Ahwatukee’s unique celebration of the holidays has taken another major blow from the pandemic.
Dance Studio 111 owner Kimberly Lewis not allowed to have an in-theater audience for the 21st annual presentation of Ahwatukee Nutcracker.
She almost didn’t have the production at all.
Just two days after hosting her annual home-cooked banquet for the girls who are the Nutcracker queens, Lewis and Mountain Pointe High teacher Corey Quinn, who has worked with Lewis on technical aspects of the show, met at Madison Center for the Arts to go over preparations for Nutcracker.
Initially, Madison officials told her the theater would be off limits because all facilities in Madison School District were now closed. The district, which owns the center, had gone back to virtual learning in the face of the virus surge.
“The entire staff at Madison Center worked very hard to get approval for us to still be able to have our show,” Lewis said. “We just could not have an audience. I told them without ticket sales, we could never cover the cost to do this production.”
Corey tried to console her, Lewis said, saying, “Kimberly, we will make this work and we will still have a show.”
Lewis told AFN, “I don’t break down in business meetings but I did have a moment that I did cry because all I could think about was the children who have worked so hard since August and been in rehearsal and how we were all just sitting around the dinner table talking about how grateful we are for not having our Nutcracker canceled.”
Quinn and Lewis have hatched a plan – and she is hoping the community responds.
People will be able to view either of two live performances at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Dec. 19 from their home for $50 or they can pay $25 to receive a link to the show after the live performances and view it at their leisure.
Lewis is determined to see her cast bring their work to fruition.
Rather than send a mass email to the scores of youngsters ages 3-18 who are in the cast and their parents, Lewis has been personally calling each one about her plan.
“I am asking our entire community to please keep this magical tradition of our Nutcracker alive,” she said. “So many things have been canceled on our children this year and I am truly reaching out to our community to please support our dancers.
“I am grateful to our community and their support these past 27 years as a business owner. The dance community has truly taken a serious financial loss during this pandemic and we are hanging on by a thread keeping our studio going.”
The pandemic has throttled many longtime holiday traditions in the community except for one bright spot that has managed to survive, thanks to community support.
The million white lights along Chandler Boulevard between 24th Street and Desert Foothills Parkway came on as scheduled – thanks to the efforts of the Festival of Lights Committee, the Foothills and Club West HOAs, scores of local businesses and hundreds of individuals.
“A big thank you to our main sponsors – Foothills HOA and Club West,” Committee President Raphael Isaac said. “Our silent auction raised over $2,500 with all items being purchased. Total sponsor donations – not including the two HOAs – totaled over $31,000 and the individual donations from families and small businesses was another $33,000. Absolutely amazing!
“We are still taking donations up through the end of the year and anything big or small is very much appreciated,” said Isaac, noting the committee faces a bill of at least $50,000 to have the lights infrastructure repaired next month – or else the city will shut down the display.
Isaac, who is in his first term as president and worked for a year to persuade city inspectors to relent on their earlier demand for infrastructure repairs this year, praised Doug Topham, owner of Christmas Light Decorators in Mesa, which strings the lights.
“His crews have been wonderful to work with – patient and fast once we got the green light,” Isaac said.
People can make their donations at folaz.org.
While the FOL Committee managed to defy the pandemic, its signature holiday event, the Kick-Off Party held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, wasn’t so lucky. That was canceled, as was the Santa Claus helicopter drop-in at Millie’s Hallmark store, which has been held for several decades the day after Thanksgiving.
Other cherished traditions in Ahwatukee are still going forward – but in different formats or completely online.
The pandemic has forced the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ahwatukee, to alter its Christmas presentation.
Instead of a concert with a Nativity walk and cookies, it is still sponsoring the Christmas Nativity Walk 6-7:30 p.m. Dec. 11 at 2955 E. Frye Road but not holding the concert or cookie social.
Still, it will have a real baby, live animals that include a camel and alpaca as well as a donkey and hundreds of luminaries. It’s free but social distancing and masks will be required.
The 11th annual German-language Christmas Service normally hosted by Mountain View Lutheran Church will be virtual.
It will be held at 4 p.m. Dec. 20 and will include the traditional caroling at 5 p.m. Unfortunately, you’ll have to bake your own cookies since the homemade Christmas cookie social is scrubbed.
For information on the German service: Ingeborg Mack at email@example.com or 480-961-4649. The website is weihnachtsgottesdienst.wordpress.com and the Zoom link for the service is asu.zoom.us/j/82945437240.
Another altered service is Esperanza Lutheran Church’s “Blue Christmas” event for people who are grieving during a season filled with merriment – though how much merriment is likely amid the pandemic remains in question.
This year Esperanza’s Blue Christmas service will be available on YouTube (search Esperanza Lutheran Church - Ahwatukee) at 6 p.m. Dec. 16.
“Some congregations call this service ‘The Longest Day,’ and for people experiencing darkness within and without, this holiday can be the longest day,” said Alice Schultze, who organizes the service.
“I do believe there are no boundaries to grief and to sorrow and to loss. This year with COVID every one of us is experiencing sadness and pain in a myriad of ways from slight to extreme. We thought we’d acknowledge that and recognize a sense of positivity.”
The non-denominational service is a time of quiet, peace and solace, she added.
“It’s a gentle service, not a weepy one,” Schultze explained. “Blue makes one think of sadness but this service is also very much about hope.”
During the service, members of the Esperanza community will share personal stories, poetry and other readings. Speakers include Susan Vega, Liz Farquhar and Craig Peck, all of Ahwatukee. Ray and Joyce Purdy, longtime winter visitors, are participating from their home in Canada.
Jim Nelson will offer a song and Alice Schultze will read poetry. Pastor Paul Campbell will share a message.
Viewers may want to have candles ready at home for a votive lighting.