Nine trucks. 15 hour days. 60+ crew members. It’s a Kennedy Center tradition to host a different Nutcracker every holiday season, but as their stage crew loads in three story set pieces and 20+ foot props (some of which are so tall they must be built on stage, otherwise they won’t pass through the loading dock door), it’s clear that the Kennedy Center has never seen a Nutcracker quite like this. As a life sized doll house is rolled onto the stage and a golden sliver of a moon is hung from the ceiling with the help of a lift, Vice President of Production Glenn Turner explains this isn’t your average “lights and tights” production.
In fact, Kennedy Center Production Manager Melissa Santiago points out that it would be more apt to compare it to a full fledged Broadway production. Performed by the Atlanta Ballet, this Nutcracker is based on the original tale The Nutcracker & The Mouse King written in 1816 by E.T.A. Hoffman. It’s a darker and more magical version of the Alexandre Dumas version we all know and love, more like Brothers Grimm fairy tale than the sugary production performed all over the world.
This five day long run at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House marks the first time this production of The Nutcracker has been performed outside of Georgia since it premiered last December. With its combination of intricate (and hefty) set pieces designed by Tony-nominated scenic designer Tom Pye and the cutting edge 4K projections by award winning video designer Finn Ross, it’s not a show that was made for traveling. Not wanting to leave anything to chance (“We’re not gamblers and we don’t like surprises,” says Turner), the vice president of production flew down to Atlanta last November to watch the load in process so his team could adequately prepare for the multi-day set up.
Before the dancers don their frothy costumes and the orchestra warms up and the audience files in and the lights go down, there’s a lot of work to be done. For many other theaters, hosting this production would be impossible, but the Kennedy Center is unique in its ability to accommodate and support performances of this scale. As Turner reminds me, it helps that their loading dock is basically their front door.