Stage managers create behind-the-scenes magic for “The Nutcracker”

Behind every scene change, lighting cue and big reveal is a stage manager making sure it all goes according to plan. For this year’s annual performance of “The Nutcracker,” fourth year stage management student Ashley Pennington is serving as the production stage manager — a role that she has trained for three years to have.

From coordinating rehearsals to making sure all 12 departments in Design and Production are on the same page, she works closely with everyone involved in this iconic production with the goal of giving audiences an experience that is both magical and flawlessly executed.

We sat down with Pennington to learn more about her role in the production, what some of her biggest challenges have been and what it’s like being back in the Stevens Center again.

What is your role working on “The Nutcracker”?

I started as a production assistant, and have moved up to production stage manager this year. It has been a really great experience to be able to go through all four of those levels and have different and increased responsibilities each year. I am so grateful for [“Nutcracker” director] Ilya Kozadayev and all of the dance faculty for doing such a great job with this production, and for allowing me to continue on with it for four years. It has truly been one of the highlights of my time at UNCSA.

Ashley Pennington

Production Stage Manager Ashley Pennington working with choreographer and director Ilya Kozadayev at a rehearsal for "The Nutcracker." / Photo: Kendall Best

Editor's Note: Rounding out the stage management team, Victoria Coulter is serving as stage manager for this year's “Nutcracker” production, with Chloe Lupini as assistant stage manager and Jessica Maida as production assistant.

What is your favorite part about working on this production?

My favorite part is getting to work with all of the dancers and everyone in the School of Dance. In Design and Production, we work with all of the schools — but I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the Dance faculty and students, in particular. This is my fourth year on “Nutcracker,” and getting to develop those relationships and see the show progress from the version I saw my first year to the version we have now has been really exciting.

What is it like bringing “The Nutcracker” back to live performance at the Stevens Center safely in 2021?

I am so excited that we’re back in the Stevens Center. I have been hoping for it all year after we did the filmed version last year. There is nothing I missed more than being in that space. This year is a little different from previous years, since we are fully masked and taking COVID-19 precautions, but just the excitement of being back in the Stevens Center is something I’ve been looking forward to for so long. I know that the dancers and the rest of the crew are all really excited, and I know it’s going to be a really good time to be fully back. It’s been dearly missed.

I know that the dancers and the rest of the crew are all really excited, and I know it’s going to be a really good time to be fully back [performing in the Stevens Center].

Ashley Pennington

What are some of the production’s biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge is the necessary communication between so many people. There are 82 dancers and five Dance faculty members that we need to coordinate with, as well as all 12 departments from Design & Production — so good communication is very important. Because the production has evolved from previous years, there are also a lot of changes and new things happening. So, we have been figuring out what we can keep from previous versions and what needs to be updated. It has been a lot of mixing things up and changing them around, but I can’t wait to see the final version.

by Melissa Upton-Julio

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November 23, 2021