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Oakville's pantomime returns with Cinderella Potter

Oakville News
Oakville News

After a multi-year hiatus imposed by an ever-extending pandemic, one of Oakville's greatest cultural traditions finally returns to the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts this week: the holiday pantomime show.

Burloak Theatre Group (BOTG) is presenting their annual holiday spectacular beginning tonight, blending fairytales, music theatre and popular culture into a family-friendly show.

Usually staged in the last two weeks of December, the now-annual tradition of retelling classic fairytales in the style of an English musical comedy is one of the Oakville Centre's best selling theatre shows every year. The show opens tonight and is now running until Wednesday, Dec. 21.

This year's tale is Cinderella Potter, a combination of two classic stories where maid Cinderella learns she is a wizard, set to learn magic at Hogelby school and attend a royal ball to help wed off Prince Henry...until the threat of the dark wizard Moldy-Fart.

Some details of both Cinderella and Harry Potter will be familiar to audiences, but the reimagining is all part of the pantomime style: telling classic stories in a silly, modern, family-friendly (and non-copyright protected) way.

But this year's production is special for a multitude of reasons. Not only is the show returning to the Oakville Centre after two years in other venues (now allowed due to eased COVID-19 restrictions), and not only does this mark Oakville's return to Christmas entertainment at the town's largest venue since 2019, but this year is the 10th anniversary of the BOTG pantomime.

Like most of the company's past family pantomimes, the show was co-written by real-life married duo Chantal Forde and Tim Cadeny. Forde says using Cinderella to celebrate the show's 10th anniversary "feels as good as slipping on a perfect fitting glass slipper."

"For many families, this is their children’s first introduction to theatre," says Forde. This specific kind of show is also, "often what brings people into the BOTG family."

Pictured: Chantal Forde and Tim Cadeny | Oakville News
Pictured: Chantal Forde and Tim Cadeny | Oakville News
From Cinderella to Cinderella Potter

For Burloak Theatre Group, the pantomime project began in 2013 with a pre-scripted show from the United Kingdom, where pantomime shows are especially popular during the holidays.

Cadeny (also President of BOTG) and Forde shared similar stories of Tim's move from Vancouver to the GTA, and how his work on the west coast - along with some encouragement from Chantal's mother - led to the idea beginning in Oakville.

"We heard nothing for a couple years," admits Cadeny, "until BOTG reached out to us before we were formally members, saying they’re doing a pantomime. They asked Chantal to interview, and then made an offer for her to direct and choreograph the show."

Forde adds, "that first Cinderella [in 2013] was the only show that Tim and I didn’t write, so now putting our spin on the original BOTG Panto feels perfect."

As for where this year's concept came from, "We had talked about Cinderella and then one day Tim just said the name Cinderella Potter." She also says it was a Harry Potter pantomime show many years ago where she and Tim first met and began dating.

For Cadeny it was both the source stories' continued popularity and uncanny similarities that fostered the idea. "Both Cinderella and Harry (as source characters) were meant for so much more and mistreated by their step families, until they both are introduced to magic and are taken a whole new world. It just made sense that these stories could be combined in some way."

"Cinderella Potter is part magic, part silly and a whole ton of fun," finishes Forde. "We don’t do traditional fairytales, but we do love a happy ending - and a happy ending can only be won with the help of a powerful audience."

What Forde means by that is how notable the 2022 production returning to the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts truly is. This comes after COVID-19 upended Christmas the last two years; the 2020 production of Sleeping Beauty was moved online and the 2021 production of Alice in Wonderland was staged instead at Film.Ca Cinemas.

"We have been lucky to have people that come back year after year," says Forde, "both in the cast and crew of the show and in the audience." In interviewing others for this story, there was a common theme among all subjects about how special it feels having audiences return year after year.

"We love that we were able to come up with some alternatives for the last two years. But being in OCPA, exchanging energy with an audience - that’s the best part."

Oakville News
Oakville News

Starring in the show this year, playing Cinderella, is pantomime veteran Raeanne Venne. Past Oakville audiences know her best from starring as Ariel in 2019's The Little Mermaid, which co-incidentally was the last time the pantomime performed at the Oakville Centre.

Venne says coming back, "feels magical - no pun intended," with joyous laughter. "There’s no other feeling like being in front of an audience. It’s exhilarating and nerve-racking but so much fun. It’s really an adrenaline rush."

She also admits doing the show is hard work. "It’s hundreds of hours of rehearsal, and most of the cast and crew also works full-time. This is something we all do because we enjoy."

But despite all the work building, painting, designing, singing, dancing - among dozens of other tasks in active production - Venne says the show comes together "through a lot of dedication and hard work."

"The pantomime is a great thing for families to experience together, and interacting directly with the audience is something you don’t get in most other kinds of theatre. As actors, that's the best part: I love getting to meet kids after the show and see the joy on their faces. Their favourite characters have come to life before their eyes and the kids believe it’s real."

The show expands beyond the stage

As President, Cadeny mentions how pivotal the pantomime project is each year for BOTG operating as a non-profit arts group and also for the cultural and social good it brings to the Oakville community.

"Looking back, the panto has come a long way and evolved so much," says Cadeny. "The community has grown around the pantomime and it's become the most consistent part of BOTG in the last decade."

"This show is so important to rebuild our audiences that we had before [the pandemic]. This is an opportunity for all ages to experience theatre. We've always strived to make this a show for everybody. That means kids and adults - there's a laugh for everyone."

But COVID-19 has impacted both the pantomime in other ways: last year's production because of the dramatic rise in cases from the Omicron variant and changing government capacities on live entertainment, last year's show was shut down mid-run, after just three of its ten scheduled performances. 

Forde is hopeful, however, that her team's hard work this year will be rewarded with a full run with packed houses. Of all things, she smiles and says, "I cannot wait to hear the roar of the audience cheering and booing along."

This has been a year of recovery for BOTG, now Oakville's only regular producers of live theatre on the Oakville Centre's main stage. They staged the popular musical Rent and Neil Simon's Last of the Red Hot Lovers earlier this year, and of all weeklong runs in 2022, all but one in the AEG Liebherr Auditorium was produced by BOTG.

But regardless of whatever is chosen for the next 2023/24 subscription season, Cadeny affirms, "One of the most important things each season is that we always have the pantomime."

"We always wanted this to be Oakville’s holiday tradition," says Cadeny, looking back to the very beginning. "We get to meet the audience after the show, and we get to engage directly with audiences afterwards and during."

"Now we’re finally able to bring that tradition back."

Cinderella Potter

Co-written and directed by Chantal Forde

Now playing at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts until December 21, 2022.

Tickets are available online here.

Editor's note: while this story is not sponsored by Burloak Theatre Group or the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts, the story's author is affiliated with the group and contributed to this production on a volunteer basis.


Tyler Collins

About the Author: Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is the editor for Oakville News. Originally from Campbellton, New Brunswick, he's lived in Oakville more than 20 years. Tyler is a proud Sheridan College graduate of both Journalism and Performing Arts.
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