Having fun fundraising for a virtual Nutcracker ballet

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The show must go on is the mantra of dedicated families in the dance community and their commitment to producing the 28th annual Nutcracker Ballet this winter, a first-time virtual experience, though, due to the COVID pandemic.

Last weekend a pair of positive, can-do women hosted a successful garage sale at the Bus Barn parking lot to benefit production of this year’s virtual Nutcracker Ballet. I was taken by the friendliness, enthusiasm, and aprons of Jennifer Thrasher and Kristin Hummel, board members of Whidbey Island Dance Theatre (WIDT), a non-profit, which produces the Nutcracker each year. Both women have daughters in the dance company and worked hard to organize the well-attended garage sale over Labor Day weekend.

Jennifer Thrasher, left and Kristin Hummel, worked hard and had fun to raise funds for this year’s virtual Nutcracker ballet performance by hosting a garage sale.

“I love helping out and being involved,” said Jennifer Thrasher, who is also a gymnastics teacher for Island Dance and Gymnastics, the for-profit dance studio which houses its sister dance company, WIDT. “It keeps me busy — lol —it was so good. So amazing. We earned way more than we expected. It was awesome. A lot of work, but it was fun. We worked on this for six weeks.”

Jennifer’s daughter, Maliya, 12, is a dancer with WIDT, and celebrated her birthday over the weekend. “‘I’m celebrating my birthday at a garage sale,’” Jennifer said of her daughter’s comments for celebrating twelve times ‘round the sun.

“This Nutcracker will be unforgettable,” added Kristin Hummel, whose daughter Emmalynn Rochholz, 12, is a dancer with WIDT, and helped out at the garage sale over the weekend. “The lessons these children will learn. I was looking at my daughters (Emmalyn and Amelia, 10, also a dancer, walking around. They were doing raffle sales. Man what a learning experience for them to see the hours, the time commitment. My daughters saw the end result of all that effort. All around it was a fantastic experience and it gave us a vision of what is possible. The garage sale was successful.”

Young shopper at WIDT garage sale for this season’s virtual Nutcracker Ballet

On its webpage, WIDT asks for community support in the absence of its annual fundraiser, which was cancelled last May, due to the coronavirus pandemic: “Although our spring performance and gala fundraiser is cancelled due to the pandemic, WIDT still has bills to pay and still has to prepare for The Nutcracker 2020 (God willing). This means we still need support from anyone who loves the performing arts, wants to keep live dance alive on Whidbey Island, and has the means to do so.”

The Nutcracker Store, at which Kristin was the store lead, also raised revenue, but will be closed this year as well.

Usually performed at the South Whidbey High School auditorium, this year’s Nutcracker will have a smaller cast and be filmed on the Whidbey Children’s Theatre stage due to the coronavirus pandemic making the high school auditorium unavailable. Char Brown and Brittany Falso, co-artistic directors of WIDT, came up with an innovative alternative: film and possibly stream the performance this year.

“Some of their ideas are incredible,” said Daunne Zinger, a WIDT board member who submits grant requests for the school’s funding, teaches dance and stretch classes for Island Dance, and serves as WIDT’s point woman for publicity. “They (Char and Brittany) are the artistic vision. “The Board will be responsible for promoting and marketing the final product. We are currently exploring ways to do that either through purchase of DVD’s or a pay-for-view streaming link through WIDT’s website—that’s how we’ll generate revenue.”

With Island Dance opening this week, social distancing, and safe practice are part of the dance school’s protocol.

“Island Dance has it all set up,” Jennifer Thrasher said. “All students are screened for temperature, they wear masks. Depending on the size of the room, there are six to 15 students in a class, six to 10 feet apart. They social distance. Pretty much all girls are in the same level. For kids who can’t come in to dance, we Zoom from home, which we did from March to June. I Zoomed my gymnastics classes from home. We were able to come up with a strategy. My daughter did her ballet in her room. Parents were amazing who helped their kids get set up. Dance is such an important part of life. Parents and kids said, ‘I’ll find any way to make this happen.’  Island Dance was able to cut flooring pieces for girls on point shoes to use. Charlene Brown and her daughter, Jamee Pitts, who own Island Dance, really made accommodations. For me and my daughter it is a lifesaver. Still her lifesaver.”

Principal dancers performing in a previous Nutcracker Ballet, produced by Whidbey Island Dance Theatre. Photo shared by Brittany Falso

Char Brown said this year’s performance will include WIDT’s ‘company girls,’ dancers who train on a preprofessional level, as well as a few adult community dancers. 

“We are in the casting phase now,” Char said. “We plan on starting rehearsals in the mid-September and they run through Nov. 15. Then we will film the production. This year because we can’t perform as usual, we felt it was important to have the dancers look forward to a reason to train. Filming this Nutcracker will be a different experience.”

‘Clara’ dances in a previous production of the Nutcracker Ballet, produced by Whidbey Island Dance Theatre. Photo shared by Brittany Falso

Brittany Falso is one of the teachers for the company dancers with WIDT and as mentioned, co-artistic director with Char Brown. Brittany explained the role she shares with Char: “In a nutshell, an artistic director plans the season for the company. We produce all the performances and all that it entails (contracting choreographers, lighting designers, stage crew, etc.). We also travel to a dance festival and other performance opportunities off-island and often spend time in different states. Our goal is to facilitate an enriching experience for these dancers that will carry over into their futures. We write girls’ recommendation letters to help with scholarships. Whether they go on to dance programs in college or being a part of something else, WIDT gives them an experience unlike anything else here on Whidbey.”

To learn more about the virtual Nutcracker production this winter, visit this website.

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