Perhaps the only place busier than a shopping mall during the holiday season is the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts in Richardsaon.
In December alone, the Royal Ballet Dance Academy, Dallas Repertoire Ballet, Tuzer Ballet, and Collin County Ballet Theatre will present productions of The Nutcracker, concluding the month with the Eisemann Center Presents Mainstage Show, The Hip Hop Nutcracker.
"In the month and a half when Nutcracker productions are going on, there’s also a sprinkling of concerts, symphonies, corporate events and Christmas parties," Virgil Justice, the assistant technical and operations manager, said.
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The backstage ballet to present these shows well requires as much skill and is as complicated as anything that happens on stage. These holiday productions in two theaters require an all-hands-on-deck effort beginning in mid-November and concluding in late December.
Technicians typically begin their day at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. and are dismissed as late as 11 p.m. During the holiday season, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day are their only days off. On average, it can take the crew four or five hours to load in a show, but taking down a show only takes a couple of hours.
“Each of them have different massive amounts of technical angles to it, depending on the production,” Justice explained. No two Nutcrackers are alike. Each production has its own backdrops, scenery and costumes. Keeping up with every prop and each piece of equipment is a special challenge.
“We try to smartly plan where we store things. It’s like a giant Tetris game with a series of notes that explain for four hours, something is living here and in six hours, it trades places with this thing over there. It’s a giant puzzle and it is a testament among ourselves that we communicate to make sure goes well,” Justice said.
With multiple productions moving quickly through one facility, equipment maintenance is important.
“It’s something to be said for making facility management a priority. We’re here to work for the shows, but we’re also here to protect the equipment,” Abram Rankin, event services manager, said. The production team inventories the equipment in October and assesses what will be needed for each production.
The production team works diligently to help the ballet companies achieve the desired show.
“Every Nutcracker here is different. They have the Russian style or the American style, which means in Act II, Clara might be dancing in every scene or she is sitting upstage in a throne,” David Gibson, a master electrician, said. “It’s a variance of companies and what they prioritize. You have to learn what that company wants and each week you have to train your brain of what is prioritized.”
The production team usually rehearses the show once or twice before the performance. The team must learn the detailed cues of each show quickly.
“One of The Nutcrackers I just did, the Russians run out and they stride six times and on the sixth down-step, I had to hit ‘play’ so the music comes on at the exact right moment. You can’t run it over and over again with the dancers. You just have to say, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be there!’,” Ian Pelham, an audio board operator, explained.
Only one of the productions of The Nutcracker uses a live orchestra, the Collin County Ballet Theatre accompanied by the Plano Symphony. The production crew notices the difference between the ballet staged with live music and recorded music. A conductor leading a live orchestra can make adjustments to benefit the dancers. “It’s like karaoke with a machine versus karaoke with a live band,” Pelham said.
The music is infectious and the production crew has a love/hate relationship with it.
“By the end of the run, you cannot stand the music,” Pelham confesses. He is quickly interrupted. “That’s not true! I love The Nutcracker music all year round. My favorite is ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ and when I hear it, it sets me up for The Nutcracker. I try to get them to rehearse it over and over again and crank it up,” Melody Locke, a light board operator who has worked on productions of The Nutcracker for 26 years, said. The staff enjoys the variety of holiday offerings the Eisemann Center hosts. “I like the jazz concert. In the middle of all of this Nutcracker, we have this nice little soft, smooth jazz show,” Rankin said.
While they do not share the same feelings about the music, they do share the same work schedule and often end up sharing germs. They sometimes work through those illnesses.
“When one of us is sick, we all try to pitch in and help,” Locke said. That teamwork is the true magic of the holiday season at the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts.
Learn more about the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts at www.eisemanncenter.com.
Kimberly Richard is a North Texan with a passion for the arts. She’s worked with Theatre Three, Inc. and interned for the English National Opera and Royal Shakespeare Company. She graduated from Austin College and currently lives in Garland with her very pampered cocker spaniel, Tessa.