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Theatrical Skating - Where Creativity Thrives

Showcase Skaters Dazzle in Escondido, CA at 2012 National Showcase

(27 August 2012)  A common complaint directed at competitive skating today is that all the programs look the same with little variety or creativity in modern free skating programs.  Many fans blame IJS, while others say it simply has always been that way.  Add to this the endless waiting between skaters at competitions, and sometimes it seems attending an elite competition is more of a chore than a joy.

None of that can be said for theatrical skating, a little known form of competitive skating which consists of Showcase competition and Theatre on Ice competition.

Theatrical skating isn't about doing difficult jumps, and you won't see triples in these competitions.  What you will see, instead, are athletes who know how to skate -- blade on the ice skate with edges, footwork and spins.  And more importantly in this type of skating, you will see athletes who know how to express the music, engage the audience, entertain, get into character and maintain it for an entire program -- and do it with creativity.  You will see more creativity in a day of theatrical skating than you might in a season of elite skating.  Anything can happen from a giant skating slinky to an extemporaneous program in a giant cookie monster costume.

"After all these years, I continue to be amazed at the creativity of skaters and coaches in developing acts for Showcase,"  Morry Stillwell, co-founder of Showcase, and Chief Referee of the 2012 National Showcase, told us.  "We continue to hear that creativity has gone from skating due to the restrictions and rule requirements of the ISU. National Showcase provides an outlet for more than multi revolution jumps," he said.

Theatrical competition is also fast paced.  No waiting five minutes between every performance like in your typical IJS competition.  The skaters in showcase competitions warm up in a draped off region of the ice, so there are no warm-up groups.  There are also no technical panels and there are no reviews.  Thirty seconds and the next skater is on the ice, doing something different from the one before.  Skaters are allowed to use scenery and props, and the way skaters use these is often novel and unusual.

The 2012 National Showcase competition was held in Escondido, CA the second weekend of August.  This competition is usually held the first weekend of August, but was moved one week this year to avoid conflict with a large local competition which is also held the first weekend of August.  This was the ninth National Showcase competition held by U.S. Figure Skating, though the discipline is much older.  Skaters qualify to enter the competition by competing in showcase events offered in non-qualifying (local) competitions held throughout the U.S.

The showcase discipline was developed by Jack Curtis and Morry Stillwell, at the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club.

A Brief History of Showcase Skating (adapted from material provided to us by Morry Stillwell)

Show skating has been a part of skating for as long at there has been a U.S. Figure Skating Association.  In the early days when training for competition was often not a year-round activity, clubs would put on shows, often associated with major holidays.  In this respect the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club was similar to many U.S. clubs, producing a numbers of skating shows starting in 1969.  These shows were quite successful, but some club members felt they did not provide sufficient performance opportunities for many of its club members.  A group of club officials, led by Jack Curtis and Morry Stillwell came up with a way to provide opportunity for more members to display their skating talents. 

The format originated as a response to two specifics built into the sport of figure skating: first, the majority of skaters would not progress to the top of elite athletic competition and therefore abandoned the sport at a high rate. Second, while club ice shows provided most skaters opportunity, the necessarily large productions were burdensome and costly to produce.  The goal of showcase skating was to offer talented performers an outlet for their skating and a motivation to stay in the sport.

Roller skating had long held a “Gold Skate Classic” in Bakersfield, which was a theatrical skating competition for that sport. L.A. club members with a roller skating background wrote rules adapting the idea to ice and Showcase was born.

In 1974 the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club presented the first Showcase for Skaters over the objections of USFSA officials, who at the time considered theatrical skating an unsuitable activity. Since a sanction was refused, the event was held as a club competition for which no sanction was needed.  ISI members in attendance saw an opportunity and ISI Spotlight events commenced the following year as part of that organization's competition structure.  It was very popular with local skaters since Artistic and Interpretive events had not been developed or offered by U.S. Figure Skating.  The Los Angeles Figure Skating Club’s development group was able to draw upon a wide range of “Theatrical and Ice Show” advice, since most Ice Shows were based and trained in the Los Angeles area in those years.  Many Los Angeles Figure Skating Club members were associated with the movie industry or with the travelling ice shows.

Showcase skating provides the fun of a show without the burden of triple jump requirements, includes everyone who wishes to participate and frees clubs from the effort and expense of producing a show. The L.A. Showcase has been profitable from inception and has given rise to a cadre of talented theatrical skaters who have said that it is the reason they are still skating.

The basic concept for Showcase is to encourage skater creativity and performance skills.   Restrictions or impediments to creativity are to be kept at a minimum.  The use of costuming and appropriate music is encouraged to help skaters develop an understandable character.   Props are widely used to support a skater’s character and presentation. House lighting is darkened and theatrical spotlights are used to highlight a skater’s performance.  In this spirit it is important that Showcase be judged for theatricality and artistry from an entertainment perspective.  Judging forms provide for only one mark, to insure judging emphasis is properly followed.

The three main performance categories that were established and remain to this day are: 

  • Showcase Light Entertainment
  • Showcase Dramatic Entertainment
  • Extemporaneous Improvisational Programs

Categories are further divided by free skating test level and in accordance with U.S. Figure Skating age classifications.   Later, Duet categories were added along with Mini Production and Production Groups.   Duets are not pairs-type programs, but are two-person acts.  Duets can have both male, both female or mixed gender couples.  Mini Productions groups are acts that consist of a small number of skaters (at least three), while Production Groups make use of a larger cast.  Production Groups eventually evolved into the Theatre on Ice discipline.

Jack Curtis and Morry Stillwell co-founders of Showcase for Skaters at the Los Angles Figure Skating Club.

Showcase judges have often been professional actors, directors and dancers in Los Angeles. Official USFSA judges with an appreciation of the format are used for the National Showcase since the event is moved throughout the country.

After sanction became available for these types of competitions, Showcase competitions appeared in San Francisco, Sacramento, Dallas, Kansas City and other places; “artistic” events were added to about 60% of non-qualifying competitions. None of this scattered activity had any centralized direction or any significant reward so National Showcase was set up to fill that vacancy. Skaters placing in the first four places in a contested Showcase or Artistic event are eligible for National Showcase. No such qualification is required for duets or groups since few competitions hold such events.

The first National Showcase was in Texas in 2004, and the Richard Dwyer Trophy was presented in 2006 for the first time to the winner of the Parade of Champions, a final contest between the years’ winners from all the different singles events of the competition.

The Showcase concept was recently formalized by U.S. Figure Skating with its creation of a Theatrical Skating Committee to supervise National Showcase and Theater on Ice, establishing theatrical skating as a new discipline in the sport. ISU recognition one hopes lies ahead.

"We started showcase as a venue to give more of LA Members a chance to display their talents," Morry told us. "At that time the LA Club was loaded with elite skaters and we needed to support all our members. That philosophy has been the driving force as showcase expanded to the National level.  The concept was rejected by those sanctioning competitions at that time so we started Showcase as a club competition in 1974. Every year since that date, the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club has hosted "Showcase for Skaters."

Event categories in showcase skating include "light" and "dramatic artistic events for individual skaters, duets for two skaters, and extemporaneous events where the skaters make up programs to music they hear for the first time at the competition.  As in free skating, there are different divisions for skaters from the youngest though the oldest, including adult events. Men and women (boys and girls) skate against each other in competition.

In extemporaneous events, the skaters first hear the music selected by the organizers backstage prior to their event, and then twice in a warm-up on the ice.  From this they make up a program in real time.  Many skaters who participate in these events carry with them a bag of small props they can choose from to enhance their performance.  In the Parade of Extemporaneous Champions this year one adult skater tracked down a blue cookie monster costume the night before for use in the final round.  Another skater started her performance in a plain black costume, and proceeded to transform it by pulling a continuous stream of props from out of her bosom.  National Showcase is sometimes a wild ride.

On the last day of the competition, the winners of each event compete in a "parade of champions" with all of the winners of the higher singles divisions in one event, the lower singles divisions in another event, the duet winners in a third event, and finally the extemporaneous winners in a fourth event.

The Parade of Champions winners for 2012 are:

Champion Medal Winners and Results

Parade of Champions - Final Standings

  1. Piercyn Hunt, Ice House Skating Academy
  2. Crystalrose Guerra, All Year FSC
  3. Kate McSwain, Broadmoor SC
  4. Amber Van Wyk, Starlight Ice Dance Club
  5. Darian Weiss, Los Angeles FSC
  6. Joyce Chan, Sun Valley FSC
  7. Jacob Nussle, Ice House Skating Academy
  8. Amy Lin, Peninsula SC
  9. Rebecca Musick, ISC of Fresno

Parade of Junior Champions - Final Standings

  1. Akari Nakahara, All Year FSC
  2. Molly Gibbons, Santa Rosa FSC
  3. Chelsea Fujimura, Orange County FSC
  4. Isabella Colasanti, Ice House Skating Academy
  5. Alexandra Stuessi, Sun Valley FSC
  6. Ferrell Mack, Brazos Valley FSC
  7. Lane Letourneau, Sun Valley FSC
  8. Brittany Brooks, San Diego FSC
  9. Annabel Bowlen, Denver FSC
  10. Lynn Gawell, Tri-Valley FSC
  11. Elizabeth Chase, All Year FSC
  12. Sonja Reese, All Year FSC
  13. Molly MacGowan, Southern Oregon FSC
  14. Janelle Klenzing, Dallas FSC
  15. Elizabeth Risberg, SC of San Francisco

Parade of Duet Champions - Final Standings

  1. Bodo-Colasanti, Ice House Skating Academy
  2. Ice Art, Starlight Ice Dance Club
  3. Grohe, Strongsville SC
  4. McDavid Caicco, Ice House Skating Academy
  5. Titanic 3d, Los Angeles FSC
  6. The Babushkas, Fort Collins FSC
  7. The Jet Set, Ice House Skating Academy
  8. The Jet Sets, Denver FSC

Parade of Extemporaneous Champions - Final Standings

  1. Kyle Barnes, Stars FSC of Texas
  2. Taryn Jurgensen, Pasadena FSC
  3. Taylor Sirset, All Year FSC
  4. Jennifer Jones, Hawaii FSC
  5. Cecilia Weaver, Shattuck-St. Mary's SC
  6. Ariel Collins, Atlanta FSC
  7. Julianne Lefelhocz, Seattle SC
  8. Joan Bys, Los Angeles FSC
  9. Gina Testa, All Year FSC
  10. Lily-Finn Burdick, Durango FSC
  11. Erika Lehman, Fort Collins FSC
  12. Beth Biernacki, Ice House Skating Academy

A complete summary of all event results for the 2012 Championships is provided here: 2012 National Showcase Final Results Summary.pdf

Fans who would like to enjoy a weekend of quality, entertaining skating should mark their calendars for the 2013 National Showcase which will be held the first weekend of August (Thurs. through Sat.) in Boston, MA.

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