The Nutcracker is a staple for most any ballet theater, and Savannah Ballet Theatre is no exception. They've been doing it for years, and it's become a tradition for many families in the area around the holidays.
This year, however, promises to be different in many ways. The theater announced in a press release last month that they’d received an Investment Grant from the City of Savannah, which has gone towards the funding of a special low-sensory show for attendees on the autism spectrum, a touch tour for attendees who are blind or low-vision, and a full orchestra that will perform live during the production.
These new offerings are particularly exciting for SBT’s Education and Advancement Director Abby McCuen, who we caught up with ahead of the opening performance on Sat., Dec. 7 at 2 P.M. at the Lucas Theatre.
Tell me about this investment grant. It’s amazing what y’all are doing with the funds!
This is something that we’re very honored to receive. Anytime you get a grant, it’s not just money. It’s a stamp of approval. This is a board of commissioners and alderman who have deemed us worthy of financial compensation, and they’re also promoting us. It’s very much an honor, so we’re very blessed to have the City of Savannah’s investment grant.
It’s helping to fund quite a few things. We have the Savannah Ballet Orchestra, which is very exciting. This ballet was meant to perform with live music, so it kind of brings it full circle. It’s also helping us fund additional programming to enhance the show, which is our low-sensory productions for students, as well as the touch tour.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Nutcracker. But bringing something new to it just kind of gets me more excited about it! You don’t want it to be stagnant year after year.
Offering these low-sensory shows is really exciting, because we get to reach a very much underserved community. So the dancers get an extra performance and we get to reach all of these incredible children. It’s just an all-around incredible situation.
Why was it important for you to include this aspect of the production?
I’m an arts advocate, and I just truly believe that everybody should have access to the arts—whether it’s race, gender, socioeconomic background. I think everyone should be on the same level. I think people should sponsor a group or have grants available to keep costs down, to make the arts accessible for people.
I started looking into this, quite frankly, because folks who teach students with autism or sensory disorders were coming to me and saying, “We have no field trip opportunities. We can’t bring our group to a traditional field trip.” I thought, “Wow, that’s really sad.” This is an opportunity for a great, underserved community to come and enjoy the same exact show that the group before them saw. It’s not watered down.
How did the orchestra aspect of this year’s production come into play?
We used to have an orchestra! This is before I worked at SBT, but they hired the Philharmonic, and one of their first gigs here in town was performing The Nutcracker. It just seemed like this was a good time to bring it back. Unfortunately, we couldn't hire the Philharmonic because they have their Pops concert the same weekend, so we hired our own. We contracted all of the musicians. We have a full orchestra of 29 musicians! It's going to be really crowded in the pit [laughs]. But there'll be a lot of beautiful music.