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Who's The Busiest Holiday Worker In Seattle?

Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers perform "Nutcracker."
Angela Sterling

As the busy holiday shopping season revs up, it seems like retail stores and delivery services have the hardest working folks in town.  But another industry shifts into high gear after Thanksgiving: the arts.

From sacred choral music to off-kilter Christmas comedy, 'tis the season to celebrate with friends and family at a magical, holiday-themed performance.  But it takes more than a wave of a wand to make this magic happen.  Legions of unseen, unsung workers spend every December backstage, hoisting scenery, running spotlights and sewing costumes.

Sandra Barrack is Pacific Northwest Ballet's stage manager.  She oversees a crew of almost 40 people behind the scenes at the company's annual production of "Nutcracker."  Barrack has been at PNB for six years; before that she did a similar job back east.  She will call the shots for 30 performances this December. "Anytime the lights change, or the scenery moves, or there's a sound effect, that's me saying 'go,'" she said.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Pacific Northwest Ballet stage manager Sandy Barrack.", "fid": "1065", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201211/SandyBarrack_0554.2012.AS_.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Courtesy/Angela Sterling"}]]Barrack oversees everything from special backstage guests to finding the right shoes for each dancer.  She's one of a legion of stage managers who spend most of the winter holiday season at work.  Like PNB, most arts groups present special productions this time of year, from "Nutcracker" to Handel's "Messiah."  Ticket sales from holiday shows make up a healthy chunk of an arts group's annual budget.

The cynics among us might imagine the potential to fall into a rut when you spend most of December working on the same show every day, sometimes twice a day.  But PNB's Sandra Barrack said it's always like she's backstage for the first time when she sees young ballet students dance in their first performances, or when she hears school groups applaud when the orchestra starts to play.

"They're excited," she said. "So even if it's my 300th 'Nutcracker,' it's new for them."

Barrack says if she does her job right, those kids will never know she's behind the curtain making the magic happen.