The Magic of Live Theatre

By Pan Zador, author of Act of Love

Act of LoveThis is the season of pantomimes and theatrical treats for children. My London childhood is shot through with vivid memories of J.M. Barrie’s stage play Peter Pan, which always had a Christmas season at the old Scala Theatre. The Scala was a jewel: a Victorian auditorium with the red swagged curtains, the plaster cherubs and the orchestra pit with its brass fittings — and always, of course, a live orchestra. That is the theatre in my mind when I describe the interior of the Tower Theatre in Act of Love.

My father was a theatre carpenter — he did not spend all his time making scenery, but was responsible for the entire backstage crew, the scene changes, and, once on the road, for the transport of the set from town to town by lorry and train.

In Peter Pan the sets are large, and complicated by the need for some of the characters to fly across the stage. Even though I had been brought to see this play since I was a babe in arms, what happened the year I was eight was unforgettable.

Before the curtain rose, my mother took me and my younger brother backstage and we walked around the Darlings’ nursery, while at the same time we could hear the sounds of the excited audience arriving and settling in their seats. My father showed us the crocodile and we were allowed to open its terrifying jaws, and then asked me if I would like to fly. My reply was an ecstatic “Yes!” He put the harness around me and gave a direction to one of his stage crew, and in a moment I was being lifted and carried through the nursery windows and onto Wendy’s bed, then to the mantelpiece, then across the room to a chair. I was, for a brief moment, Peter Pan himself. Dizzy with delight, I already knew I wanted to act; that night sealed my determination to do it.

In later years I created many plays for children, and I like to think I brought to my role, whether it was the back half of a pantomime reindeer, or the stark white Snow Queen, glittering with evil, an understanding of the magic that children so readily accept.

Pan ZadorMy hope with Act of Love is to bring to the reader the sense of breathless excitement that still inhabits live theatre. When the nerves and adrenaline of a first night are mixed with the terror and bliss of a love affair, the alchemy of theatre is at its most potent. In Marigold Aubrey, I hope I have created a sympathetic heroine who is just beginning her life in theatre but through whose eyes we dream dreams and taste success and failure. And in Tor Douglas, my hero, we see a man who is by turns terrifying, lovable, critical, furious or vulnerable, and whose stunning physical presence will, I hope, engage the reader. Does he really exist? Ah, that would be telling!

Do you have a special memory involving the magic of live theatre? Share your stories in the comments!

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Check out this great interview with Pan at The View From Here magazine!

6 thoughts on “The Magic of Live Theatre

  1. Stephanie Cage

    Your comments about Peter Pan remind me of one of my favourite films: Neverland. I wonder if you’ve seen it?
    My most memorable theatre-related moment actually took place outside a theatre. It was a hot summer night, and the auditorium was so sweltering that in the interval everyone spilled outside to get some air… in full Rocky Horror Show costumes, to the astonishment of the townsfolk. What made it even weirder was that there was a dance festival going on in the town at the same time, so the FrankNFurters and Magentas ended up mingling with a troupe of Morris Dancers. The whole thing was wonderfully surreal!

    1. panzador

      Ah, Stephanie, I LOVED the film Neverland. JM Barrie had an extraordinary – and sad – life. When Captain Scott was dying of cold and hunger in his tent in the Antarctic, he wrote a letter to his friend JM Barrie. It was one of the last letters he wrote. Barrie also wrote some comedies for adults and was an early advocate of women being allowed to work and have careers!

  2. Deborah O'Neill Cordes

    What wonderful memories of Peter Pan! Now I know why you are called Pan Zador. It’s one of the most marvelous names I’ve ever heard. Thank you for your article and may your novel take wing and soar. First star to the right and straight on ’till morning!

    1. panzador

      dear Deborah, Thank you for your kind comment. I often dreamed that I could fly over London like Peter…. and I still visit his statue in Kensington Gardens. See you in the Mermaids’ Lagoon!

  3. Elke

    Can’t remember the name of the play I watched as a teenager, but it was a comedy. It had me completely captivated.

    My favorite Peter Pan story is actually the movie Finding Neverland. It was based on the author’s life and how he got idea for the story. A wonderful, sad, and heartwarming story.

    All the best with your book, Pan!

  4. panzador

    Dear Elke, I agree totally with your comments about ‘Neverland’… and I grew up very near to Kensington Gardens. I always hoped I might see Peter, or the Darling children, or maybe even a fairy there…..