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Schuyler Beeman of Guilford and Shannon Cushing of North Haven are the story director and artistic director, respectively, of a magical re-telling of the classic Nutcracker with new choreography and a few plot twists. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Cushing )
The New Year’s Nutcracker will feature ballerinas from Studio Be in North Haven. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Cushing )
Schuyler Beeman, center, works with the Studio Be dancers. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Cushing )
Shannon Cushing; Joe Yaccarino, who will play the Nutcracker; and Schuyler Beeman work with dancers from Studio Be. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Cushing )
Shannon Cushing, the artistic director of The New Year’s Nutcracker, says Michelle Bonavena, the owner of Performing Arts Studio Be in North Haven, has been essential to the success of the production. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Cushing )
“Artists are all a little quirky, but that’s what makes art interesting. Without the quirks, we are disposed to a life of uniformity. Shannon’s goal with her students is to make them understand and celebrate their quirks and use them to their greatest advantage,” says story director Schuyler Beeman of Shannon Cushing, artistic director, in front. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Cushing )
The New Year’s Nutcracker will be performed one night only at The High Lane Club, 40 High Lane, North Haven on Saturday, Jan. 4 at 5 p.m. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Cushing )
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Schuyler Beeman usually doesn’t like doing anything Christmas-y after Christmas, but this year he will make an exception.
The Guilford resident, who has a background in musical theater, is collaborating with North Haven resident Shannon Cushing, who has a background in ballet, to produce what they are calling The New Year Nutcracker at The High Lane Club, 40 High Lane, North Haven at 5 p.m. at the end of the first week of the new year on Saturday, Jan. 4.
This is their own version of the classic holiday ballet, with new and original choreography produced for Michelle Bonavena, the owner of Performing Arts Studio Be in North Haven and her students, says Cushing.
The show is designed to be open to anyone of any religion, faith, or tradition. The story is set in New Year’s Eve 2019, and reflects the journey of Clara who, in this telling of the tale, is a quiet yet strong young lady who is a passionate photographer.
“Clara wants nothing more on this New Year’s Eve than to have an evening alone with her mother and deployed father,” Beeman says. “Instead, a giant party ensues with a house full of guests Clara doesn’t know, or care to know. Enter the cool Aunt Drosselmeyer with a gift...”
What happens after that?
You’ll have to see the show to find out.
Expect plot twists.
As important as the fun that will happen on stage, say Cushing and Beeman, is the process by which the show came into being.
“Our goal with these dancers is to allow and encourage them to be the most compelling version of themselves while they dance,” says Beeman. “With their innate drive as competition dancers, we are seeing incredible moments of growth and joy, that as dance educators, brings the ultimate happiness one can experience.”
Cushing met Beeman in the fall while they were both performing professionally with a local dance company. Cushing says they quickly realized they were kindred spirits with a love for, and a determination to share, the arts.
“As soon as I met Schuyler, I realized he was my artistic twin. He was fresh off a tour with Isabella Rossellini, jetlagged, adjusting to life back home in Guilford, and trying to learn an entire ballet in an hour,” Cushing says. “Even though he had a lot on his plate, he was positively hysterical. That’s how I go through life, too. I always try to find the humor. I knew we would be good friends.”
Cushing says they maintained their friendship after the show wrapped. As they spent time hiking with Beeman’s show dog Marti, who starred on Broadway as Sandy in Annie, the talk turned to their creative work. With both of them in their 30s and, Cushing says, “ready to set aside the growing pains of pursuing something solo,” they asked themselves what they might be able to do for the community.
“Thus, Wingin’ It Productions was born,” Cushing says, and the revamped Nutcracker became their first big project.
Beeman admits that the growth and joy they are seeing and experiencing has come with some bumps, but, as artists, they expected that.
“Artists are all a little quirky, but that’s what makes art interesting. Without the quirks, we are disposed to a life of uniformity. Shannon’s goal with her students is to make them understand and celebrate their quirks and use them to their greatest advantage,” he says.
She says the joy they take in the quirks and creativity has served as fuel to propel them forward.
“I am always in my head. Constantly thinking, creating. Texting my friends with ideas. It’s just how I operate. My parents always encouraged my creativity and I hope to do the same with these kids, and my own. Art is about celebrating what makes us unique, telling great stories, bringing joy, and even working through difficult things,” she says.
Wanting Something More
Cushing says that, as a North Haven resident, this production feeds her soul in another way as well. Quite simply, she wants more opportunities for the arts in her hometown, where she is raising her family.
The collaboration expanded to include Bonavena of Studio Bee and Sandy Mascia of Spotlight Theatre, who Cushing says has similar dreams for the town. And then the team signed on Michael Freda, North Haven’s first selectman. There are now plans to create a North Haven Arts Initiative, with more productions and programs at The High Lane Club, which, in addition to a swimming pool in the summer and duckpin bowling in the winter, has an elegant chandelier ballroom with a theater.
Cushing says that when she walked into the theater at the club with Bonavena, the two of them could “envision the magic of The Nutcracker unfolding in the space.”
“We are in this gorgeous historical building with molding and details that you just don’t find in new construction. The theater is simply stunning with a cathedral ceiling, adorned by beautiful windows and a fireplace. We knew we had to do it there,” she says.
She hopes the North Haven Arts Initiative and upcoming productions will give people a chance to act, sing, and dance, while boosting local restaurants and putting North Haven on the map as an artistic destination.
“If you had asked me a year ago if Sky and I would be artistic and story directing our very own version of The Nutcracker with Studio Be for the town of North Haven, I would have laughed. I’m working with so many people in the community and realizing just how helpful people are and how much they want and appreciate the arts,” says Cushing, who also works at Shore Publishing, where she is a marketing manager. “We have corporate sponsors getting in line to help us produce this event and support from our politicians. It’s funny how serendipitous life is. I am literally living my dream. I have always wanted to do this and while I’ve never felt this tired in my life, I have also never been this happy or creatively fulfilled. My kids are so excited to get involved in these productions and I am lucky that I get to dance alongside my daughter, Lyla Rose, in The Nutcracker.”
Cushing says she is particularly grateful to Bonavena.
“Michelle just says, ‘How can I help? What do you need?’ She lets us be artists and allows us to work with her very talented dancers.”
The New Year’s Nutcracker will be performed one night only at The High Lane Club, 40 High Lane, North Haven on Saturday, Jan. 4 at 5 p.m. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for ticket information.
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