When the curtains open at Mariner Theatre on Saturday, Dec. 5, nearly 100 people will pirouette, leap, tango and hula hoop across the stage — the 27th annual Homer Nutcracker Ballet includes 85 dancers between the ages of 5 and 18, and 13 adult performers.
But backstage, in the light and sound booths, in the dressing rooms and in the audience, there are at least an equivalent number of people who’ve put their all into the show, and they won’t step into the spotlight in ballet slippers.
“Community involvement. That’s — no pun intended — Nutcracker in a nutshell,” says Cody Davidson, who runs the show’s sound.
Though dozens of other events around town ask a lot of the community, no annual production rivals the Nutcracker in magnitude. Rehearsals have been under way since September. For the entire month of November, all dancers were called Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Now, post-Thanksgiving, tech week has hit and everybody’s at rehearsal, every day. The halls of Homer High are a maze of Nutcracker madness.
In the sound booth, Davidson is listening for cues from co-directors Jennifer Norton and Breezy Berryman, who are running rehearsal. He estimates that he’s spent about 25 hours a week remixing, composing and running music for the show for the past month. The commitment’s been similar for those working on lights, finding props and building set pieces.
Wina Wade, the show’s costume mistress, says that last year she put in more than 400 volunteer hours to get the dancers looking show-ready. This year, she’s worked on more than 200 costumes — making the party, Spanish, swan, and flower outfits from scratch and doing repairs on dozens of others. A small army of mothers and grandmothers has been helping her out with sewing and fittings.
That’s not all that Nutcracker parents have signed up for. For each child in the show, a parent is responsible for at least three two-hour sessions of hall monitoring and dressing room duty. Some parents have three or four kids in the production.
While 5-to-8-year-old tutu-clad mice play with LEGOs as they wait to go on stage, their parents and grandparents assist with costume malfunctions, work on set pieces and sign kids out to go to the bathroom — sometimes with even younger children in hand. Other parents are busy with program design, publicity, guest choreography, makeup and hair help, and behind-the-scenes muscle: moving set pieces, making snow fall, directing spotlights.
This frenzy of activity requires fuel. That’s where catering coordinator Kiirsten Styvar comes in.
Over the final month of weekend rehearsals, parents are required to bring in four dishes per child — two hot, two cold, each enough to feed 25 people. By the end of an afternoon, a table that started heaped high with fruit, drinks and various good-smelling hot meals holds only empty Crockpots.
When your child is cast in the Nutcracker, you surrender your life for three months, says Kira Stuart, the show’s long-time volunteer coordinator. “I haven’t made a Thanksgiving dinner for 13 years,” she says, laughing.
So what makes it all worth it?
Nearing the end of its third decade, the Homer Nutcracker Ballet has been around long enough that several of the original dancers are now parents themselves. Working on the show provides an opportunity for them to see their children dance the same parts they did. Plus, it’s fun — “a sweet way to spend the darker days of fall,” says one mom.
Then there’s the pride in being part of such a complex, professional production.
“There’s just nothing like this,” says Deborah Brown, whose daughter is dancing for a ninth year. “We’ve had people come from big cities and say, ‘Oh my God, little Homer is doing this? We don’t have anything like this!’… The fact that we have this amazing production that anyone can participate in, it’s incredible.”
Bobby Copeland-McKinney has been helping out with the Nutcracker since 1990. In the scene shop, she’s on a stepladder doing a little cosmetic surgery to the neck of the show’s 15-year-old papier mache swan. Every few minutes a young dancer walking by calls out, “Hey, Ms. Bobby!” and Copeland-McKinney looks up, beaming.
She says that’s exactly what keeps her coming back: the kids.
Ken Castner agrees. The show’s producer since the very beginning, he refers to his role as “general overseer, acquirer of things and keeper of the keys.”
“I don’t have any kids of my own, and every year there’s a new crop of little kids that come in. I’ve just watched so many of those kids go from mice to prima ballerinas,” he says. “It’s just awesome to watch them blossom.”
That blossoming process happens in real time, say the adults backstage. Castner points out that being in the Nutcracker isn’t like being in a school club or playing on a sports team. Here, kids are surrounded by people not just from different schools, but from different schools of life. They’re learning to work together to make something complicated and creative and beautiful, both traditional and entirely innovative.
And they’re getting lots of help — from people like Michael McBride, who’s in the scene shop, putting together the frame of a gift box for the party scene. His two granddaughters are in the show.
“The kids subliminally get the impression that the whole community is behind them,” says McBride. “And that’s huge.”
Annie Rosenthal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CAST, IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
Christmas Caroler: Falcom Greear
Revelers: Bryan Baker, Keri-Ann Baker, Alexander Folio, Bobbye Triplett Hurd, Michael Hurd, Robin McAllistar
The Children: Briar Boyd, Gillian Bremicker, McKenna Carlin, Sylvia Clemens, Sidney Flora, Annabelle Franciscone, Aria Hill, Sofia Loboy, Channing Lowney, Elsa Milne, Sabina Morin, Poppy Smith, Charity Stewart
Mr. and Mrs. Stahlbaum : Lise Klein-Kirsis, Steve Krause
Grandmother and Grandfather Stahlbaum: Jackie Dentz, Jim Hornaday
Little Clara: Aiyana Cline
Fritz: Joren Kirsis .
Louise: Neviya Reed
Maid: Emilie Springer
Dog: Kaasha Bice
Cat: Anna Springer
Drosselmeyer: Lucas Thoning
.Drosselmeyer’s Assistant: Kira Milne
Monkey: Harrison Metz
Mechanical Doll: Ruby Allen
Harlequin: Halen Ryland
Columbine: Katie Clark
The Nutcracker: Ilya Burov
Bird: Sierra DeLoach
Toys: Eve Brau, Madi Elkington, Serena Fankhauser, Caprice McAllistar, Sophie Morin, Amelia Neumeyer, Halen Ryland, Hannah Stonorov, Aaron Taliesin, Kaitlyn White, Johannah Wickstrom
Mice: Alex Brock, Etta Bynagle, Jaelynn Cabana, Madalyn Miotke, Kate Moseley, Ethan Styvar, Evalyn Trejo, Britta Velsko, Daisy Walker Small Toy Soldiers . . . . Regan Baker, Spencer Co, Keegan Elkington, Brooke Shafer, Lion Trejo
Big Clara: Katia Holmes
Battle Nutcracker: Avram Salzmann
Toy Soldiers: Grace Cordle, Hannah Hatfield, Eric Holmes, Liam James, Joren Kirsis, Halen Ryland
Rat King: Quinn Alward
Rat Army: Elias Allen, Sadie Blake, Maggie Mae Gaylord, Falcom Greear, Daisy Kettle, Mackenzie Ormond, Jackson Sarber, Zoe Stonorov, Aaron Taliesin
Queen of Ice and Snow: Rhoslyn Jennings
Snowflakes: Ruby Allen, Dulcinea Amarello, Llena Bice, Eve Brau, Annalynn Brown, Katie Clark, Aiyana Cline, Ava Halstead, Lilli Heimbold, Daisy Kettle, Annali Metz, Sophie Morin, Vianne Sarber, Ireland Styvar, Hannah Vance
Princess Odette: Rhoslyn Jennings
Prince Siegfried: Will Anderson
Odile: Breezy Berryman
Swans: Llena Bice, Eve Brau, Serena Fankhauser, Sierra DeLoach, Amelia Neumeyer, Hannah Vance
Cygnets: Ava Halstead, Neviya Reed, Hannah Stonorov, Johannah Wickstrom
Rat Minions: Sadie Blake, Maggie Mae Gaylord
Naiads: Annalynn Brown, Katie Clark, Aiyana Cline, Grace Cordle, Madi Elkington, Lilli Heimbold, Caprice McAllistar, Zoe Stonorov
Plankton: Elias Allen, Marina Co, Spencer Co, Liam James, Elsa Milne, Sabina Morin, Sophie Morin, Ireland Styvar
Merman King Triton: Quinn Alward
Mermaid Queen: Annali Metz
Deckhands: Keegan Elkington, Lion Trejo
Clown Fish: Regan Baker, Gillian Bremicker, Annabelle Franciscone, Hannah Hatfield, Liam James, Elsa Milne, Sabina Morin, Mackenzie Ormond, Avram Salzmann, Brooke Shafer, Charity Stewart
Rat Minion: Elias Allen
Sea Maidens: Ava Halstead, Neviya Reed, Ireland Styvar, Hannah Vance, Kaitlyn White, Johannah Wickstrom
Seahorses: Reilly Sue Baker, Judah Brown, Marina Co, Lilihanna Elkington, Grayce Geagle, Bella Loboy, Pinky Sarber
La Sirena: Dulcinea Amarello
Los Cangrejos (Crabs): Briar Boyd, McKenna Carlin, Sylvia Clemens, Sidney Flora, Aria Hill, Poppy Smith
Butterfly Fish: Annalynn Brown, Avram Salzmann
Jellyfish: Llena Bice, Aiyana Cline, Eric Holmes, Harrison Metz, Jackson Sarber, Vianne Sarber
Sea Dragon: Grace Cordle, Zoe Stonorov
Flying Fish: Spencer Co, Daisy Kettle, Ireland Styvar Fishermen: Ruby Allen, Katie Clark, Madi Elkington, Falcom Greear, Eric Holmes, Sophie Morin, Amelia Neumeyer, Halen Ryland, Avram Salzmann, Aaron Taliesin
Mother Octopus: Steve Krause Octopi: Bremicker, Théa James, Sofia Loboy, Channing Lowney, Gracie Miotke, Wynne Reed, Anna Springer, Brightly Thoning
Rat King Puppet: Michael Hurd
Rat Army: Elias Allen, Sadie Blake, Maggie Mae Gaylord, Joren Kirsis, Jackson Sarber, Lion Trejo