SHERIDAN — Verl Averett grew up working with The San Diego Ballet for its annual tour of The Nutcracker, and now, as technical director of the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center, he’s joined in Sheridan by his parents for their final production of the ballet after 25 years of backstage volunteering.
Marcia and Kelly Averett first became involved in theater when their daughter joined the cast of the San Diego Ballet’s Nutcracker 25 years ago as a ballerina shortly after moving to San Diego when Verl Averett was 9 years old. Verle Averett and his brother joined the cast later, and when the director learned that Marcia Averett could sew and do hair and makeup, she recruited her as a volunteer, expanding her role to the ballet’s other productions.
Kelly Averett became involved in backstage technical aspects, starting with responsibilities like dry ice and chaperoning the children. Over the years, he’s taken over the backstage management, creating effects like snowfall and fireplaces, choreographing set and prop placements and helping the children manage the stress of the performance.
“I’m the guy that makes sure that they get on stage at the right time, and I just have a lot of fun with kids,” Kelly Averett said. “I’ve just always loved kids and loved being around kids. The kids are really the main reason that I do this tour, to deal with the kids and see the joy of them being on stage.”
Every year, Kelly Averett would take two months off from his job as vacation time to tour with the show.
Verl Averett’s role with the show has evolved as he’s grown up since beginning as a 9-year-old performer.
“The first couple years I was the party boy, and then I was the understudy for the prince, and then I was a junior rat, and then I was a senior rat.”
When he grew too tall for the rats, he began helping backstage and started enjoying it more than performing.
“That kind of piqued my interest in doing theater-type work, just being around this production,” Verl Averett said.
At his first high school, he took drama classes and learned how to run a light board. When he changed schools, he became the technical person for the drama club.
After high school, he took a break from theater for about five years before returning to The Nutcracker and beginning to work with the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees, the union for backstage work.
When the tour arrived at the Whitney Center for the Arts in Sheridan two years ago, the former technical director at the WYO Pam Thompson noticed Verl Averett’s work with the production and asked him to apply to be the new technical director.
Since accepting the position and moving to Sheridan, he’s been learning how to run a wide variety of shows of different kinds, but now he’s on the other side of the production from which he started learning.
“This is the first time I’ve seen Nutcracker from the front in probably 22 years, in the booth looking at the stage, versus on the stage looking into light trees that are blinding you and trying to figure out what’s coming up next,” listening to the music for cues, Verl Averett said.
Since Verl Averett can’t tour with the show anymore, Kelly Averett returned to helping with the show, and now the roles have reversed. When the show arrives in towns, Kelly Averett has just a few 12-hour days to coordinate with theater directors to pull off the production.
“It was really refreshing when we pulled into Sheridan and he had everything all ready, he knows exactly what’s going on, he knows all the cues, he knows where everything’s going, and so we’re really working well as a team,” Kelly Averett said.
Marcia Averett has enjoyed watching him work with staff that he’s known since he was a child, like the show’s stage director.
“Now he’s constantly on the headset with her, getting cues from her, making changes for her,” she said.
San Diego Ballet founder and touring director Robin Morgan said it’s been a big advantage to have a theater director who knows the show and the company so closely.
“He’s basically running the whole thing now,” Morgan said. “We don’t have to prepare that much, he knows what he’s doing. We just don’t get him in San Diego anymore, though.”
Kelly Averett said the family is proud of him for living his dream.
“The whole time he was growing up, he was fascinated with the backstage stuff, and now he’s living that; he’s in charge of the whole theater and everything that goes on backstage,” Kelly Averett said.