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Arts & Life

Inside The Nutcracker

This year marks the Kansas City Ballet’s 39th annual production of The Nutcracker. It’s a holiday tradition, with a cast of more than 200, mostly children.

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Rebecca Smith, the stage manager, is the one charged with the herculean task of coordinating all of the students, dancers, costumes and props. Not surprisingly, she's hard to keep up with this time of year.

"If I lose you, just let me know," Smith said. "I kind of have a habit of walking quickly around here."

It’s just before 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon at the Kansas City Ballet’s Bolender Center, two weeks before The Nutcracker opens. Smith, who has wide blue eyes and chin-length dark hair, walks quickly into the main dance studio.

"I’m just popping in. (I'm) making sure all the dancers are here, making sure the pianist is here, and everything is ready to start."

It’s Smith’s first year on the job. Before this, she worked for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines as a production stage manager. She says it’s not quite like being in the middle of a ship, but there are some similarities.

"It’s definitely prepared me to deal with a lot of things happening. (And) finding ways to deal with situations as they come up on the spur of the moment," Smith says.

After a trip to her office in the basement to pick up a table, she walks upstairs again and checks in with one of her assistants, Derek Kaspar, about the night’s schedule of rehearsals.

"Flowers and snow are happening in 1, mirlitons and trepaks in 3, and Claras and Princes are in 2," reads Smith from her clipboard. "Other than that, just photos."

In a red plaid shirt, and slightly stubbly beard and glasses, Kaspar settles in outside a 2nd floor rehearsal studio with his clipboard in hand. Girls, hair twisted into pin curls, wear white, pale pink, light red and blue leotards; they sit cross legged on the floor chatting, or reading books.

He calls the next in line for the student photo shoot: "Ladies...Ellie Murphy...is Ellie here?"

Kaspar was raised in a big family, with three sisters.  He puts some of those experiences to use with a cast of 177 children.

"Patience is key, and kind of going with the flow," says Kaspar. "And realize that they’re just excited."

Tika Cole, from North Kansas City, waits with her son, Orion. Her 10-year-old daughter, Reagan Bowers, dances as an Angel in this year’s production.

"She's in seven performances," says Cole. "It takes dedication to be a part of this, and you have to really want it."

It’s a big time commitment, but Cole says the staff is organized and she was forewarned. There are weeks of rehearsals before opening; the company dancers rehearse during the week – and students join rehearsals on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, between 8 to 20 hours.

There are several casts, but 20 performances this year. That's up from 15 – 17 in previous years.

Stage manager Rebecca Smith says it's an ongoing challenge – making sure everyone has timely information.

"Because there are so many people involved, it’s hard to make sure everyone has everything." Smith says she makes a lot of phone calls, and returns calls "triple checking to make sure everyone has every possible piece of information that they need."

Deanna Munoz, from Kansas City, Kansas, says, not too long ago, she was an angel in a Kansas City Ballet production of The Nutcracker. This year, her 8-year-old daughter, Priscilla has roles as Angel and Mother Ginger Extra. "For me and her, it’s kind of daughter/mom time, so it’s been great."

Rebecca Smith also danced in The Nutcracker, when she was growing up in Michigan.Throughout college, she continued to dance – and study technical theatre design and production. Smith says as stage manager, she tries to stay on top of it all.

"You have to kind of thrive on stress," she says. "(And) get used to having five or six things going on at the same time."

When the curtain rises for each performance of The Nutcracker, Smith says she’ll be ready to "call" the show.

The Kansas City Ballet presents The Nutcracker, with music by Peter I. Tchaikovsky and choreography by Kansas City Ballet’s former Artistic Director Todd Bolender, through December 24th at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Information about parking can be found here.

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