Imagica Theatre on Ice is a phenomenon in today’s world of figure skating. Here is a brief history of the team, how it came about, and where it is going.
When Did Theatre on Ice Start?
Theatre on Ice in the United States started in 1992, in Burlington, Vermont. Prior to that, Theatre on Ice was started and performed in France, and remains extremely popular in Europe to this day.
Adult Ice Theatre Starts in Boston
A small group of skaters at The Skating Club of Boston formed an adult Theatre on Ice group in 1996 under the direction of Kingsford Swan. This informal group performed a program called “A Day in the Life”, and this program was about a group of skaters minding their own business and living their own lives, tragedy strikes, and how to live in peace and harmony. The program was performed at the 1996 Open International Theatre Competition (OITC) which is an event that used to be held every year for any team in the world that wanted to participate and hosted by the United States. However, the group of skaters disbanded after the 1996 season.
Mornings in Peabody
In the fall of 1997 one skater from this disbanded group–Theresa Lee–and a small group of adult skaters from the North Shore got together and decided to continue the team in Peabody, Massachusetts. (Theresa is a member of this team to this day.)
The skaters met every Monday at 7 am to work on a program that they performed throughout the year, including competing at the OITC as individual members of US Figure Skating. Lacking an adult category, we competed against teams comprised mostly of skaters under the age of 18. We were not necessarily “competitive” skating against such young teams, but we sure had fun!
Our first program, “The Muses” (a Greek Mythology program), was under the direction of coach Martha Harding. During the 1998 season the group voted on a team name: Imagica Theatre on Ice. Felicia Reynolds, the team member who came up with the name, says the word is a combination of “magic” and “imagination.”
Martha Harding directed the team for two seasons before moving to Vermont. We then brought in Alisa Wallis Contreras at the start of the 1999–2000 season. Alisa directed the team from 1999 until the fall of 2003, before moving to Florida. The team then brought in Tasney Mazzarino to coach, who has been our head coach ever since. Tasney was also a member of Imagica for two competitive seasons, 1998–2000, until she rejoined as our coach in 2003.
Full Circle Back to Boston
In the spring of 2004, a new skater—Bob Withrow—joined the team. Bob had seen Imagica perform at the Green Mountain Open Competition in Vermont that winter, and he emailed Imagica the next day to ask if he could join. Bob was a member of The Skating Club of Boston (SCOB) and a member of their board of directors, and thought it would be great for both the club and the team if Imagica moved to SCOB. The SCOB already had a Senior team (middle and high school students), and an adult team would be a nice complement for the club. After some discussion, the team decided to move practice to Sunday nights at the SCOB facilities in Brighton, Masachusetts and represent The Skating of Club of Boston. Bob has since moved to California, but we will forever be grateful to him for bringing us to SCOB.
First Adult-Only Competitions
Coincidentally, Imagica’s first season at SCOB was the first year the US Figure Skating’s National Theatre on Ice Committee (NTOI) introduced an adult-only category at the international competition. A second adult team started that year in Burlington, Vermont by none other than Martha Harding, the original coach of Imagica. In 2005, Imagica became the first-ever Adult Theatre on Ice champions in the United States, an exciting moment in Imagica’s history.
Imagica Goes International
At the various international competitions held in the United States, Imagica would compete against teams from France, Russia, and the Ukraine. These countries would bring judges to represent their countries on the judging panels. One judge, Jean Christoph “JC” Berlot, frequently complimented Imagica on our program’s entertainment value even though we did not always place well. JC would often ask, “What keeps your team going year after year?” Adults hardly ever skate in France; adults either coach or retire.” Seeing adults enjoying the sport so much was fascinating to JC.
During the 2005–2006 competitive season, JC invited Imagica to France to compete and exhibit. Imagica decided to travel to Europe both to compete and bring awareness about adults in Theatre on Ice. Imagica participated in the Nice, France open competition in the spring of 2006, and two-thirds of the team (12 skaters) performed our Olympic Parody long program and Shark Attack short program. Because France does not have adult skaters, we competed in the Junior category.
Our trip to Nice was an experience we will never forget. Adult team skating was such a foreign concept to the Europeans that when we took the ice for our practice, the rink manager told us we couldn’t skate—the ice was for a competition and not public skating. We politely informed him we were in fact competing. After the performance, the other competitors and audience gave us a standing ovation! Sometimes it’s not whether you came in last place; it’s more about the 5.0 out of 6.0 we received for artistic impression from JC, who stood up with his open scoring card while we were receiving our marks. It’s probably the first time that a team coming in last place was cheering so loud! Afterwards, JC wrote this article in France’s Skating Magazine about our skate in Nice (English translation on page 3 of the article).
First-Ever National Championship
In 2008, the NTOI Committee voted to start a National Championship for Theatre on Ice. Imagica is currently the four-time Adult National Champions! This event is not yet a qualifying event where skaters must first compete regionally to be able to skate in the National Championships, but hopefully we will see this happen in the future as Theatre on Ice expands.
Bursting at the Seams…
Since coming to The Skating Club of Boston, Imagica’s membership has continued to grow steadily each year. Coincidentally, during 2008, the first year of the National Championships, we approached “critical mass” —our team had 26 skaters (out of a 30-skater maximum)! Unfortunately, this was becoming difficult for Tasney to manage. For the 2006–2007 season, Amy Hanson-Kuleska helped with some of the on-ice choreography.
In 2007, Imagica reached 30 skaters! At this point, we brought in Choreographer Amy Vecchio on a full-time basis to assist Tasney. Since then, we have maintained a full roster of 30 skaters.
First-Ever Nation’s Cup
All international events prior to 2009 were considered open events—any team can participate in an open event if they have permission from their home country’s federation. At the 2009 National Competition, the NTOI committee announced that France would host the first-ever Nation’s Cup competition in the spring of 2010. More importantly, this competition would include an adult event! This would be the first qualifying adult event in the history of US Figure Skating! The gold-, silver-, and bronze-medal winning adult teams from the 2009 National competition would qualify. Imagica was honored to be one of the first teams to participate in such an event.
Imagica initially planned to take all 30 team members to the competition in Toulouse, France. However, because of the volcanic eruption in Iceland, several flights were cancelled, leaving Imagica with only 25 skaters. Regardless, Imagica went on to compete and win! The most exciting part of the trip was meeting the new adult team from Australia, the first international adult team outside of the United States! Australia, unfortunately, didn’t make it to the 2011 Nation’s Cup held here in the United States, but a new adult team from Moscow did. Adult theatre is slowly but surely becoming globally accepted.
Future of Imagica
Every year brings more and more change and excitement to Theatre on Ice. Skaters’ skill levels increase, the costumes and sets become more elaborate, and the choreography more challenging and intricate—yet we still manage to maintain our sense of humor. It has been exciting to watch this discipline of figure skating from the beginning and then grow to where it is now, and to be part of that. We don’t know where we are heading, but the ride has been incredible … stay tuned!