Favorite Fictional Characters, #356: The Eighth Day of Christmas: Herr Drosselmeyer
I've worn a lot of different hats during my four decades, but one of the more unusual among them was my stint as Executive Director of Ballet New England, the now-defunct dance studio and professional company from Portsmouth, NH. It was 1998, I was twenty-two, and it was an adventure. Carol Walker Aten, Martha Pursley Peabody, Jaci Grote, Ellen Gramiak Patton, Angela V Carter, Tom Ferrini and others (even some students, like Ashleigh Tucker Pollock and Sarah Peabody Avendaño) will remember the financial and organizational battles from that era. Like most non-profit arts ventures, it was a constant cliffside dance, reliant on the goodwill and generosity of the community and the fierce devotion of the performers, teachers, and families who loved it. I was only there a little more than a year, but the impact of working with such dedicated and talented professionals and amateurs has always stayed with me.
Like so many dance companies, BNE relied on The Nutcracker as a cash cow. Sure, it gave the students an opportunity to perform, and the community always turned out for the holiday classic, but it also made the difference between red and black ink at the end of the year. I recall our feverish preparations in 1998, the sets and costumes and rehearsals and ticket sales (remember, Trevor Bartlett?). It was an all-hands-on-deck operation, such that even this young Executive Director found himself pressed into service as a party father on stage, drawing on tap, jazz, and ballet lessons from early adolescence. The following year was less stressful and more enjoyable, absent the crushing pressures of producing the entire nine-show slate, but also with the opportunity to work alongside my favorite Drosselmeyer, George Hosker-Bouley.
For the handful of you not familiar with The Nutcracker (or the Ball-Buster, as many of us involved with the production would call it), Herr Drosselmeyer is the mysterious uncle, the weird recluse, the magic-dabbler and questionably sane bringer of unusual gifts. He's the one who presents Clara with her Nutcracker, and depending on the version of the story, the wizard who enchants the entire Christmas scene into a battle royale between scary rodents and the heroic Snow Prince. He's a little creepy, a little deranged, but also the magnetic center of the show, the Victorian warlock, the nattier Gandalf, who brings the magic and mystery.
As I mentioned above, my favorite Drosselmeyer will always be George. Then director of the Prescott Park Arts Festival, George was the finest of our assembled character actors, a performer nonpareil among the constellation of fine thespians on the Seacoast scene. The dash and charisma, leavened with humor and slight danger, that George brought to Drosselmeyer gave the show its primal energy and spiritual center. Besides his skills as an actor, George was a patient and tireless teacher, helping the less-talented among us to achieve the vision of Artistic Director Bill Pizzuto. He's also a man I treasure as a friend. We're coming up on twenty years since those shows, half a lifetime and another marriage ago, seventy pounds and a whole continent away. But I'll never forget Drosselmeyer, or those friends from the Bean.