Nutcracker All Jazzed up

Otsego High School Principal Kevin O’Shea, as Mother Ginger, waves a school flag last year during “The Nutcracker … All Jazzed Up.”

Taking the stage for “The Nutcracker … All Jazzed Up” is a chance to put on a stunning costume, apply some over-the-top makeup and be a star for a few hours.

The men just love it.

“It seems like a fun tradition associated with that particular piece and I thought, why not?” said Steve Robinson, president of Owens Community College.

He’ll be in costume as Mother Ginger for the Friday performance at the Owens Performing Arts Center on the Perrysburg campus. Other Mother Gingers this year are Paul Waldo, a father of a dancer, performing Saturday afternoon; Joe Boyle, Sentinel-Tribune columnist and Toledo teacher, Saturday evening; and Tim Barker, a teacher at Julie’s Dance Studio, Sunday afternoon.

Over the last 13 years that “Nutcracker” — the Tchaikovsky ballet with a jazzy twist — has been put on by Julie’s Dance Studio, dozens of local celebrities have assumed the role of Mother Ginger. The character, who herds dancing elves under her skirts and blows kisses, is traditionally played by a man.

“Nutcracker” is on the move this year. After years of performances at Bowling Green State University, then the Performing Arts Center on the Bowling Green City Schools campus, it is moving to Owens. Show dates and times are Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Julie Setzer has had her dance studio for 35 years — its current home is the Woodland Mall in Bowling Green.

“Mother Ginger is the Gift of Children in our Land of Sweets scene and traditionally Mother Ginger is a man who is dressed up as a woman,” Setzer said. “It’s all for comedic purposes.”

No dancing experience is needed for the role, she said.

“They are just supposed to be silly,” Setzer said. “We try to give them a purse and they can put anything in that purse that they want to.”

One year, Sentinel-Tribune photographer J.D. Pooley pulled a camera out of his bag. Otsego High School Principal Kevin O’Shea has been known to fling the flag of the Knights around the stage.

“We don’t give them any restrictions. We let them have fun,” Setzer said. “I love our ‘Nutcracker’ and I look forward to it every year, but one of the highlights is seeing what this Mother Ginger’s going to do — because you just never know. And I’ve been floored a few times.”

The Mother Ginger scene is one of the more elaborate ones for Setzer’s “Nutcracker.” The character’s skirt is a massive cage that is rolled on stage. Mother Ginger uses a ladder to climb to the top of the skirt, while dozens of child dancers squeeze into the skirt contraption.

Robinson said that he will draw on his experience in theater for his turn on stage. He was a theater major in college before switching to English.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been in theater makeup,” he said. “Hopefully the makeup will come off. At least make sure I can lead a board meeting next week.”

He was asked to take on the role by Wade Gottschalk, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission, whose daughter dances at Julie’s Dance Studio.

Robinson said he told Gottschalk right away he would do it.

“It’s happening on our campus,” Robinson said.

During the interview for this story, he pulled up YouTube videos of “The Nutcracker” to check out some Mother Ginger performances.

“It appears the theme is a big hooped skirt that lots of people go in and out of. I think I can do that,” Robinson said.

Boyle is feeling a little less confident, but is up for the challenge.

“I am like a rhythm vacuum. In my high school musicals, my director specifically put me in roles with no dancing required. This felt like some kind of karmic grace, and I couldn’t say no,” he said about being offered the Mother Ginger role.

O’Shea said being Mother Ginger was memorable.

“It was an amazingly fun experience for me and I was so honored and blessed to have had the opportunity to do it multiple times,” he said.

O’Shea estimated he has filled the role three or four times.

While makeup took 15 minutes to put on, it was a challenge to return to his principal face.

“Almost a year later I am still taking it off. I think I went through an entire tub of my wife’s makeup remover wipes, a bottle of Dawn soap, and a face scrubber,” O’Shea said. “I still think you can see red dots on my cheeks.”

His family had a good laugh at the makeup and costume — especially the fake eye lashes.

“Overall, this was truly a wonderful experience that got me in the holiday spirit and allowed me to see some very talented kids perform in an amazing show,” O’Shea said.

His advice to this year’s Mother Gingers was to smile big and wave to the kids,

“Make it your own. Have fun with it and good luck getting that makeup off,” O’Shea said.

Bowling Green City Schools Superintendent Francis Scruci has also taken a turn in the Mother Ginger costume.

He said most of his rehearsal time was spent a home “deciding how to artistically portray the character of Mother Ginger.”

Scruci said he had a great time performing with many of the district’s students.

“I was blown out of the water on how many hours our students rehearsed and prepared for the production. It gave me a whole different perspective and appreciation for how hard they work to make it a great production.”

He urged the new actors to enjoy the performance.

“There is a Mother Ginger in all of us. Dig deep and pull her out and have fun with it,” Scruci said.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.nutcrackerjazzedup.com or at the door.

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