By Ed Albanesi
I rode in this yearâ€™s St. Augustine Christmas Parade and I was struck most by the wide smiles pasted to the faces of nearly all the participants and those watching. After hours of practice I employed a modified â€œQueen of Englandâ€ wave to friends and perfect strangers alike. The overwhelming majority smiled and waved back. But more about smiling later.
I was privileged to ride in the St. Augustine Ballet float with Tommy Bledsoe, a friend much braver than I, who was dressed in drag as the Mother Ginger figure from the Nutcracker Ballet. He did a wonderful job but, if the truth be known, I think he will be far happier reprising his role as Claraâ€™s father in this yearâ€™s Nutcracker production. Tommy and I were joined on the float by Tommyâ€™s wife, Joy, and about a dozen of the younger dancers from the ballet.
In addition to having a daughter who will be part of the Nutcracker cast for the fourth consecutive year, I spend considerable effort helping my wife, Carol, run the Nutcracker Boutique before, during and after the four performances of the ballet. All of the net proceeds from boutique sales go to support the St. Augustine Ballet and dance education in our community.
The scope of the boutique has grown each year since 2011, when Carol first took on the task of shopkeeper and fundraiser. The first year it was mostly flowers and some ornaments and music boxes.
â€œWe didnâ€™t sell a lot of nutcracker figures because another mother and teacher was running that concession,â€ recalled Carol. â€œThis year weâ€™ll have nutcrackers aplenty, from small to very large.â€
One of the more popular parts of the boutique is the combined raffle and silent auction section. In addition to other duties, it is my responsibility to run this area.
Once again we will have one large (32â€) nutcracker (four total) signed by the ballet principals (Orlando Molina, Arionel Vargas, Margit Peguero and Daet Rodriquez) at silent auction during each of the ballet performances. Luis Abella, the director, and Harlow Hatin, the dancer in the role of Clara, will also sign the nutcracker bases.
This yearâ€™s raffle will have young children begging their parents and grandparents to buy â€œjust a few more tickets.â€
We will have two full-sized American Girl dolls with extra outfits. There will be an American Girl doll case awarded, as well as a fourth American Girl themed package containing two mini-dolls.
The raffle item that will likely draw the most ticket deposits is the one donated by Sea World. In addition to a generous selection of logo items, Sea World has provided us with four tickets to both Sea World Park and Aquatica. The entire Sea World package is valued at more than $700.
We will be selling tickets for $5, with 3 for $10, 7 for $20 and 20 for $50. Buyers can deposit raffle tickets in any or all of the five separate raffles.
â€œI started working on stocking the boutique last January,â€ said Carol. â€œMy association with the ballet lets me act as a buyer from merchants such as Burton and Burton, Mark Roberts and Kurt Adler.
â€œSavvy shopping allows me to get quality items that I can sell at prices lower than are generally available elsewhere. I also comb eBay and the rest of the Internet looking for bargains,â€ Carol added.
Most Nutcracker patrons appreciate the convenience to purchase reasonably priced flowers in the lobby at the performances. Each bouquet is individually re-assembled from flowers acquired locally. â€œPublix has been very generous in donating pails and other supplies to help us with our efforts,â€ noted Carol.
Most bouquets sell for $10 but Carol will put together fancier and pricier ones upon request. Best of all, a substantial portion of each flower purchase goes to support the ballet.
Parents of the dancers and other ballet supporters help Carol run the boutique and she is always looking for volunteers to help set up, sell and put together the flower bouquets.
Last year all four performances were virtual sellouts and that may happen again this year. The good news is that you donâ€™t need to attend the ballet to shop at the Nutcracker Boutique.
Located in the lobby of the Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College, the boutique opens when the doors open for each ballet performance.
The Nutcracker will be performed at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 20 and Sunday, Dec. 21. Tickets are available online at www.saintaugustineballet.com
Oh yeah, I promised more about smiles. Those same smiles generated by the Christmas parade will be rekindled when you watch our local youngsters dance their hearts out in this yearâ€™s St. Augustine Nutcracker.
I guarantee it.