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How the San Francisco Ballet is Bringing ‘The Nutcracker’ to Life Virtually

Blueprint Studios teamed up with the dance company to transform the holiday classic into an interactive experience for at-home attendees.

The Nutcracker San Francisco Ballet
The San Francisco Ballet's “Nutcracker Online” is a new immersive experience where attendees can view a performance of the holiday classic, as well as explore the War Memorial Opera House.
Photo: Courtesy of San Francisco Ballet

SAN FRANCISCO—Since the start of the pandemic, many theater and dance companies have migrated their performances to the virtual space. But how do you capture the magic of attending a show that for many is a holiday tradition? With help from some digital elves—also known as event vendors, of course.

Blueprint Studios has partnered with the San Francisco Ballet to virtually transform a seasonal favorite. Called the “Nutcracker Online,” the new immersive experience allows viewers to watch sugar plum fairies safely dance around their homes.

To do this, the San Francisco-based event design and production company created a “Virtual Exploration Space (VES)” within its proprietary Illumeet virtual event platform, allowing attendees to explore the decorated lobby of the War Memorial Opera House (where the ballet is housed) and the theater itself, similar to if they were attending the show in person, explained Shannon Gurley, creative director of Blueprint Studios. The company’s platform has also been utilized for high-profile clients including the Emmys, San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Twitch.

“The San Francisco Ballet wanted to provide attendees with an experience as close to attending a live performance,” Gurley said. “That being said, it was vital that we provided a solution that allowed patrons to navigate throughout the War Memorial and explore the beautiful architecture of the building while engaging attendees with a variety of activities offered.”

In addition to watching the performance in HD, virtual attendees are able to roam the venue and click on different hot spots where they can access an interactive activity book that includes digital coloring pages, get more info on the history of The Nutcracker story, donate, and shop. Viewers can also get a "behind the curtain" peek of the production including a choreography lesson, as well as meet the orchestra and snap a pic in the branded photo booth.

“We wanted to provide access to content in a traditional wireframe format to ensure that attendees with all types of technical abilities can watch the performance and engage with the beautiful content created by the San Francisco Ballet,” Gurley said. After logging in, attendees are greeted with an explanatory note on navigating the space. Plus, the ballet’s website also features digital viewing tips that even explain how to connect your laptop to your TV for optimal viewing. (“Nutcracker Online” is best experienced with a Chrome browser on a computer, laptop, or iPad.)

Gurley explained that the biggest challenge with bringing the performance experience to life was “combining flat panoramic images with flat graphic illustrations to make it feel as if you were within a 3D space.”

Tickets ($49) for “Nutcracker Online,” which runs through Dec. 31, are on sale through; each unique user is granted 48 hours of access to the virtual experience per purchased ticket. The San Francisco Ballet will also host its first virtual benefit on Jan. 14, 2021. The customized experience will feature gourmet home-delivered dinners from McCalls Catering & Events, a performance on the main virtual stage, private virtual tables for guests with company member drop-ins, and more.

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