When Kate Farwell became the manager of Amusements, the gift shop at McCaw Hall, she thought she had a simple formula worked out for stocking the store each December.
“I just needed to go out and buy every Nutcracker ornament. And then I’d be done,” she laughed. “After all, how long could that take? How many could there be?”
Turns out that there’s “thousands” of Nutcracker related items out there and not all of them really work for Pacific Northwest Ballet’s unique version of the Christmas classic.
Farwell’s planning for Amusements’ biggest sales month starts in March and lasts until the final curtain comes down on the last Nutcracker performance at the end of December.
“It’s crazy about an hour before curtain goes up, really intense during intermission, and busiest right after the ballet finishes,” said Farwell.
While the audience is inside the hall watching Clara at the party, the attack of the mice, the dance of the Snowflakes, or the waltz of the flowers, Farwell and her staff are getting ready for the next onslaught.
“We know the music by heart. It’s piped throughout the hall. We’re restocking just as fast as they are dancing inside,” she said.
Farwell began managing Amusements in 2005 shortly after she moved to Seattle after running other museum shops elsewhere. Today, her five-year-old daughter thinks that she has “the coolest job ever. The store is really stocked for five-year-old girls,” said Farwell. As well as their doting grandmothers and other relatives looking for pint-sized tutus, fairy wings, or other glittery reminders of a visit to the ballet.
Because of the joint ownership, Farwell answers to the marketing managers of the ballet and the opera as well as a collective board that oversees the operation. The store sales help support both organizations.
Farwell makes sure that Nutcracker shoppers find plenty of items directly related to the Sendak/Stowell production that they see on stage. “There’s a crazy number of peacock ornaments,” she said. “And people who haven’t seen the ballet always ask about them, why peacocks? Of course, after they see the second act, they know and they want a peacock. It’s my favorite moment of the ballet too. I love the peacock.”
Amusements also stocks the Maurice Sendak book with illustrations inspired by his designs for the now 30-year-old production, special commemorative ornaments made for PNB, and, new this year, a CD recording of Tchaikovsky’s music done by the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra.
For shoppers stymied by the lines or who want to come back and pick up one more stocking stuffer, Farwell suggests visiting when the hall first opens, two hours before curtain. “It’s usually quiet then,” she said. Amusements also is open during the performances.
“People who live close often walk over and do their shopping while the ballet is going on,” she said. Because the Amusements opens to the main hallway on the ground level of McCaw Hall, next to the box office, tickets are not needed to enter the gift shop.
As for Farwell, she’ll be restocking shelves while listening to Tchaikovsky’s sugar plum music until the ballet’s current run ends on Dec. 29. Then she’ll need to switch over the store’s displays to match the interests of opera-goers attending Rigoletto in January.
Marion Oliver McCaw Hall is part of the Seattle Center's theater row along Mercer Street. Amusements is located on the ground floor next to the ticket office at 321 Mercer.