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After a busy week, I’ve finally set aside some time to complete my 2007 Nutcracker series of essays. This is the grand finale, my first turn as an audience member for the ballet (after a couple turns behind the scenes), and my chance to watch my “little mouse” perform.

We arrived before the show about a ½ hour early, both to get seats and to get Jolie back stage to get moused up. There was a good crowd, and long lines for tickets, but we were able to slip by (a friend holding our tickets for us) and go straight to the theater doors. My in-laws, Jim and Judy (who have been visiting us), Ali, Jane, and I were attending together. Judy remained by the door, as Jane hadn’t caught up with us after handing over our mouse backstage.

Another friend, Janet, was to catch up and join us as well.

We chose seats about a third of the way up from the bottom of the theater, and, appropriately so, on the left side of the theater. Had we been a bit earlier, we may have gotten into the center seats, but as it was the seats were good- and close enough to the stage to get a good view.

While waiting for Jane and Janet to catch-up, I was privy to best acting performance of the night. A women in a red coat, with a cane, and two sons arrived at the row in front of me, where there was a lady sitting alone next to the aisle in a great seat. The seated lady held a rose, presumably for one of the performers. The acting for this scene was so outstanding; it would be inexcusable for me not to share it with you.

The handicapped lady woman (I’ll call her that because her behavior clearly indicated she is handicapped, though not in the way she wants us to believe) began to ask the seated lady if she would move to allow for her and her sons to sit there on the aisle. The seated lady politely refused, obviously having arrived early and picking a seat to give her a great view.

The h.w. went on to explain how she was handicapped, pleading for the s.l. to move, all the while leaning more heavily on her shortest and presumably youngest son in a show of physical exhaustion. There were three empty seats immediately to the left of the s.l., but it was clear the h.w. wanted the aisle seat and had planned on bullying her way into it, using her cane figuratively (I was worried for a moment she might use it literally) as a prop to get her the seat she wanted. All the while, she leaned more heavily on her son and breathed more heavily, accentuating her frail physical state. Oh, the drama.

Of course, there were lots of empty seats, on the aisle, just further from the stage.

H.w.; ” Please let us sit here, I can’t stand much longer (gasp, wheeze, a small cough then a little shudder for effect, leans heavily on small son whose shoulder is conveniently at her arm’s height). I just want to sit together with my kids.” Again s.l. politely refused.

By this time, it was clear h.w. had tried to bully the wrong person. S.l. was not going to give up her seat despite the commotion being raised by h.w. H.w.’s face turned red, and she stomped back up the aisle, leaving us all with a new Christmas greeting to explain to our kids, ” You f#@%%*# b#@#$!!!, you @@$$@###@$@!$@$#@!$!!!!$!@!$!!$.” All 50 little kids sitting within earshot sat up and took notes.

I fully expect Ali to quote h.w. next time Jolie swipes her seat at the dinner table.

If any of us innocent bystanders had any doubts about h.w.’s tact before this, or any sympathy, it quickly evaporated at her outburst; which was completely inexcusable at a holiday showing of the Nutcracker.

A few minutes later she returned part-way down the aisle with a Nutcracker volunteer. They didn’t make it as far as s.l. before turning around and heading back up the aisle. There were still seats available all over, some of them on the aisle. If she was truly suffering as much as she was showing, I would have expected her to take one of them. Eventually, Jane and Janet arrived so I quit watching to see where she ended up, though later Jane mentioned she had witnessed h.w. accosting a little teenage girl who was a volunteer usher.

Anyways, back to the purpose of our being there at all, the Nutcracker.

Regarding our seating, Janet sat to my right, Jane to my left, with Jim, Judy, and Ali left of that. The seats at the end were empty, at least until our coats landed there. Ali sat on Mimmy’s (Judy’s) lap during the first act. She re-entered the show during the second act, when she decided to move to mine.

Soon the lights went down and the ballet began.

As the curtain rose, the first thing that grabbed me was how good the stage looked. From up close, working on the props, you see all the dust, the frayed canvas, the seams that don’t quite line up. But from the audience, with the lighting, all those inaccuracies aren’t noticeable. In any case, the scene of the house, the window (where I knew someone was sitting, just out of sight), the stairs and the backdrop, all looked wonderful.

The second discovery was that I knew very little of what took place during that first scene until then. The father, the mother, the maid, and the children playing all were unknown to me until I had the chance to see it from the audience. Of course, this is because during the rehearsals I was always ½ of the dead weight on the back of the window prop.

Last, and most surprising, was after having worked backstage is how one-sided my view was. One might say my view was decidedly from the left (most people who know me wouldn’t expect anything less). Having worked only on left stage, and not being able to watch any of the early scenes, there were characters I was completely unaware of. It would be like covering half of the movie screen for a movie. While you might get the overall story, there are going to be events left unknown.

Take the maid for example, she never shows up backstage at stage left, at least behind the window. I didn’t know she existed, or that her role was so significant in providing humor to the early scenes. Likewise, I didn’t expect the dollhouse scene. It enters from stage right, as do the dolls. I had no idea that scene occurred (during my backstage stints I was probably removing snow during this time).

It was to my delight and surprise that I didn’t always know what to expect. It was fun to watch and witness the characters and scenes unfold, some of which came as a complete surprise despite my having been backstage.

The prop removal went off without a hitch, at least from my viewpoint in the audience. The window, stairs, and fireplace all rolled offstage quickly and smoothly. Soon, we were anticipating seeing our little mouse in action. During this time, I was watching stage left, knowing Jolie would come from that direction. Fortunately, Jane caught me and corrected my gaze, because Jolie actually came on stage from the right. During the dress rehearsal, all the mice had come from the left, and during the earlier performance I had been wrapping up my covert snow removal at that time.

Soon, the little mice were taking turns, a couple at a time, roaming the stage. Our little mouse, I can say unequivocally, was the best. (Actually, I had no idea which one she was during most of the performance.) I do think she was the smallest or the small mice, and she had a tendancy to hunch over a little more, making her a little more mouse like than the other rodents on stage. And, given how tired she was, and how her attitude had been deteriorating at home, I suspected she might be a little rabid.

All that aside, the mouse scenes were wonderful, the fight with the nutcracker, the little mice shuttling off presents, the agonizing death of the mouse king, and the mice pulling his carcass off stage. During some of this scene, Jolie lost a heel on a slipper. She was able to nonchalantly pull it back on when they were off to the side of the stage, but still visible, before they had another series of action. She did wonderfully, and we are very proud of her. And watching her made all the volunteer time worthwhile, maybe even her rabid attitude.

The first act wrapped up, and we all took off to stretch our legs and look for restrooms. Jane went and got Jolie, as this was her chance to watch the second act from the audience. I found a rose and bought it, then let Ali give it to Jolie when she got to us.

The second act is primarily dancing, some of which I had witnessed from stage left during the dress rehearsal. It was all wonderfully performed and fun to watch. Given the majority of the dancers are high school students; it is really a privilege to see such a good performance in Fairbanks. The professional dancers, from Atlanta I believe, managed to keep from freezing up (reference to the temperature in Fairbanks in December, not their performance) and wowed us all with their routines. What a great thing for the local community and especially the young dancers to get to witness.

Midway through the second act, Ali began asking me for candy she knew I had in my coat. She pretty much disconnected from the performance, and began putting on her own. Up until that time, she had been watching, clapping and in general keeping up with the story. When I said no, maybe for the 4th or 5th time, she entered her classic Ali pout scowl, lips out, brow furrowed, arms crossed, nose wrinkled up. It was the second or third best act of the day, somewhere right after h.w. and our little rabid mouse.

The show concluded, we wrapped up our tired kids and headed home. I even dug the candy out of my coat and gave it to Ali.

It had been a long week, or weeks. But, to my surprise I’ve discovered a new level of pride in watching a child do new things. As a parent, watching Jolie mature (I know- she is only eight) this year has been a surprising and endearing experience, different from the pride and joy one feels when a baby learns to walk, etc. Perhaps it is that she has chosen to take on something and persevered in doing so, maybe it’s something else.

I can’t quite pin it down, but it threatens to pop the buttons off of my shirt.

This first-time Nutcracker Dad is thankful to have been involved, happy to have learned something new, but also glad it is over. Until next year.

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My oldest daughter, Jolie, is in North Star Ballet’s annual Nutcracker performance this year.  Jolie has been looking forward to being in the Nutcracker since she was very little and watched the “big” girls perform, patiently waiting until she would turn 8 and could audition.   She has been cast as a “little mouse”- as opposed to a “big” mouse (whatever that means).

One of the perks of being a Nutcracker parent, other than keeping our little mouse happy, healthy, rested, and on-time to her rehearsals, is to volunteer our time to help set up, be stage-hands, etc.  Janie and I have both volunteered, Janie as a “little mouse mom” during one performance, me as haul-in (moving the equipment/props to the auditorium) labor and a stage hand for the dress rehearsal and a performance.

So, starting yesterday I began my volunteer time as a Nutcracker Dad (a moniker I’m thinking of holding on to for when the girls start dating).  This is part 1 of a 5 part series, each detailing a day (or volunteer event) in the life of a Nutcracker Dad.  Part 1 is an introduction to me, and my Nutcracker knowledge, Part 2: Haul-in Day, Part 3: Dress Rehearsal Stage-Hand, part 4: Performance Stage-Hand, and finally Part 5: Audience.

Now, time for a couple confessions:

I have never seen the Nutcracker.

Somehow, every year for the performance I have managed to be sick, working, or unfit to be around.  Around this time of year I enter into a semi-uncontrolled rage, characterized by rants on overconsumption and consumerism, fueled by paranoia, set ablaze by the stacks of fire starter (ads) that arrive in the paper and mail each day, lasting sometime until after the New Year when the post-holiday precipice of mid-winter depression claims me.

As I said, unfit to be around.

Anyways, my knowledge of the story is limited to Barbie’s Nutcracker movie, a children’s book telling the Nutcracker story, and a CD of Tchaikovsky’s music.  About the movie, nobody is so perfect they shouldn’t have to set through it at least once.  I’ve endured it many times, each for some forgotten sin (I hope I enjoyed them) or one yet to come (I hope to enjoy them).  I have no doubt that there is a separate level of hell reserved for nonstop showings of the Barbie movies, complete with a big screen, gallon sized drinks, no popcorn, and no bathrooms.

The book is ok, a simplified storyline for quick bedtime reading.  The music is beautiful.  Other than that, I’m pretty much a Nutcracker novice.

My second confession is that I have never been on a stage, or involved in a stage production.  I don’t know a thing about the stage other than it is flat, has curtains, and is often expensive to go to.  Those who know me understand I have enough personal inhibition to sabotage any private conversation, much less be involved in a group event.  Thus a lifelong aversion to the stage and anything associated with it.  (I profess stage design has some interest, it combines the design of practicing architecture without the realities of providing for permanent construction.)  So, my ignorance of the stage is somewhat worse than my knowledge of the Nutcracker (i.e. next to nothing).

Last, before I conclude part 1 I’ll apologize for anyone who may be offended by these posts.  I’m writing them from the viewpoint of a novice in the “Nutcracker” social structure.  They are meant to humorous (I hope) observations from an outsider.  I have the utmost respect for everyone involved with the production; they volunteer an incredible amount of time and effort to seeing that the Nutcracker gets performed each year for the residents of Fairbanks and do a wonderful job.  Thank you.

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