It’s the most magical time of the year! For some people, that means rocking out to “Jingle Bells,” chopping down your own Christmas tree, or breaking out the Elf on the Shelf. For me, something else comes to mind: The opening notes of Tchaikovsky’s holiday classic, The Nutcracker.
This time last year, I decided to take my older daughter, Violet, to see the New York City Ballet’s performance of the kid-friendly spectacular. I never imagined that soon after she’d be begging me to be in the show herself. When auditions rolled around for the Albany Berkshire Ballet’s Nutcracker this past September, which is performed at the Flynn Mainstage over Thanksgiving weekend and uses local children at each of their tour locations, I had some reservations about letting 4 year-old Violet audition for the show. Ultimately, I let her pursue her dream.
If you are thinking about letting your kiddo perform in The Nutcracker at some point, here is everything you need to know!
As a parent, the audition was the scariest part of the process. Being a performer myself, I know firsthand the sting of rejection and the thought of my baby girl getting turned down sent me into a panic. Before she tried out, I reminded her that they might not have a spot for her, but she can always try again next year. As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. From what I gathered, all of the littles were accepted. The Albany Berkshire Ballet has a multitude of children’s roles — reindeer, mini mice, mice, soldiers, party children, angels, clowns, and, of course, the leads, Clara and her brother, Fritz — and they split the kids into three separate casts, one for each of the three performances. The roles are assigned according to age and the youngest of the bunch — 4- and 5-year-olds — play the show-stealing tiny, white reindeer.
When you arrive at the audition, you’ll get your first taste of your main job as a parent — staying out of the way. After you fill out the paperwork and safety pin an audition number on to your child’s dancewear, you’ll watch your kid get whisked away while you wait nervously downstairs, making small talk with the other hopeful parents. The separation felt like an eternity, but less than a half hour later, Violet was scanning the room for me as she came out of the elevator. The second she spotted me, her shiny dark eyes lit up, and her face broke into a huge smile. “I’m a reindeer, I’m a reindeer!” she announced excitedly and my heart overflowed with happiness.
The Rehearsal Schedule
I can’t speak for the schedule requirements for all of the roles, but I was very impressed with how well organized the rehearsal process was for the little ones. The reindeer only had to attend five half-hour rehearsals over the course of two months leading up to the performance. |Rehearsals always took place on Sundays, which left the weekends open for potential getaways. I believe the older kids had longer rehearsals, but those would be easy enough to do as drop-offs. I also noticed that the three talented girls who played Clara, the lead in the ballet, were present most of the day, acting as teacher’s assistants. I thought this was a wonderful way to keep the dancers with the biggest roles humble, grounded, and to foster a sense of community among the performers. Following the first rehearsal, which included a 10-minute information session for the adults, parents were notified about which of the three performances their kid(s) would be in. Violet was chosen for the first show, the Saturday matinee.
I do want to mention that the rehearsals are kept completely behind closed doors, so if you’re one of those dance moms or dads who is hoping to watch their budding star(s) in the studio, you’re out of luck. All of the windows to the studio are covered so that the children aren’t distracted. I snapped this sweet photo of my little lady one Sunday before they realized they had forgotten to put up the barrier over the back glass door. She’s the attentive one with the blue skirt and pink wraparound sweater — not distracted at all!
The Parent Commitment — Financial and More
There are a few things you will have to pay for, but overall I found the money portion to be fairly minimal. First, there is a reasonable audition fee, which you bring with you when your kiddo tries out for the show. At the first rehearsal, you are expected to bring a check for a $25 production fee (this amount could change from year to year), which covers costumes, props, and other costs that make the show possible. Aside from these mandatory items, there are additional costume needs that you must provide. For my little reindeer, we needed white tights and a pair of white ballet slippers, which was a little less than $30 total. They do hold a shoe swap and donation drive where you might be able to score some free slippers. The rest of the costs are optional — an opportunity for a professional photo, T-shirts and other promotional products, or an ad or special message for your performer in the program. I went for the picture and got T-shirts for me and both of my girls. Violet has been wearing hers pretty much every day.
Money aside, parents are also expected to volunteer in different ways, like hosting one of the professional dancers in your home or working backstage. I didn’t want to miss my daughter’s stage debut, so I decided to volunteer backstage for a different performance than the one she was in. I also advertised the production in my town’s Front Porch Forum every week leading up to the shows. In the end, my volunteer commitment was only a few hours of time and being backstage with the children was actually a blast.
The biggest challenge you might face as a parent is doing your kid’s hair! The reindeer wear their hair in two braids, one inch above the ears, and pinned tightly to the back of their heads. It took some practice to successfully achieve this look, but I finally managed to hairspray and bobby pin Violet’s ultra fine locks into reindeer perfection. For the party girls and Clara, who have to wear their hair in Victorian era ringlets, some of the parents from previous years actually hold a workshop to teach newer parents how to accomplish the look. That is something to look forward to!
The Kiddo Experience
Above all, let’s not forget about your little dancer — the star of the show! From the start, Violet was super excited. She spent months telling anyone and everyone that she was going to be a reindeer, even prancing around grocery stores and striking her toe-pop cervine pose with a huge grin on her face. So it was a bit jarring for me when, the night before her dress rehearsal, she got a serious case of the jitters. Apparently, it had not dawned on her until that moment that she was going to be on the stage without her mama.
“I… don’t… want… to… be… on… the… stage!” she gasped out, between sobs. “No… Nutcracker!”
I was shocked. I mean, she’s only four, so it was understandable. She is familiar with the Flynn Theatre, having seen Mary Poppins there the spring before, and it’s not exactly a small venue. I calmed her down and she went to bed, reassured that if she really didn’t want to do the show anymore, she wouldn’t have to. Meanwhile, I went to sleep that night worried sick. It didn’t help that her dress rehearsal on Friday was at the same time as the Tree Lighting ceremony in downtown Burlington, where I was dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. I wouldn’t even be able to drop her off at her rehearsal!
The next morning, she reminded me that she did not want to be in the Nutcracker anymore. That’s when I broke out the big guns and revealed that her dance teacher from Spotlight Vermont, Miss Kate, was going to be coming to see her in the show.
“Miss Kate is coming?” she asked, her eyes widening with surprise and excitement.
Yep, that did the trick. I was still nervous that day, but I had a friend volunteering at the dress rehearsal who put my mind at ease by sending me some pictures of Violet smiling and having a great time. Crisis averted!
The Payoff: Show Time!
It’s hard for me to put into words the type of joy you will experience as a parent seeing your child up on stage for the first time (or maybe every time, I suspect). The reindeer make three appearances in The Nutcracker and, as a seasoned ballet dancer, I knew exactly when the first one occurs — at the end of the dizzying snow scene, which brings Act 1 to a close. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever felt my heart pound so hard as the music swelled building up to Violet’s entrance. And then… there she was, her skinny white-tight legs prancing under the bright lights, her whole face smiling, and the audience cheering for the tiniest of the performers. I couldn’t help it; I burst into tears. I stole a quick glance at my husband sitting next to me, grinning proudly.
“They come on stage two more times?” a fellow reindeer father asked me in the lobby during intermission. “Man, I’m gonna need more tissues.”