Yuba County teachers appear in Nevada County Nutcracker

Nov.23 – Teachers by day, performers by night, Wendy Fritzinger and Troy Spangler definitely know what it takes to make things crack.

The couple both teach at Lindhurst High School in Olivehurst and help produce the Nevada County Nutcracker for Center Stage Dance Studio in Grass Valley each holiday season.

Fritzinger has been a dancer since she was 3 and stumbled upon Center Stage while looking for a place to enroll her young daughter after moving to the area from Southern California.

She soon became a dance teacher herself, moving into the role of principal after helping the studio transform into a non-profit organization. Their daughter, now a Lindhurst graduate, is also a teacher at the studio and will play the magical role of the Snow Queen in the upcoming production.

For the past 18 years, the “Nutcracker” has been one of Center Stage’s most important fundraisers.

Ticket sales, registration fees, and donations all contribute to this annual tradition, which has become a staple of the community’s holiday celebrations.

The current production features over 100 performers, ranging in age from 3 to 50, including community members, students and dancers from other studios. The performances are split into “A” and “B” casts to allow all youngsters to enjoy the show on and off the stage.

“A lot of our younger kids don’t have the dance experience,” Fritzinger explained. “But we still find a place for them on our show so they can have that experience and learn what it’s like to be on stage.”

Fritzinger has managed production for the last 16 years, while Spangler has supported the technical side for almost a decade. As a photographer and multimedia expert, Spangler plans to live stream the event in two special Thursday screenings with the help of eight high school seniors.

“It’s going to be a chance for them to learn some important skills and get involved with theater behind the scenes,” Spangler said.

These Thursday performances are offered at a heavily discounted rate and are only open to local schools as a special field trip opportunity. This year, classes at Mary Covillaud Elementary School in Marysville will benefit, with the added bonus of watching their assistant principal, Dale VanLiew, perform on stage.

“This show is going to be a lot of fun and I’m excited because the fourth graders at my school are going to see all the magic unfold,” said VanLiew.

This is VanLiew’s fifth year participating alongside his wife, who serves on the board of directors of Center Stage, and their daughter, who will be appearing in several dance numbers. VanLiew has always had an affinity for the performing arts. He originally intended to attend Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, but ended up in the Navy before he could respond to his acceptance letter. VanLiew has always been a fan of slapstick humor and old school comedy, reveling in making occasional appearances on duty and later in the education system in the form of “school carnivals”.

“Making people laugh and enjoy life is such a joy,” said VanLiew. “So I started clowning as a teacher and for school, and now in The Nutcracker by playing Mother Ginger, which is just a huge comedic role. I’ve been doing this for so many years that people in the community have started to recognize me and have nicknamed me ‘Mama G.’ admit.”

In addition to this role, VanLiew also plays Clara’s father and the lamplighter, a role he created to open the show and set the tone for the audience.

During the COVID-19 hiatus, Center Stage has significantly increased its prop collection and costume inventory. These additions can be seen during next month’s performance along with some new choreography added to “keep things fresh”.

The Nevada County Nutcracker will be open to the public for a weekend only, beginning December 2nd. The show opens at 6 p.m. on Friday and is performed at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturday and a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee. All performances are at Nevada Union High School’s Don Baggett Theater at 11761 Ridge Rd. in Nevada City.

In addition to these performances, a special “Sugarplum Faerie” preview will be available at 11:30 p.m. before the 2 p.m. performances on Saturday and Sunday. This meet-and-greet opportunity allows guests to explore the stage, take photos with the performers, collect autographs, and play in the snow made by the professional snowmaking machines used during the performance.

The Sugarplum fairies will lead children onto the stage in a little dance, and the Drosselmeyer character will guide guests through the magic door and other key features of the set. A backstage tour is also offered where guests can see the costumes and props used during the show and get a taste of the giant dragon.

This excursion requires an additional ticket purchase with or without General Admission to The Nutcracker Show. Visit grassvalleynutcracker.com or contact Center Stage Dance Studio at 530-271-1200 to reserve tickets to the “Nutcracker” and/or the Sugarplum Faerie Dance & Dream Meet and Greet. For more information, visit centerstagegrassvalley.org or email [email protected]

General admission for the “Nutcracker” ranges from $15 to $23 depending on the seat. The Sugar Plum Faerie Meet and Greet is an additional $10 per person separate from the “Nutcracker” tickets.