Surviving Nutcracker

Snow Scene from the Collin County Ballet Theatre's 2009 Nutcracker.

How dance company directors stay organized during Nutcracker season

Nutcracker season is an exciting but also extremely stressful time for many dance company directors. In addition to choreography, auditions and rehearsal schedules, company directors are also responsible for budget, venue, costumes and advertising. With all of these balls to juggle it’s easy to become disorganized. Keeping things in perspective is vital for Nutcracker survival, according to many company directors. Let’s take a look at some of the ways some directors in North Texas are handling the ups and downs that come along with Nutcracker season.

PLAN AHEAD. One of the key components to Nutcracker survival is planning ahead. “Rehearsing and preparing for Nutcracker can be harrowing at best,” say Linda and Kirt Hathaway, artistic directors of the Collin County Ballet Theatre (CCBT) which is entering its 10th season. “However, preparations and rehearsals can be fun and enjoyable if time is spent earlier in the year planning and getting ready.” For the Collin County Ballet Theatre this entails recruiting parent volunteers in the spring.  Key volunteer positions include company manager, technical crew liaison, backstage assistants, props manager, off stage coordinators, guest hospitality coordinator, safety and security coordinator, head mom dressing room coordinators, program production coordinator, ticket sales coordinator and wardrobe managers. “The key to all of these roles is communication,” the Hathaways say. “Without communication, the various parts will not work well together.” Planning ahead is also helpful in terms of budget. “We usually have grant applications due in late spring,” says Stefanie Best, artistic director of the Allen Civic Ballet. “These applications require budget projections for the upcoming season, so we use the previous year’s financials as a template.”

BUDGET WISELY. Just saying the word “Budget” can cause company directors a great deal of stress. But without an organized budget there would be complete and utter chaos every year. A company director’s Nutcracker budget typically includes theater rental, scenery, costumes, guest artists and programs. How directors organize their budgets varies. Judy Klopfenstein, artistic director of the Dallas Ballet Company, says her budget has remained pretty steady over the years. “We set aside money every year for next season, and even when the economy was bad our budget stayed pretty consistent,” Klopfenstein says. “It also helps that we know how much money we bring each year through our fundraising efforts.” When it comes time to organize your budget the best advice company directors can give is to expect the unexpected. For example, “We had researched and budgeted for some new snow costumes we wanted, but before we could purchase them an opportunity arose to purchase someone’s old inventory,” Best says. “They were much nicer costumes but more expensive.” Kathy Chamberlain, artistic director of Chamberlain Performing Arts in Plano, Texas, also understands that sometimes budget changes need to be made. “One year we had a number of boys in the company so we didn’t need to bring in guest male dancers,” Chamberlain says. She adds, “Some years we may spend more money on costumes and guest artists because what’s most important to me is that we put on a high quality performance for the audience.”

LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION. Whether it’s your first Nutcracker or your 10th, booking a venue can be very stressful for company directors. For first timers Nutcracker veterans recommend they do their homework.  Is the venue available when you need it? Is it a union house? What are the security requirements? Is insurance required? According to Klopfenstein these are the types of questions directors need to ask before settling on a venue. But before they even do this “they must decide on what type of audience they want, the number of people they think will come and the number of performers in the show,” Klopfenstein says. And when it comes to booking a public theatre Best says it’s advantageous to book way in advance. She also says to be cautious when booking a school facility because you are at the mercy of the school district. “Many contracts with school facilities allow the school to cancel your performance up to 24 hours beforehand to accommodate a school event,” Best says. “Suffice it to say, this can be very stressful.” But once you have found a place to call home company directors say that part of the process gets easier every year. “We love the Grandville Performing Arts Center in Garland,” Klopfenstein says. “It has the capacity backstage to hold our huge sets and the staff is efficient, organized and wonderful to work with.”

A COMMUNITY EFFORT. Many company directors say their shows wouldn’t be as successful if it weren’t for the support from their local communities. “It has been a mission of CCBT to promote the organization throughout the Collin County area and involve local organizations and businesses in the production,” the Hathaways say. “For the past seven years we have had live music for our Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts performances thanks to the Plano Symphony Orchestra as well as local children chorus’.” Klopfenstein also gives the local communities credit for past Nutcracker successes. “Lake Highlands businesses have played a big part in our success thanks to their advertising,” Klopfenstein says. She adds that the City of Garland has offered support by placing her company’s Nutcracker in a city events flyer that was included in the city’s utility bill. Fundraising is also a great way to attract community attention as well as bring in additional money for the budget. The Collin County Ballet Theatre holds its annual Sugar Plum Fairy Tea at the Westin Stonebriar Resort Hotel in Frisco, Texas as a way to both anchor its fundraising efforts and enhance community awareness. Chamberlain Performing Arts also holds various fundraisers throughout the year, including this year’s season opener “Celebrate Broadway!” and its annual Sugar Plum Tea and spring fashion show just to name a few. But what Chamberlain is most proud of is its Nutcracker Community Connections Performance which dates back to the early 90s’. “It has become a tradition that the first performance of our Nutcracker be free to the public,” Chamberlain says. “This gives people who typically wouldn’t have the means to attend a show the opportunity to experience dance. It’s our way of giving back,” she says.

This article was also published in the Oct.-Dec. issue of DANCE by the Dance Council of North Texas.


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