A Christmas tradition will continue this year despite the coronavirus pandemic, though fans will catch it in a new way.
Ballet Theatre of Scranton will present its 45th annual production of “The Nutcracker” as a recorded performance, replacing the free live shows it presents as a “gift to the community” each December.
“I’m just excited that we can do it and that we can celebrate the holiday this way … because it’s a tradition for not only us but for so many in the community,” Artistic Director Joanne Arduino said.
In partnership with Goodwill Industries of NEPA and the Theater at North, the dance company will film the ballet at the theater and then show it on the big screen at Circle Drive-In, 1911 Scranton-Carbondale Highway, Dickson City, on Friday, Nov. 20, and Saturday, Nov. 21, at 5 and 8 p.m. Admission will be free.
Additionally, WOLF/WSWB/WQMY television stations will broadcast the performance four times from Wednesday, Dec. 23, to Saturday, Dec. 26.
The troupe traditionally performs its “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” at the Santa Parade in downtown Scranton, which happens annually on the weekend before Thanksgiving. With that parade not happening this year, Arduino noted, Ballet Theater decided to “kick off the holiday season with our production” by taking it to the drive-in.
“I’m hopeful that … it will also contribute to the frivolity of (the public’s) holiday season because this will be a very different holiday season, in that so many events are canceled because they cannot be done indoors,” she said. “I think it will give them the opportunity to go outdoors to an event and sit in the comfort of their own cars, drink hot chocolate, stay warm with their whole family and enjoy the production.”
Then, during the week of Christmas when the show typically takes place, the public can sit back and watch the show at home.
The new approach does present some challenges, though. Arduino had to approach casting knowing that she could only have 25 people indoors for the recording at a time, including the lighting, camera operators and other behind-the-scenes folks. Arduino will use some footage from the larger, more grandiose scenes from last year’s production to keep the spirit of “The Nutcracker” alive in the final film.
Arduino sees maintaining social distancing in the choreography as the biggest challenge. The dancers won’t hold hands or touch each other unless they wear gloves, and she is considering having face masks made to match costumes for more populous dance numbers. Otherwise, dancers will perform sans masks.
And while the troupe usually auditions for the show in early October and has until the end of December to ready the production, this year, Arduino held auditions in September to make sure they’d be ready to record the show in early November. That will give Ballet Theatre time to edit the footage together.
“It’s taken a lot of coordination between not only the drive-in but the normal coordination of putting on a production … but add on top of that the videotape and editing,” Arduino said. “It has complicated it somewhat, so it will take more time, more finances. So I think that’s been a challenge.”
Nevertheless, she noted, this new presentation is “going to give it a new look and be very interesting — a different look than it would be on stage but just as beautiful.”
“I think the parents and the families of the production are so excited to just be keeping the normalcy in their lives,” Arduino said. “And of course, the dance, this is such a tradition for them that they were going to miss it terribly. And for the organization, in general, to have presented this for 44 years free to the public and then with the pandemic, considering that possibly it wouldn’t happen, we wanted to be sure to offer this to the community.”
For information, call 570-3472867 or visit balletscranton.org.
Caitlin Heaney West is the content editor for Access NEPA and oversees the Early Access blog in addition to working as a copy editor and staff writer for The Times-Tribune. An award-winning journalist, she is a summa cum laude graduate of Shippensburg University and also earned a master’s degree from Marywood University. Caitlin joined the Times-Shamrock family in 2009 and lives in Scranton. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5107; or @cheaneywest