The Nutcracker: Behind the Scenes


As we approach Thanksgiving, it’s hard to believe that the holiday season is here once again! We all have our own holiday traditions: listening to holiday music, making gingerbread houses, going ice skating… maybe even seeing a holiday show! Luckily, two writers here at Unleashed are cast members of The Nutcracker at the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts!

My name is Aiden and I am part of the cast along with Sarah Underkofler. Both Sarah and I can be seen throughout the show, as I am cast as a featured dancer in the roles of Russian Principal and *Soldier Doll, while Sarah can be seen as part of Flowers and *Chinese Corps (*select performances only). I wanted to provide a little look behind the curtain because for me this is one of my favorite holiday traditions and I would love to share some of the magic with you all. Who knows, maybe some of you will even have the chance to see the show while it is running Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 26-28).

This year’s production is special for a few reasons: due to COVID-19, this is the first time we get to perform this production in 2 years! Additionally, with Sarah and I both being seniors, this will most likely be our last time a part of this production, at least for a while since we will be off at college next year. Lastly, the year prior to the pandemic, thanks to a tremendous donation, The Nutcracker set got a makeover with new custom set designs from New York, the same set designers that created some of your favorite Broadway shows. The sets are truly spectacular; you really just need to see them for yourself!

But obviously, we are still in the midst of the pandemic so rehearsals haven’t gone without difficulty. The first week of rehearsals there was already a positive case in the cast, but thanks to the rigorous health protocols put in place, any potential outbreaks were prevented. In order to be able to perform without a mask onstage, the cast is required to be fully vaccinated, and audience members are required to either show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. Although the pandemic has definitely made this production more difficult, we couldn’t be more excited to get back on the Hanover Theatre’s beautiful stage and continue this holiday tradition! This past Saturday (November 20) we finally got to move into the theater again, and getting to see all the brand new sets and lighting is just spectacular. My two roles, Soldier Doll and Russian Lead have been my dream roles for so long, and getting to be a featured performer and soloist in this semi-professional production is absolutely a dream come true.

Sarah and I have put in so much time and work into this production, as well as the rest of our cast mates, and we couldn’t be more excited to share it with you all. Putting on a full production in COVID times is no easy task, but after everything we have been through in the past 2 years, I think we all can benefit from some holiday spirit.


Nutcracker season. What a crazy time for me and Aiden’s life. These past 3 months have honestly been wild to say the least. After 11 years of participating in this production, you would think I have it down to a science, but you would be mistaken. Every year brings its own unique “flair,” whether that be new choreography, cast member drama, new costumes, set malfunctions, injuries, or even stepping into a role you’ve only ever seen performed once. 

It all starts one fall September Sunday, where roughly 200 eager young dancers stream into the lobby of the Hanover Theatre, all present with one ambition in common: to get cast in this year’s Nutcracker ballet production. 

After a full day of technique auditions and callbacks, dancers who have not been cut by that point have to wait 3 WHOLE DAYS for the cast list to come out. I think Aiden and I can speak for everyone when I say these 3 days drag on for what seems like an eternity. Then finally, Wednesday, at 3 pm we get an email that will determine the level and breed of chaos we will be enduring from then until Thanksgiving.

For the next 12 weeks, both Aiden and I attend roughly 5-6 hours of rehearsals every Saturday (and I also have a couple hours on Wednesday and Thursday because of my roles), from hours of choreography, to cleaning, and even technique-based ballet “clinics.” This year, I was lucky enough to be cast en pointe (the special type of ballet where you’re on your literal toes. I will attach a picture below) for both of my roles. As an all around competitive dancer who does not focus on ballet throughout the regular season, going from 1 hour of pointe a week to sometimes more than 8 is ROUGH on the feet. I wish I could say it’s all rainbows and butterflies and dancing en pointe isn’t painful at all, but my pants would be sky high up in flames if I did. 

But hey, in my opinion, the end result is worth the pain. 

The pure magic of standing out on the Hanover Stage amongst the enchanting sets, live orchestra, and costumes, all while providing memories and experiences for 2,300 audience members is indescribable (I know I just described it, but I swear, my words don’t even catch the half of it). Even if the plot seems a little bizarre; like, seriously, I don’t think any of my dreams have ever been half as elaborate as Clara’s (the main character), if you want the perfect way of transitioning from the swing and stress of fall into the joyous, spirited, holiday and winter season, The Nutcracker is by far your best bet.

The Nutcracker at The Hanover Theatre is running Thanksgiving Weekend (November 26-28). Tickets are sold online on The Hanover Theatre’s website.