Stephanie Harker has given children the gift of theater for 25 years

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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.

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This year’s production counts several West Hollywood residents among its cast and crew, including actors Eric Geller, Laura Boccaletti and Brian Hamilton. Cathy Blavais, without whom Harker says she “could never have done it all these years,” acts as stage manager and is the foley artist.   

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/.

 

 

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Stephanie Harker
Stephanie Harker
6 months ago

I want to thank Brandon Ross Garcia for this article and for ALL the people who made a donation to Dancing Squirrel Productions. It is truly appreciated and goes a long way to put smiles on the faces of over 1,000 children this season.
There is still time to contribute before the end of the year. Again, THANK YOU.

https://dancingsquirrelproductions.org/donate-here/

Losa Amara Meru
Losa Amara Meru
7 months ago

It has been so wonderful to be part of the cast and see how much the children laugh and how much they love being involved in our holiday story! I’m so fortunate to have been exposed to the arts when I was a kid, so I’m glad to be paying it forward.

erwin
erwin
7 months ago

First she saved Plummer Park. Then she saved the children. I nominate Stephanie Harker for President!!!

Robina Suwol
Robina Suwol
7 months ago

Tremendous thanks to Stephanie Harker and her phenomenal actors and the entire team of Dancing Squirrel Productions for their 25 years of exceptional theatrical holiday presentations! ❤️❤️❤️

Elyse Eisenberg
Elyse Eisenberg
7 months ago

What Stephanie has done for these children over the years is nothing short of miraculous! This is such a special treat for everyone. There aren’t enough of these theater opportunities for kids to enjoy.
Much congratulations to Stephanie and Cathy for their ongoing efforts and tremendous spirit!

Richard Karliss
Richard Karliss
7 months ago

This is great! Thank you Stephanie.

Virginia Gillick
Virginia Gillick
7 months ago

I have been friends with Stephanie and Cathy for more than 25 years and have witnessed the work that goes into this. Better than that I go to the show every year, sometimes more than twice and it is marvelous. The kids delight in it in such a beautiful way. The audience participation part is outstanding. I never miss it. I now live on the same street and I witness them at 6 am packing up the van to head off to the schools. As Roy said, very inspiring!

chloe ross
chloe ross
7 months ago

Stephanie is a good friend and is one the several women who mobilized to save Plummer from hideous plan that was pure desecration and Urban Blight. She is a great woman, good friend and deserves all the kudos that can be heaped upon her for her many gifts she gave through her time, great ideas and experiences. I count myself one of the lucky women who call her a friend and East Side neighbor. xoxox

Mikie
Mikie
7 months ago

can’t wait to see it tomorrow!!

Mikie
Mikie
7 months ago
Reply to  Mikie

I loved every minute of it!!

Kimberly Copeland
Kimberly Copeland
7 months ago

I saw the play, and it really lifted my spirits – I can just imagine the joy it brings to the kids every year. Stephanie and Cathy are always doing something for others, whether in our own community or elsewhere-they truly embody the spirit of giving at any time of year.

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
7 months ago

A lovely and inspirational story. Bravo to Stephanie for a truly selfless endeavor of service. Heroes in our midst.

Joy To The World
Joy To The World
7 months ago

Such a joyful, uplifting idea to bring to the children and having them take part. Best news in West Hollywood for a long time.

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