It’s been 25 years since Stephanie Harker first dreamed of putting on a show for at-risk and underserved children, setting the stage for a beloved production that’s become a hallmark of the holidays at schools across the county.
Harker, along with her cast and crew, are currently presenting the 25th annual performance of “The Adventures of Holly & Snowflake” at local schools.
“We only do the show for the schools the first two weeks of December and we do so at no charge,” Harker said. “Prior to COVID, in 2019, we performed at nine venues and did 17 shows in two weeks. At each venue we arrive an hour before curtain, put up the set, perform two to three shows back-to-back so that every student has an opportunity to enjoy it, then we strike the set and pack up until the next location.”
“The Adventures of Holly & Snowflake,” written by Greg Callahan, tells the tale of two elves who end up in an evil forest must find their way back to the North Pole. Harker, who originated the role of Holly in the early 1980s, has been a member of Actors’ Equity since 1972 and is a lifelong devotee of theater. In 1998, she founded her production company, Dancing Squirrel Productions, with the intent of continuing the tradition of presenting theater to young audiences.
In addition to their shows at schools, the Dancing Squirrel troupe performs “Holly and Snowflake” for children residing in institutions who are abused or neglected and for seriously ill kids and their families in hospitals and orthopedic centers. Over the years, they have put on shows at the Ronald MacDonald House, three locations of Children’s Institute, Shriner’s Hospital, Wayside Home for Children, Girl’s & Boy’s Club of America and several city parks. Even COVID couldn’t stop them from delivering a virtual version of the play.
It’s a major commitment of time and energy to be a part of the production, and casting isn’t as easy as one would think “not due to a lack of talent, but due to the rigorous schedule in the midst of the holidays,” Harker said. “I have posted on casting sites such as BackStage and Actors’ Access and receive hundreds of submissions for each role. We rehearse in the evenings and then perform at the schools during the days. Everyone involved must make time to do both. With 10 characters it is a little like herding cats to get everyone’s schedules to sync, but somehow each year, it has come together. I try to have a cast that is diverse in every way possible.”
Harker has many fond memories of the dozens of young talents she’s gotten to work with in the past 25 years.
“There have been so very many heartwarming stories and sweet moments with dear little ones who sometimes just need a hug after the show,” Harker said. “For many of the children who live in poverty, the play brightens their holidays if only for a few hours. There are two characters in the play; Tutu, the Dancer and Rudolph the Reindeer, and for each performance I select two students to be in the play. One little boy, who was chosen to play Rudolph, as I was helping him into his brown costume with antlers, very sweetly said, while showing me his arm, ‘I will make a good reindeer, because I am brown, too!’”
Many of the over 100 different actors who have been a part of the show over the years are now working actors. Harvey Guillén (“What We Do in the Shadows” and “Puss & Boots”) once played Tintag, the Elf, and Courtney Nicole, (a regular on Tyler Perry’s series “Assisted Living”) played a henchman.
It’s an immense labor of love for Harker, who in addition to directing, rewriting, designing sets and costumes, etc., invests “blood, sweat and tears and yes, a lot of money.” Dancing Squirrel is a nonprofit organization that depends largely on support from the community. Those wishing to donate can visit https://dancingsquirrelproductions.org/donate-here