Behind the scenes: Nutcracker family contributions

‘Five, six, seven, eight … we’re going to run it again.’

“Five, six, seven, eight … we’re going to run it again.”

What is the life of a Homer family participating in Homer’s annual production? A lot of time and effort — much more than simply rehearsals and practice.

I danced in my first Nutcracker in Homer in 1989, the year of the first show. I was in Homer Middle School and it was exciting for an opportunity to get on the Mariner Theatre stage. I remember my party scene, with plastic snow trickling down on us in the final chords of the snow corps scene — many of the same efforts that are still lingering backstage today. I remember set shop construction and paint, make up design, costume fittings in the tomb and Green Room, constant reminders of “no running in the hallway,” “tours” of the theater into the cry room and cat walks and orchestra pit, and vacuuming at the end of weekend rehearsal. It continues today with small mice and sheep still thrilled to be on stage for their first time.

This is what a day looks like on a Saturday “All Call.” We show up at the theater entrance of Homer High School for warm-ups before 11 a.m. Children wear various layers of winter gear, some with just tights and jackets, some clutching blankets or books to fill the time when they aren’t on stage and wait in their various dressing rooms. Some tech crew and others have been here since earlier in the morning. Dancers are separated by age into five different dressing rooms. One or two parents monitor each room for the duration of the entire rehearsal.

We sign up for shifts or to also be hall monitors. Monitors often do other tasks for the show that they can take to their rooms — maybe ripping seams out of costumes from previous years so they can be refitted, maybe constructing small props that don’t need as much large-scale attention as the set shop but still take care and attention. Soon, parents will also contribute food for all. With more than 100 people participating (66 youth performers, 14 adults, production leads, tomb, tech and set shop workers), Nutcracker means a substantial community effort.

Before run through, at noon crew and performers fill the front rows of the auditorium to hear the schedule for the day. Nutcracker Director Sally Oberstein addresses the audience.

“Let’s get started! A couple of announcements. Hi! How are you guys? Are you feeling well?” she says.

The audience responds enthusiastically, “Yes!”

We hear basic logistics of some of the goals for the weekend, such as who needs costume fitting and when.

“Party parents are going to be fitted in the morning,” Oberstein says. “We need moms first — they’re a little harder to fit — and dads when we can match you to them.”

Oberstein continues her briefing.

“Today we are dealing with logistics for Act I,” she says. “Pause at the doorbell, Drosselmeyer arrival and how he is going to depart. We are going to run in order, with the exception of mice. Who is excited because we’re starting to get this whole thing?”

The audience responds with applause and cheers.

“Me, too! Me, too,” Oberstein says.

Rhoslyn Anderson, Lead Choreographer, adds these two key reminders two weeks before performance.

“Dancers! You need to focus on being center stage if that’s where you are placed,” she says. “Keep your eyes there and others need to keep their eyes on who is center.”

Oberstein adds, “If you are the most important on stage, make your way down stage! Please keep that in mind — towards the audience.”

Oberstein wraps up before our start to the rehearsal.

“I want to make sure you guys are aware, if you have not been, upstairs in the tomb there are Santa’s little elves working like crazy,” she says. “Thank you, Wina! So many of you are going to look so fabulous on stage because of that! So much is also going on with sound crew and stage hands. We are going to have Simon here today to help with that and playing with lights. If I tried to list all the people here today making this happen for you, we wouldn’t be able to do rehearsal! We are so lucky to have so many people dedicated to what they are doing. There are so many efforts that make this a wonderful show.”

Next, there are Green Room solos to go through and a small reminder lecture for all performers to be and stay where they need to be in order to find them if and when necessary. What do they need when they are there? Books, homework, sleeping bags, games, parents, Rubik cubes and jigsaw puzzles.

A child asks if at this point individuals are still allowed to watch stage time and, the answer is yes. It will change soon; we have just a few weeks left.

Please join us for performances on Dec. 2, 3, 4, 7, 9 and 10. Online tickets can be found and purchased at: In person, tickets are available Mondays and Fridays from 3-6 p.m. at the Wildberry building on Pioneer Avenue.

Thank you, again, to all who make this holiday performance come alive.

Emilie Springer dances as a doll in the party scene in the 1994 production of the Homer Nutcracker Ballet. (Photo provided)

Emilie Springer dances as a doll in the party scene in the 1994 production of the Homer Nutcracker Ballet. (Photo provided)