With the opening performance of the Harford Dance Theatre's popular production of "The Nutcracker" less than a week away, cast and crew members are spending their hours after school, after work and on weekends in daily rehearsals.
Members of the community dance company fill the seats in Harford Community College's Chesapeake Theater late into the night as they wait to be called onstage to rehearse their parts.
More than half of the performers are children and teen-agers, and they bring notebooks and pencils and do their homework between scenes of the classic Christmas tale about a child who falls asleep and dreams that her presents have come to life.
"A lot of times I stay up until 12:30 at night to finish my homework," said Allison Smith, a 15-year-old dancer and student choreographer who is a sophomore at Bel Air High School. "It's hard to do it here because I'm so interested in the dancing."
"I go to school, I sleep, I come here, I do my homework here," added fellow choreographer and dancer Renee Brozic, 17, a senior at C. Milton Wright High School. "But even though it's really hard . . . it's a great opportunity to perform."
For some of the dancers and actors -- most of them Harford County residents who are unpaid and range from 6-year-olds to seniors -- this will be their first time on stage. Others have "grown up with the show, coming back every year and graduating to the next performance level," said Susan Nicolaides, the company's manager.
Andrea Fidler, 15, has appeared in "The Nutcracker" eight times. Over the years, the C. Milton Wright sophomore has held almost every female role in the ballet. This year, her 10-year-old sister, Alison, also will perform. Their mother, Alice, is the company's costume mistress.
"I've had to put my friends on hold," Andrea said. "But they all talk about 'The Nutcracker' at school and about 10 of them will come to the show. I'll have my cheering section."
Mike and Louise Treherne of Bel Air used to wait outside the theater while their daughters were rehearsing. This year, the parents are onstage with their daughters, Jessica, 12, and Meghan, 9, and more than 80 other cast members.
"Mike jokingly told Meghan that if she tried out last year, he would try out this year," said Mrs. Treherne, a clinical social worker. Her husband did as he promised, so Mrs. Treherne decided that she, too, would audition.
"This has given us a chance to participate in something they're doing," she said of her children. "It has given us a sense of camaraderie and there's been a lot of joking about it."
"A lot of my friends wanted to know if I'd be wearing tights in the performance," said Mr. Treherne, an accountant. "They'll just have to come to the performance and see."
Stephanie Borneman of Bel Air has always helped with costumes and props when her three children, 17-year-old Eric, 15-year-old Emily and 10-year-old Elliott, have been in theatrical productions. This year, her name will appear with theirs as a performer in "The Nutcracker." "Everyone kept saying, 'Why don't you go onstage?' " she said. "Even the kids were teasing me. I decided that as long as I don't have to speak, I'll be all right. I enjoy it. We have a ball."
The Harford Dance Theatre, the resident dance company at Harford Community College, sponsors ballet training and four shows a year.
"The Nutcracker" will open Friday with two shortened children's shows and three full-length performances throughout the weekend. Five performances will be given the following weekend. All of the shows are sold out.