HEALY — This is a story about how the U.S. Postal Service saved the day for a small rural community dance program in the middle of Interior Alaska.
For 17 years, Motion Sensors Dance Troupe has presented an annual performance, put on by students of all ages, alumni and some community members. This year, there were 88 student dancers in grades kindergarten through 12th grade, plus some alumni and another eight community members who did a special “Mom” dance.
The 10-week program is run by the longtime nonprofit Kids In Motion and it organizes this extravagant production for only $125 per participant. That includes a $25 annual membership fee and a $100 production fee for each dancer. Those fees barely cover costs, so the rest is paid for by donations and fundraising. Only one person receives a small stipend and that is the artistic director Ann Olson. Volunteers make up the bulk of organizers.
Because Alaskans typically and predictably do not sign up for activities until last minute, costumes are also always last-minute.
But this year, they were custom-made and ordered well in advance. All the costumes go to artistic director Olson in Oregon, who “blings” them and then mails them to Healy. She mailed the final six boxes and expected they would arrive long before she did, two weeks before the show which happens the last weekend of April.
The boxes did not arrive. A week later, they still weren’t delivered.
“Six boxes, $4,000 worth of costumes for 55 kids,” said artistic director Olson. “Not that I was stressed at all.”
Organizers began to get concerned. That concern turned to despair when they learned that the postal service in Seattle accidentally sent the boxes to Juneau and then put them on a barge headed to Anchorage. They were not likely to arrive in time for the show.
Plan B went into effect. The costumier in Oregon dropped everything to re-make a costume for one of the leads. Someone flying to Fairbanks from Eugene filled a suitcase with borrowed costumes to replace the missing costumes. Credit cards came out for a frantic shopping spree in Fairbanks to re-create 55 missing costumes, including 22 Flying Monkeys, 21 Munchkins and assorted other characters. Parents were notified that a costume-fitting day would have to be rescheduled.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service began hunting for the missing boxes. They were spurred on by Healy postmaster Aleta Blanchard, who is very familiar with the longtime production. Postal employees are not allowed to speak to the media, so she couldn’t talk to me about this, but I did hear — via organizers — how this all unfolded.
I’m told that she made sure postal workers throughout Alaska realized this was a huge community production and “not some rinky-dink play.” News of the dilemma even made it to postal officials in Washington D.C.
Full disclosure here, I spearhead this dance production, but I was not involved in any of the hunt for the missing costumes. Truth is, I just handed over my credit card for Plan B.
Organizers and the Healy postmaster spent hours on the phone, searching for the missing boxes. Finally the boxes were believed to have arrived in Anchorage. Postal workers there put in extra effort and time into locating them, where they were somewhere in a huge pile of other mailed boxes. Eureka, they found them, and immediately sent them to Fairbanks.
On Saturday morning, April 23, two days before dress rehearsals, an organizer drove to Fairbanks to collect them. The Fairbanks postal worker said he would have to see identification before releasing the boxes.
“These are very important packages,” he told the courier.
I did overhear Postmaster Blanchard say this to a dance organizer: “I don’t think I’ve ever said Flying Monkeys and Munchkins ever, in my entire life, as much as I did in one day by telephone.”
So the costumes arrived, the show went on, and the U.S. Postal Service received an enthusiastic and heartfelt thank you in the program.
“It was pretty amazing,” said Olson. “It was a miserable experience, but at the end of the day, it was so nice to know and to be reminded that there are great people out there.”
Those postal workers really did save the day for this small community.
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at firstname.lastname@example.org. Call her at the office 459-7546 or by cell 322-6334. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.