If you have been involved with Nutcracker or other ballets involving student casts, chances are you know Lauren Kirchner! Lauren has been working at PNB since 2009, wearing many hats – including her most recent as PNB Office Manager and COVID Safety Supervisor – and has been a part of 263 Nutcracker performances over 7 seasons as the Student Cast and Parent Volunteer Coordinator.
We asked Miss Lauren to share some of her favorite Nutcracker moments as we reminisce on seasons past.
How long have you worked at PNB, and what positions have you held?
Lauren Kirchner: I have worked at PNB since the summer of 2009. During the summer of 2008, I was an intern for the Community Education department, which included teaching for PNB School’s Eastside Summer Dance Workshop. After graduating from college in 2009, I was hired to teach again for ESDW. That fall, I was offered an internship in the Marketing department as well a position as a Teaching Artist for Community Education. I interned in the Community Education Department office as well and continue to teach for the DISCOVER DANCE program. In 2011, I became the DanceChance Coordinator and spent a bit more time in the Marketing department (mostly working on Nutcracker!). I took on the role of Student Cast and Parent Volunteer Coordinator in the fall of 2013. This summer, in the height of the pandemic, I was asked to help out at the reception desk during our virtual summer course. While filling that role, I took on the role of COVID Supervisor, which ultimately led to the title of Office Manager and COVID Supervisor.
How long have you been managing the student casts? What is involved with this role, from auditions to rehearsals to shows?
LK: I have been working with the student casts since the 2013-2014 season. Prior to my filling this position, it was held by a volunteer, so when I took on the role, there was a large adjustment to shifting certain responsibilities onto this position that previously fell to the Assistant to the Artistic Director. For productions with large student casts (Nutcracker and the Family Matinees), we hold auditions each September for which I am in charge of coordinating all administrative aspects. For any other Company productions involving PNB School students, we send letters of invitations to students selected to perform. Part of my responsibility is tracking all casting and ensuring that families know the expectations of participating in any given production. During the fall of Nutcracker, I hold various meetings and trainings for families participating in Nutcracker, curl classes, Parent Volunteer Training, and Student Volunteer Orientation. Throughout the rehearsal process, most of my job is communicating with families: scheduling, shoe/costume needs, volunteers, attendance, PR/marketing needs, and anything else that might come up. I am not generally needed in the studio during rehearsals until the last week or two before we are in the theater. As we start to fold the students into larger Company rehearsals (putting the entire ballet together), I will generally attend rehearsals to both learn the ballet (if new) and assist the rehearsal directors in working the students into the production. As soon as we get into the theater, I am working closely with the rehearsal directors, stage management, and the crew to assist with all backstage aspects of student roles. The responsibilities vary somewhat from production to production, but always include walking the students to/from the stage, ensuring they are appropriately dressed and ready to perform, troubleshooting any issues that arise, working with rehearsal directors on choreography questions, guiding students into the right places backstage, showing them where to collect and return props, and teaching general backstage etiquette. During performances, I am responsible for the students from the minute they enter the theater until they are picked up after each show. I help with makeup, hair, costumes, call times, backstage moments, and everything in between. During each production, I have a group of volunteers that I really rely on to help me in the dressing rooms when I am backstage with a given group of students. Each volunteer goes through a training day to learn the appropriate makeup techniques, costume guidelines, and general backstage rules.
How many total Nutcracker performances have you attended with student casts?
LK: I believe I have been a part of 263 Nutcracker performances as the Student Cast and Parent Volunteer Coordinator. In 7 seasons of Nutcracker, I have only missed one performance and that was due to food poisoning.
Tell us about your four day hair plan!
LK: During performance weeks, especially Nutcracker, all of our schedules are a bit crazy with some long 12+ hour days and some shifts of late nights into early mornings, especially during tech weeks and while school is still in session. Due to this, I created my infamous (among student performers and my friends/family) four day hair plan so that I could have hair that looked like I put in some effort over multiple days with very minimal work required. Day one is two French braids (after a morning shower so my hair is damp). Day two I take out the braids, resulting in nice wavy hair. Day three, depending on how the waves hold up, I either have wavy hair, or pull the wavy hair back somehow. Day four is either a ponytail or bun with a washing that night. It has definitely become a staple during performance seasons all year round and saves me a lot of time!
What’s your favorite part of working with the student casts?
LK: I love the excitement of the students to be a part of such incredible productions. They are so prideful of their place in the show, no matter how big or how small. It is so incredible to see these children, as young as 7 or 8, take on such a big responsibility and always rise to the challenge. Their wonderment and awe as they take in the sets and costumes and dance alongside their heroes is truly incredible and always gets me through the longer days. I also love that I get to see the students grow up over the years, starting out as soldiers and party kids, moving up into the more challenging dance roles, and seeing their personalities develop. After 7 years, I have seen so many students grow up in the School, become backstage volunteers, and move on to incredible opportunities in college and the dance world. Not all teachers or people that work with students get that chance to see students really grow up within productions.
Do you have a favorite Nutcracker scene or scenes?
LK: I have always loved the snow scene – the music, choreography, and the magic of the snow filling the stage. Sometimes the crew even lets me make it snow.
What’s your favorite Nutcracker memory?
LK: It is not one specific memory, but one of my favorite memories from each year is the first time the students enter the theater for onstage rehearsals and get to see the stage with all of the sets. There is this wonderful feeling of excitement and the full realization that they are about to step into the world created on that stage and be a part of the magic that is Nutcracker.
What’s your most unforgettable Nutcracker memory? (I figure this may not be the same as your favorite, ha!)
LK: There are a LOT of unforgettable moments, but one of them definitely has to be when we had a Fritz that threw up in the middle of the Party Scene – I was backstage left and got paged over to stage right, being told Fritz had thrown up and ran offstage. By the time I got to stage right, he had gone back out and finished the rest of the Party Scene.
Another truly unforgettable moment was during the final Nutty Nutcracker of the Stowell/Sendak when, during the boat scene at the start of Act II, I got to make the dolphins “swim” (a dream role of mine!).
What are your holiday plans for this non-Nutcracker year?
LK: Not having Nutcracker makes this holiday season feel very strange – I am not even sure the last time I had weekends off in December and more than 42 hours off for Christmas! I am looking forward to having some time to relax, maybe work on some knitting projects, definitely watch a ton of Hallmark Christmas movies, spend time with my family, and, of course, watching The Nutcracker (I have never seen our current production from the audience)!
And any final words you’d like to share with the non-Nutcracker non-casts!
LK: I am definitely missing all of the Nutcracker traditions this season – seeing new friendships develop, meeting a whole group of new students and families, knitting hats for Seattle Children’s Hospital, helping students write shoe letters to Company and PD dancers, decorating the rehearsal hall, taking out party girl curls, doing eyeliner, the list could go on forever! I cannot wait until we can safely return to our time shared in the theater and experience the magic of Nutcracker together again. Until then, please stay safe and healthy, wear a mask, and find the little ways to enjoy the holiday season! We will be back to our usual Nutcracker fun soon.
Featured photo: Nutcracker volunteers and PNB School student performers dressed as angels in the backstage elevator at McCaw Hall. Photo courtesy of Lauren Kirchner.