When I was about twelve, I was in my first production of "The Nutcracker." I was a child in the "Party Scene" of the first act. I had my first small taste of the limelight, for I was interviewed by my small community's news paper. This is one of the earliest memories I have of wanting to do more than steps-wanting to tell a story. When asked to describe my role, instead of stating it as most would-a child in the party scene, I said, "I'm not actually the boy who breaks the Nutcracker, Fritz is, but I play Fritz's best friend." That was me making something out of a chorus role at an early age.
In that production, I fell in love with a role. That was the role of Herr Drosselmeyer. Drosselmeyer is the mysterious, somewhat kooky inventor/magician who gives his goddaughter, Clara the Nutcracker. When I was a young boy, I would get so excited to watch how one particular actor turned dancer would portray the role. He had such a fun and whimsical way of playing him, and I swore that one day I would try to play this part.
About eight years ago, one of the best Drosselmeyers I have ever seen in a professional company stepped down at the beginning of the season. I was about twenty-one or so, but I did something that I've only done once in my career. I asked for a part. I expressed to our ballet master that I would be interested in learning Drosselmeyer. I said that it was the part I had wanted to play since I was a child, and even if they thought I was too young looking, the chance to learn it for the future would be welcomed. Lucky for me, they put me on. Ever since, I have had this part in Nutcracker to look forward to every year.
I was given a gift. My leaders took a chance by giving me this part. I was also one of the last Drosselmeyers at the Kansas City Ballet to be coached by one of the foremost experts in balletic theatrical storytelling, Todd Bolender. He picked the role to pieces and opened Dross(as we call him) up to a world of possibilities for me. He said things such as, "Dear! When you're doing this part, think of being a great bird! Use your cape to fly across the stage!" As with many actor/coach scenarios, I had already set Dross in a certain way in my mind, and Todd came in, and together we stripped the character down and built him back up.
To this day, I do the role similarly to when he coached me because it simply works. I find new ways to keep it fresh, and with live theatre one has to naturally adapt to unexpected things on stage. When "surprises" arise on stage, I welcome them as gifts. I love having to make spur of the moment decisions(as long as it isn't something that I feel gets in the way of my storytelling!) Admittedly, I have had my share of angry moments for things not going right! That's showbiz folks!
Yesterday we had our first Drosselmeyer rehearsal. We have two new dancers going on this year. I felt a sense of pride to be the veteran and watch them begin to discover the character as we worked. I look forward to sharing what I know with them. It is one way for me to keep the memory of Mr. Bolender alive.
I don't expect everyone to have the same obsession as I have had with this role. We all have different parts of our lives and careers that are exciting and serious to us. Nevertheless, I know that by passing the torch,I will be able to live vicariously through the portrayals of Drosselmeyers yet to come as I say farewell to a character who has gone from being a childhood dream of mine to a dear friend.