. They began rehearsing months in advance, and their practice paid off enormously. The band performed excellent covers of a wide variety of musical genres and songs, featuring acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, keys, cello, and even a trombone! By the time we came to rehearse with the singers, they sounded incredible.
As for the lyrics to the songs, Jen took charge with most of the writing — once it was realized that “Sheet Nimbostratus” sounded vaguely like “Pina Coladas,” the favourite “Sheet Nimbostratus (Escape)” song (a parody of Rupert Holmes’ Pina Colada Song) was written in under half an hour on a lunch break and ended up working well with theme of escape for the first act.
Flynn was also a massive help with the songs, especially the last song of the show: Hall & Oates’ – “You Make My Dreams”. When it came to rehearsing the songs with the cast as singers, it was excellent having Flynn as someone who wasn’t rhythmically challenged to help us sort out when to sing the lyrics (as well as what words to sing and what notes to sing them to!), so thank you to Flynn, Beth, and the rest of the band for helping the rest of us sing as best as we could!
Casting the lead
Once the script was written, it was time to select the cast. Most of the casting was reasonably quick, but we had one issue: no one wanted to play the lead! Convincing a PhD student to pretend to be a princess in front of the entire department is understandably difficult. We spent at least a week going around the department trying to convince one another to step up for the role.
However, the role had far too many lines for any one person to commit to, and therefore we settled on the “Rapunzel Roulette,” where a different person would play Rapunzel in each of the scenes. This ended up being a really good move, and meant that instead of the role being high-pressure, it was a rush of excitement and silliness for each act, especially as they had to pass the wig onto the next person before the next act started.
The Night of the Panto
The panto turned out to be a lot of fun! We sold over 130 tickets, and this was certainly one of the larger post-lockdown events at the department. Planning for the in-person event required no small amount of admin work, and we were especially helped by Dana Allen, Joy Singarayer, and Andrew Charlton-Perez!
The event started at 6:30 with a bring-and-share buffet, and doors opened to Madejski Lecture Theatre at 7:30 before the show start.
The FORTRANGLED cast
We also had several interval acts, including the latest episode from John Shonk’s famous Mr. Mets series, Blair McGinness’s presentation on the controversial results of a department biscuit ranking tournament, and a musical performance from the faculty!
After the interval acts, we resumed with the second act of the panto, and finished the result of months’ writing and rehearsals. The inclusion of the “Top Secret” notes and distribution of balloons was a last-minute inclusion, organized by Jen, intended to surprise the rest of the cast except for our excellent Narrator, Natalie, who was told beforehand in case everything went wrong!
The instructions to the audience were as follows: “In the wilderness: If you see a duck; shout: quack! If you see a goose, shout: honk!,” as well as the extremely vague: “If the stage needs a balloon: please blow up your balloon and throw it towards stage!”
Surprisingly, especially for a pantomime, the audience was incredibly well-behaved, balloons arrived exactly on cue (despite this not being written into the script whatsoever). As for the command to shout “honk” and “quack” when geese and ducks appeared… the honks went on for much longer than we expected, causing a lot of chaos and confusion both on and off stage! This was undoubtedly Jen’s favourite part of the entire show.
After the party, we celebrated with an afterparty in the department coffee area led by DJ Shonk. This included some thematically appropriate piña coladas, which may have led to the scattering of the geese and ducks throughout the department…
As the panto was the first in-person panto since 2019’s The Sonde of Music, and so most of the cast hadn’t seen a live pantomime in the way we did it this year! This made it a massive challenge to organise, and directing the Panto turned out to be a very difficult, but also very rewarding, task. Seeing everyone’s hard work come together on the night was the best part, and we’re glad we contributed to such a long-standing department tradition.
We’d like to thank everyone who was involved: anyone we convinced to act, sing, play in the band, make props, put on silly outfits, organise the event, perform an interval act, or throw balloons at the stage. We found that this department is full of some very talented people, and it was really fun getting to work in some areas we don’t often get to see. If meteorology research is one day taken over by AI, the members in our department would have no problem finding new jobs on Broadway!