Beth Smith, 26, is co-directing The Wizard of Oz and says: “This year is the fastest it has ever sold out. The first tickets went on sale in July and we were sold out by mid-November.”
But the show could not go ahead without an army of dedicated volunteers like Beth who is one of a team from Centre Stage Community Theatre who work hard to make it an annual hit.
“There are 10 adult parts this year and 30 children – all volunteers,” says Beth who joined the theatre group when she was 11 years old.
“Rehearsals start properly in September and from then on, it’s probably seven or eight hours a week for me. We finished Scrooge last year in December and by January we were having discussions about the next one.”
Beth has a full-time job as trainee Legal Counsel for The Cumberland building society in Carlisle, but her colleagues are supportive.
“I can work flexible hours because of the fantastic culture at The Cumberland. I know many people in other organisations do not have managers who are as kind and willing to make things work for you, so I am really lucky,” she says.
Glen Cavers is a Business Manager at The Cumberland in Carlisle. He volunteers not only on the panto but is also the volunteer chair of the Buccleuch Centre responsible for running the whole venue.
“I have been volunteering at The Buccleuch Centre for half my life,” says Glen. “I’m 30. I was just 15 when I started.”
He says the panto is a crucial part of the community.
“We only charge £10 or £8. We have kept it low because we know that costs for families at Christmas are high. The panto is a real tradition for the community to see.
“We do five performances with 250 people. That’s 1,200 people who come to see our show from a town of 2,000.”
He added: “The Cumberland is absolutely great at allowing me to be flexible with the time. I am really fortunate to have an employer who is so supportive.”
Beth says the magic of community panto is priceless.
“It’s the fact that everyone who comes to see the show is getting such enjoyment and happiness at Christmas,” she says. “They always come away saying it was the best one yet. I love to see little kids getting to experience the magic.”