Behind the Scenes with Disney On Ice: Follow Your Heart

Behind the Scenes with Disney On Ice: Follow Your Heart

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A behind-the-scenes look at what goes into creating and producing Disney On Ice: Follow Your Heart
    

“If you feel like you’re going to fall, crouch down and put your hands in front of you,” explains Jessica Hatfield, an ice-skater in Feld Entertainment’s Disney On Ice: Follow Your Heart, adding that this would help me catch my balance. Plus, if I did fall, I was prepared to fall forward and catch myself, which would hurt less than if I fell backward.

Jessica and her husband Brendyn Hatfield both began skating lessons when they were 5½, and have been performing in ice shows for 8 and 7 years respectively. The duo plays Jasmine and Aladdin in Follow Your Heart, and Friday morning, they took the time to teach me some ice-skating basics and the Turkey in the Straw dance from the Toy Story portion of the show, and, along with Matt Santorelli, the company manager of Follow Your Heart, shared what goes into creating and performing a Disney On Ice production.
      

During the Toy Story scene of the show, the audience is encouraged to get up and dance to Turkey in the Straw.

     

Getting to Follow Your Heart

Jessica and Brendyn both skated competitively growing up, and neither thought pursuing ice-skating as a career was a possibility until they found the world of ice shows.

“I went to school, and I studied nursing. I thought that was what I was going do,” Jessica says. “It wasn’t until my senior year that I was in the musical at my college, and I realized how much I love performing. I had skated throughout college, and I realized I couldn’t give up performing. I found out about the world of ice shows and that’s when I auditioned.”

Brendyn, on the other hand, says he competed heavily until he was 25, and after graduating college, wasn’t sure whether he wanted to leave skating. “I got an offer to do a show. I was like, maybe I’ll to it for a year, and here we are seven years later and I still love it,” he says. “I realized what really made me happy with skating was performing for an audience, and we get to do it every single day, multiple times a day sometimes. …It’s such a rewarding experience in more ways than one. You still get to skate, you get to travel, you get to be heroes for the kids in the audience,” Brendyn adds.

So parents: If your kids really love skating, they can turn their hobby into a career. “I feel like you spend so much time and so many hours dedicated to this sport and it's a shame to give it up. You can have a career in the ice show world,” Jessica says.

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Planning the Production

The process starts one to two years in advance, and begins with creating a storyline. “We go with what the trends are, especially with—which is brilliant—Finding Dory,” Santorelli says. Finding Dory is just one aspect of Follow Your Heart, which also focuses on Riley and her emotions from Disney•Pixar’s Inside Out, the story of Elsa and Anna from Disney’s Frozen, and a smattering of old and new friends from Disney and Disney•Pixar, including Mickey, Minnie, Merida, Cinderella, Belle and the Beast, Woody and Buzz, and, of course, Jasmine and Aladdin, among many others.
      

dory and friends disney on ice

Marlin and Nemo help Dory find her parents in the Finding Dory portion of Disney On Ice: Follow Your Heart.

     
After coming up with the story line, the team brings together costume designers, choreographers, a show director, and cast for nearly three months of rehearsals before putting the show together and hitting the road. “It’s a very lengthy process, but a lot of voices and a lot of collaboration,” says Santorelli, who began his career with Feld Entertainment as a performer in Disney Live shows. After three seasons, he decided to move into a staff position as a tour coordinator with Disney On Ice, then a company manager for Disney Live, and ending back at Disney On Ice as company manager to open Follow Your Heart.

Disney On Ice has a show director who travels with the show: Sue Brody “is amazingly talented and has been doing our shows her whole life out of high school,” Santorelli says. Part of Brody’s role, according to Santorelli, is to make sure the original intent of the show is maintained throughout the tour. “If anything does need to be changed depending on venue, she’ll get with me and Jim Webb, who is our production stage manager, to make sure it works both with the crew and performers, and if needed we go back to the [head] show director and choreographer to get their input to see if there’s any way we can keep the original intent with any obstacles that come up.”

That type of collaborative environment is “one of the things I love about being with Disney On Ice and Feld Entertainment,” says Santorelli, who is originally from Flushing, Queens. “We’re all here to make sure the show goes on flawlessly for our audiences everywhere, to make sure that an audience at the end of our season sees the same show that the audience at the start of our season sees.”

To ensure the success of the show, Follow Your Heart has 43 skaters, 13 crewmembers, and five staff members who travel with the show.

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Performing the Show

Before the show each day, the 43 skaters get together to work on edges and general skating, then those that do a lot of tricks in the show—backflips, lifts, and even aerial tricks on silks and ropes—have separate warm up sessions to practice those tricks. Then the company has an off-ice warm up, including cardio and stretching.
    

Jessica and Brendyn Hatfield demonstrate a backflip


“It's a very intense acrobatic show, so we have to make sure that our bodies are warm and ready to do that type of stuff—especially the opening, which starts very, very intense and full of energy, so you have to be warm and flexible with that,” Brendyn says.

Once the show starts, we meet Riley and her emotions intertwined with favorite new and classic Disney and Disney•Pixar characters in a storyline that “is like an emotional rollercoaster,” as I overheard a young girl sitting near me on opening night at Barclays Center in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, say. Once Riley conquers her hockey fears, we “just keep swimming” with Dory, Marlin, and Nemo as they embark on an adventure to find Dory’s parents. The show ends with the ever-popular Frozen, in which Olaf asks Anna to recount how they met.

In true Frozen fanatic fashion, the kids (and most adults) in the audience on opening night sang along to the songs from the movie—most enthusiastically to “Let It Go.” It was like a concert instead of an ice show.

“It’s cool because in some venues our room is close, and we can actually hear the echo of the kids singing in the hallway. This is the first venue we’ve played that I heard that. I mean, maybe I’m singing along too…” Brendyn says with a grin. “It’s just a great show because there’s something for everybody, young and old, classic and contemporary characters.”

Plus, “it’s got a great message for kids,” Santorelli adds.
    

Disney On Ice: Follow Your Heart is at the Barclays Center in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, though Nov. 13, and will be at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, Nov. 16-20. For more information and tickets, visit disneyonice.com.
     

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