Walking into The Whiting on the rich, red carpet evokes a sense of anticipation – the feeling that something very special is about to happen when the curtain finally opens. The building at the heart of Flint’s Cultural Center holds very special memories for many people – for many different reasons. Perhaps your high school graduation ceremony was there, you danced in your first recital, listened to the Flint Symphony Orchestra perform, saw your first Broadway show, a musical or a rock concert.
And the holiday season at The Whiting is an especially magical time of year with its many traditional Christmas performances. Lisa Pelio, former owner of the Pelio School of Dance, remembers how beautiful it was at The Whiting from the very first year it opened in 1967. Her mother, Lena Pelio, was one of the original “Christmas at Whiting” performers. “She choreographed the ballet segment,” Lisa says. “I was a little girl, but I was always so inspired to be in such a lovely facility.” When she was 12, Lisa followed in her mother’s footsteps and danced in Christmas at Whiting, which she describes as a Christmas show similar to those presented at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. “I was one of the dolls in the toy store,” she reminisces, “that was the start of my dancing at Christmas at Whiting.” The part that was the most fun was when she performed the role of Mrs. Claus with Ed Berryman, who played the role of Santa. Ed was Santa and the narrator of Christmas at Whiting for 25 years. “He was the best Santa there ever was,” says Lisa.
Christmas at Whiting would bring busloads of people from all over to see the shows that ran for a full week, with two weekend performances, according to Lisa. “We packed the house!” she laughs. Lisa’s mother also choreographed the ballet Sleigh Ride, and Lisa remembers dancing to “Lara’s Theme” from Dr. Zhivago. “That was pure Whiting,” she says. “I have such a flood of memories. It was such a magical place.”
Adam DeVries, Guest Services and Ticket Center Manager, says one of his favorite events is the Holiday Walk. Each year, all the institutions on the Cultural Center Campus open their doors to the public completely free of charge. “Here at The Whiting, we get to children’s faces light up as they visit with Santa Claus himself!” exclaims Adam. “In my opinion, it is a special holiday gift that we as
a campus, do to give back to the community that has supported us over the years.” Adam believes the Holiday Walk symbolizes the beginning of the holiday season at The Whiting – a season filled with the tradition of bringing the family to see Nutcracker, Holiday Pops and other Whiting Presents spectacles like Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, Cirque Dreams Holidaze and It’s a Wonderful Life!
Ken Harris is the House Electrician for The Whiting and has a lot of fond memories. “I worked the very first performance of Nutcracker 36 years ago, and I have worked every single one since then,” he says. According to Ken, the original set was built at The Whiting by the local stagehands; the budget was so small, the living room spun around and they had a different set on the back side of it. “The living room had a fireplace and three flats, and we would close the curtains in to shrink the stage,” he says. The set used today was built by a professional set builder.
Many people remember The Whiting as a magical place during the holiday season, and it continues to be so now, with its exquisite and elegant holiday decorations. Built in 1967, it was originally called James H. Whiting Auditorium, named after an early auto industry pioneer. The building underwent a major renovation in 1999 which was said, according to The Whiting History, “to restore it back to its original former glory, combining the charm and grace of old European theater with the beauty and comfort of modern day.”
What is your favorite memory of The Whiting?
– Cathy Curtis
“Seeing George Carlin perform there.”
– Kevin Pilon
“1975 Kearsley graduation.”
– Joan Klobuchar
“A performance of the Flint Symphony Orchestra, Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov.”
– Lee Ann Brummett
“My mother performing on a prepared piano – classic and classical!”
– Elaine Brancheau
”Every time I work a show at The Whiting, I am reminded of the many performances of Nutcracker that I have sat through. My daughter, Jennifer, studied dance at FIM, starting around 1977 and moved up through the ranks to dance many of the featured characters. I sat through rehearsal after rehearsal when she was too young to be there by herself, and I watched every year she performed. My granddaughter, Wendy, now studies at FIM and has been in several Nutcracker performances. FIM was Jennifer’s second home and when it came time for her to marry, the ceremony was in the courtyard and her reception was in the atrium. I feel like I know The Whiting like the back of my hand.”
– Arletta Minore, Whiting volunteer