Tchaikovsky’s music to be livestreamed in this year’s production of ‘The Nutcracker’
By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press
Last year, audiences enjoyed four live performances of “The Nutcracker” at Wilson Memorial High School.
This year, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Shenandoah Civic Dance Company’s 38th annual “The Nutcracker” will be livestreamed on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The opportunity to perform in this year’s production is a literal dream come true for Megan Kilmer, 18, a student at Grace Christian High School.
“I’ve dreamed of being Clara since I was a little girl,” said Kilmer.
Kilmer portrayed the rose in “Waltz of the Flowers” in last year’s production at Wilson Memorial High.
On Saturday, audience members will see Kilmer in the role of Clara, the girl who falls in love with the Nutcracker.
Kilmer, a member of the Staunton Academy of Ballet, said she has been dancing and performing for 10 years.
“Usually, we would have two or three live performances [of “The Nutcracker”], but we can’t for safety reasons [this year],” Kilmer said.
Last Saturday, performances were filmed with social distancing for 10 hours at The Wayne Theater in Waynesboro.
“It was definitely a weird experience,” Kilmer said of filming versus performing live.
She said the studio did a great job of making sure the performers were comfortable and safe.
“It did feel like a dream, but it’s a dream come true,” Kilmer said.
Kilmer said she hopes that seeing this year’s performance livestreamed will bring audience members a sense of normalcy to their holiday season.
“I hope that they can enjoy [the production] as they would any other year,” Kilmer said.
She said she knows the production is a tradition for “a lot of people to see it with their families.”
Normally, performers would have one week of rehearsals on stage, but this year during filming, Kilmer said, performers had opportunities to start over if any major mistakes happened.
Kilmer said she knows she and her fellow performers are fortunate that the production was not completely cancelled this year.
“It was really a blessing to be able to do it,” she said.
Pamela McCray, director of The Shenandoah Civic Dance Company and the Staunton Academy of Ballet, said she and staff “didn’t think we were going to be able to have a Nutcracker.”
And they were disappointed for the children, who grow up performing and aspiring to portray certain roles in the production.
So they thought about filming the performance, but where would they perform?
For 36 years, “The Nutcracker” was performed at Robert E. Lee High School, now Staunton High School, until renovations last year meant the performance would have to be moved to Wilson Memorial High.
Then, McCray said, The Wayne Theater had an opening.
“We thought film would be the very best option, because we could cut down on the number we had of crew,” McCray, who lives in Mint Spring, said.
Parents normally help out backstage during the production, but COVID-19 restrictions would limit the number of crew backstage this year.
“Filming just seemed like the best option,” McCray said.
Rehearsals for the production’s 100 performers were held during regular classes, and filming began at noon last Saturday.
“It was quite a full day,” McCray said.
As Clara, McCray said that Kilmer “was there for the entire filming.”
Livestreaming the performance without charge will make “The Nutcracker” available for everyone to see, especially grandparents who usually travel to the Valley.
“Everyone can see, and see these young people dancing and being joyful,” McCray said.
She added that she hopes the production helps audience members focus on their blessings during the struggles created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We hope it brings some Christmas cheer. We always call “The Nutcracker” ‘Nutcracker magic.’”
“The Nutcracker” is a family affair for McCray. Her daughter, Shanda, teaches with her. Her son directs backstage and her son-in-law handles music for the production.
She said they are “glad that we didn’t try to have an audience” this year because CDC restrictions during the pandemic keep changing.
Audience members, families and friends can view the performance at 7 p.m. on Saturday during what McCray calls the production’s “world premiere” via a link available on the Staunton Academy of Ballet’s Facebook page, and also view the performance afterward.
“We’re just delighted to be able to bring this to the community and to our dancers,” McCray said.