By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Dec 24, 2013 at 11:01 AM

The editors have a history of hanging up their word-smithing for a few hours and experiencing a completely different type of work. We then write about the experience in this series, called Shift Switch.

Over the years, managing editor Bobby Tanzilo was a cheesemaker for a day  and publisher Andy Tarnoff actually got to ride along with a Milwaukee police officer on the K-9 unit.

I had the strange pleasure of being levitated as David Seebach's magician’s assistant and the rather odiferous opportunity to be a diaper washer. And yesterday, I was given the chance to be an extra in the Milwaukee Ballet’s performance of "The Nutcracker." (I played a Christmas party guest in the first act.)

As a person who has almost no dance training – except for what I’ve gleaned on the dance floor at Mad Planet – the offer to take part in a professional ballet performance in any way, shape or form was appealing. And humorous.

So, of course, I said yes.

I first wrote about my rehearsal experience about two weeks ago. I am happy to report that the performance itself was much less awkward. The ballet’s marketing director, Velia Alvarez (who is also the wife of's Andy Tarnoff), said it was probably the power of adrenaline that made the experience seem smoother and more natural, and indeed, that was a big part of it.

But there was something else that made my 15 minutes of stage time so memorable yesterday. Dare I say it was the holiday spirit? Might I even use the word "magic?"

That’s not to say there weren’t a couple of minor glitches yesterday. I showed up about an hour before showtime and Alvarez arrived with my rented costume for which I had provided my measurements weeks before. The dressing rooms were filled with cast members slipping into tutus and soldier outfits and so it wasn’t easy to find a place for me to shed my hoodie and jeans for something more 19th century.

Eventually, we found some free space and I assembled myself. I really loved the dress – a full-length gold and black number that fit me like the proverbial glove. Speaking of which, it came with long, black gloves that had five buttons on the inside of the wrist. I also wore a head band with a black-and-gold flower-type ornament on it, a few bracelets and sparkly clip-on earrings.

I was feeling extremely in period until I looked in the mirror and realized how visible my tattoos were. Uh-oh. Then, I realized there was the issue of my hair. Even if we tried to call my purple highlights "sugarplum" colored, they simply were just not very Nutcracker-y. 

"I might as well take a selfie on stage," I joked to Alvarez about how 2013 I appeared despite the historically accurate garb.

Luckily, and not surprisingly,  the ballet’s wardrobe mistress (yes, that’s really her title), Krista Allenstein, had a swift fix for both. At first she said she was going to spray my hair black, which I said was fine, but she instead twisted my hair into a style that naturally hid the purple-ness. 

And then she erased my tattoos.

Well, not really, of course. But she had make-up that matched my flesh tone almost perfectly and hid them so well it was kind of freaky to see bare-skinned me in the photos.

After I got dressed and "de-tatted" it was just a few minutes before the show started, so I walked up a couple flights of stairs to backstage. I especially loved this brief but striking part of the experience. So many cast members were rushing around, getting to where they needed to be for the show, so in my peripheral vision I saw a plethora of darting dancers that were a blur of grace and color.

Backstage was remarkably more calm and casual than I thought it would be. Some of the dancers were deep inside themselves, practicing last minute or taking a moment to psychologically prepare for the performance, but most were just joking around quietly or interacting with upbeat small talk.

I was reunited with my "handler," Janel Meindersee, the dancer who must have lost a straw draw and was responsible for me on stage. (She could not have been kinder about doing this and truly was my saving link between successfully participating and not feeling like a complete moron.)

My job was to, basically, follow her around and copy her reactions to the events happening on stage. She and I decided I was playing her sister who just went through a break up and needed to get out and meet people. "I have been there," I thought. "I can do this!"

Luckily, I was in the first scene of the first act, so I did not have to stand around and let my nerves nibble away at my insides. Before I knew it, I was standing on the stage in the dark with the bottom of the curtain still brushing the smooth stage floor and listening to the opening orchestra music.

My heart started beating faster and faster … And then there were lights. Bright lights. Brighter-than-box-store lights. And under the lights, the energy was as intense as the movement. Suddenly, the stage felt small and I did my best to match Meindersee’s looks and actions. 

I think I pulled it off. At least my family, in row Q, says I did. (Ahem.) But I did muster surprise when Drosselmeyer performed his tricks and I feigned offense by the terrible smell when he put the rat in the oven. 

I also did the few simple dance steps exiting the stage without tripping – or tripping anyone  – and so, all in all, I considered my first and last appearance in "The Nutcracker" a success. 

Most importantly, I had fun, and I can cross off "appear in a professional ballet performance" from my bottomless bucket list.

After my 15 minutes on stage, I hung out backstage until the intermission. It was interesting to see the organized chaos. I felt a bit underfoot, especially when a woman asked me to "please step aside because a gal was about to run by with three or four mice."

And sure enough, she did run by, holding the hands of the costumed mice. The mice were some of my favorite to observe, actually. I particularly liked watching them stand on the sidelines, holding their hot and heavy mouse heads in their hands until right before they went on stage.

I also liked the ropes and curtains and whispers and darkness.

After my stage time, so many dancers told me I did a good job – which was sweet and kind – and even director Michael Pink shook my hand and expressed the same sentiment during intermission.

I watched the second half of the show from the audience with my family. It was fascinating to have both experiences – both perspectives onstage and offstage – within one performance. To think I was just "up there" as a pretend party guest as well as behind the scenes watching bobby pins get slid into the hair buns and then to see how it all came together in such a splendid way was a priceless experience for me.

But what I later typed on Facebook summed it up the best for me: "I came. I cracked the nuts. I conquered."

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.