’Tis the season to be jolly. I don’t know about you, but I love the sounds and smells of the season. I get excited the first time I see the twinkling lights go up at Dilworth Plaza and as I walk through the Christmas Village. Catching the “Charlie Brown” soundtrack as I flip through the dials also gets me in the spirit.
I even get a few flutters seeing the promos for the Nutcracker at the Academy of Music. It’s become a yearly tradition to start the season by watching the amazing dancers from the Pennsylvania Ballet fly through the air with their annual spectacular performance. I’ve had the pleasure to profile many of them here in this column. This year I got some fun inside information from the ballet’s company manager, Emily Pratt.
PGN: When did you come out?
EP: When I was in high school, I was totally boy crazy. When they heard I was going to Smith College, all my friends were like, “Emily, you know there are no boys there, right?” And I said it would be fine — I could just go to Amherst or UMass to meet guys. But as soon as I got to Smith, I was like, “Well, this is different. OK then.” I immediately decided I needed to kiss a girl before Thanksgiving break. I created a mandate for myself. So I did, and I liked it. It wasn’t until sophomore year when I realized, “Oh, this is not just a college exploration, I think this is a real thing. This is me.”
PGN: What school did you go to?
EP: I went to Smith College — the gayest of the gay. It was great.
PGN: Isn’t there an acronym for girls experimenting in college?
EP: S.L.U.G.: Smith Lesbian Until Graduation. That was not me. I stuck with it.
PGN: Were there any signs looking back?
EP: Totally — all the girls at summer camp. At the time, I just wanted to be their “best friend,” and in retrospect I was completely in love.
PGN: What was you family’s reaction?
EP: I’m super lucky. When I came home on break, instead of talking about boys I had crushes on, I was talking about girls, and my parents didn’t skip a beat. They were super chill.
PGN: What was the hardest part?
EP: Coming out to my grandparents and extended family was a little trickier. Even when I had a significant girlfriend, my grandmother would still refer to her as my “friend.” It was not a battle that I was going to fight. There was also a wedding — My dad’s family was from Georgia and they’re pretty conservative. I remember everyone asking, “So, Emily, do you have a boyfriend?” and I was like, “Um, no.” I didn’t lie, but I wasn’t exactly open. Mainly because, one, that was not the context in which I wanted to come out to everyone. And two, I didn’t want the wedding to be about me. It was someone else’s big day and I didn’t want to distract from that. But before the next wedding, I called everyone in advance and told them. With each person there was a beat of silence, and then, “OK” and we moved on.
PGN: You volunteered with AmeriCorps.
EP: I started in 2009 when I graduated. It was the start of the recession, and we were all like, “What are we going to do?” I knew that I wanted to give back to the community and do some service work. Since I knew I wasn’t going to get a job in my field, I joined the National Civilian Community Coalition. We got set up with other young people and went around the country doing service projects.
PGN: What was a favorite spot?
EP: New Orleans. It’s one of my favorite cities. It’s so beautiful, fun and full of music, life, culture, amazingness and food. We also were in Baton Rouge — where I started working for Habitat for Humanity — and then back on the coast planting trees outside Fresno. We painted a community center in the Sierra Nevada foothills that’s probably in the middle of the fires right now. But the best part is that we were in New Orleans the year they won the Super Bowl.
PGN: Are you from Philly?
EP: I’m from Princeton, but we never really came to Philly. It wasn’t until I moved here in 2010 that I got to know the city. And I’ve been in love with it ever since!
PGN: What brought you here?
EP: After the first year with AmeriCorps, the economy was still terrible and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I signed up for another year, but stationary, so they put me with Habitat in Philly. It was more administrative support and I was in charge of helping open up the first ReStore.
PGN: I love the ReStore! Shameless plug: It’s a great place to get everything from furniture to doorknobs to paint — all super cheap, while supporting a good cause.
EP: Thank you! It’s awesome. It’s now on Washington Avenue, but we opened the first one which, at the time, was in Kensington. It was exciting to be part of the project from the ground up. I worked there for a few years managing donations.
PGN: What was the oddest donation you received?
EP: Oh, so many. One that comes to mind was when the Loews Philadelphia Hotel decided to remodel its bathrooms. They took out all of these relatively new toilets and donated them to us. Hundreds and hundreds of toilets! We had them stored up to the ceiling and in tractor-trailers. We had them in the parking lot, you name it. We had so many that by the end we were selling them to contractors for $40 apiece just to get rid of them. Some of your readers are probably using toilets that came from the Loews Hotel and they don’t know it.
PGN: That’s funny. How did you transition to the PA Ballet?
EP: I wanted to get back into the arts and was getting burned out working in Kensington. I applied for a job with the ballet that I was totally unqualified for, and weirdly, I got it. I’ve now been there for almost five years.
PGN: What are your duties?
EP: As company manager, I handle a lot of the logistics including negotiating and issuing contracts and arranging the transportation and accommodations for artistic guests. I’m the interface between the dancers and their union; they all are members of AGMA (American Guild of Musical Artists). I work on the payroll and budgets. I work with the contracts, too. For example, we’re able to start The Nutcracker — oh my God, we’re about to start The Nutcracker — we’re about to do George Balanchine’s Nutcracker. Balanchine is dead, but there is The Balanchine Trust in New York. Every company that wants to do his version has to write a letter, “Dear Balanchine Trust, we would like to license The Nutcracker …” And, the lovely ladies at the trust will write back saying, “OK,” or they could say, “No.” Even though we’ve been doing Balanchine’s Nutcracker for about 50 years, the trust reserves the right to send someone to teach and re-stage everything to make sure nothing is amiss.
PGN: Yikes, you do have a lot on your plate. Do you watch the show or have you had your fill?
EP: I am at most performances. But this year, I vow not to go to all 28 performances. There’s a certain energy you expend for Nutcracker season and I’m trying to make it last. But I always remind myself that it’s exciting for the people coming to the theatre, whether it’s a tradition and they come every year or it’s their first time ever seeing a ballet. There’s an amazing parade of patrons in the lobby. I love seeing everyone dressed up and full of joy about seeing the show. For so many people, the Nutcracker is the first ballet they ever saw, or what inspired their desire to be a dancer or discover an interest in the arts. I have to remember that even though I see it multiple times, they only see it once. We love being a part of the holiday season.
PGN: What do you do outside the Academy?
EP: I have my own shameless plug now: I’ve decided that ballet is not for my body anymore, but I still like to move. I’ve recently been taking classes at a yoga studio in Brewerytown called the Yoga and Movement Sanctuary. It’s an amazing place for all kinds of different movement. I’ve also been going to Urban Movement Arts in Rittenhouse and taking Afro-House dance classes and waacking, dance hall, swing dance and Lindy hop. I’m trying to get everyone I know to come.
EP: Nope, and I’m happily available to be distracted during Nutcracker.
PGN: Noted! What’s your favorite part of the performance?
EP: I love “Snow and Flowers.” It’s elegant with all of the women moving in sync making exquisite patterns and creating beautiful shapes. Dew Drop is such a beautiful role and I love the music. The whole number hits all my pleasure buttons.