THERE IS NOTHING LIKE A DAME!
With two pantomimes under his belt in December, alumnus and professional panto dame Stephen Longstaff is enjoying his latest and new role as doting Dad to his beautiful daughter Lily, who was born on 3rd January. He’s also gearing up for his next pantomime where he’ll once again be playing the Dame for Dalton Amateur Dramatics’ Society who are performing Rapunzel from 16th-18th February. A stonemason and builder by trade, who has a love of breeding Dales’ ponies and restoring vintage tractors, Stephen is not your typical pantomime dame! We were delighted to welcome Stephen back to school in October when he mentored Toby Watson, who played the Dame in the school and college’s production of Alice in Wonderland.
We hope you enjoy our Q and A with Stephen where he talks about his passion for the stage as well as offering some great advice for anyone who would like to be involved in a drama or musical theatre group. If you’d like to see Stephen and a number of other former students in panto then you can book tickets for Rapunzel here.
How old were you when you first performed on stage?
I was 11 and it was at Ravensworth Primary School.
What was the production and what role did you play?
It was Cinderella and strangely enough, I was an ugly sister – not a lot has changed since!
Who or what inspired you to perform?
When I was very young, I was obsessed with watching TV comedy programs such as ‘Keeping up Appearances (Mrs Bucket), ‘Allo Allo’ and the classic Carry On films. These shows and characters fascinated me, so I’d video tape these episodes then watch them again and again, teaching myself how a laugh was made. I’d mimic characters in front of the mirror and act them out, sometimes at school.
When did you decide that pantomimes were for you?
I think I just fell into pantomimes naturally. Panto characters have to be quite animated and larger than life, so basically I fit in well.
How many times have you played the dame?
I’ve played dame more times than I can honestly remember…..which is a lot!
Which dame has been your favourite?
My favourite Panto role is the ugly sister. You are the villain as well as the comedy dame. But to be a good ‘ugly’ you have to have a good sidekick to bounce off, which I have had a few times.
Tell us more about your panto career
I helped start up the Dalton Amateur Dramatics Society in 1999 and I have done their pantos every year since, working my way up from being the front end of the cow to the dame!
My first professional pantomime was in 2017 but not as dame, I was the ugly sister’s valet in Cinderella, at The Garden Rooms at Tennants. From there, I auditioned for The Majestic Theatre in Darlington who were looking for professional pantomime performers for their in-house theatre team. I have been their resident dame for countless pantos. We have 4 or 5 pantos a year. This Christmas, we performed Aladdin and I played the role of Widow Twankey. I am always grateful and lucky to have my partner Sara by my side who encourages and supports me in everything I do.
What is your line of work when you are not treading the boards?
Apart from my sideline pantomime career, I am a stonemason and builder with my own small business. Completely different work environments! Some people come to see me in Panto who know me from work and refuse to believe it’s me, which is very reassuring!
Where were you brought up and what are your hobbies (aside from panto!)?
I was brought up on an exposed hill farm called Lummas House, above Marske in Swaledale. I didn’t want to follow my father in farming but I did carry on our breeding of Dales ponies which my grandfather started in the 1930’s. I still breed them today along with my father Colin, and am very involved with the Dales pony society. To also continue the farming aspect, I collect and restore vintage tractors and enjoy showing them all over the country, meeting characters along the way.
What advice would you give anyone who is considering becoming involved in a drama or musical theatre group?
My advice to anyone going into theatre is only pursue it if you are naturally good at it. I always think a lot of it is basic cunning instinct. Always take on board what people who watch you tell you, never think you know it all, because we are all always learning. Get out of your comfort zone, it took me years to do that, but when I did it opened up a lot to me.