Behind the Scenes
Ice Chips, the Club’s annual professional production, is the longest-running ice show in the world. Famous for consistently lighting up the ice with world-class skating performances and showcasing some of the sport’s greatest legends, the show has featured guest stars from Dick Button and Tenley Albright, to Alexei Yagudin, Evan Lysacek, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, Javier Fernandez, and more.
The show has always been a magnificent spectacle showcasing the Club’s members from children to adults, including Theatre On Ice and Synchronized Skating teams. Over the show’s 100-plus year run, Ice Chips has become quite well-known throughout the figure skating world, but what goes into putting on such a production?
Those at the helm of the Ice Chips spend as much as a year in advance planning all aspects of the show, from that year’s theme, music and costumes, to the production’s sets and lighting designs. It’s with a team of industry professionals, Club members, and staff all coming together to bring the show to life each year that makes Ice Chips such an enjoyable occasion.
The Club has held Ice Chips at a variety of different venues throughout its history. Since the ’90s and early 2000s, the show has been held at a variety of venues including Northeastern University’s Matthews Arena as well as Boston University’s Walter Brown Arena and Agganis Arena. Most recently, Ice Chips has been held at Harvard University’s Bright-Landry Arena where we have documented some of the behind-the-scenes processes to share them with you.
Operationally, the arena that holds Ice Chips is no more than a shell or an event space. It is completely up to the Club to stage, dress, and transform each of these arenas into the magical spectacle that Ice Chips becomes for the Club’s members and audience each year. With Executive Producer, Katharine Steeger, along with member Co-Chairs, Ronellen Gagnon, Kim Donlan, JoAnna Lloyd and Creative Producer and Show Director, Timothy LeBlanc leading the charge, plans for the show slowly come together piece-by-piece with many creative meetings, phone calls, collaborations, story-boards, renderings and more.
With sit-down meetings beginning in August, Tim and Katharine will often begin by formulating their production team, volunteers, and the show’s Creative Team and Production Crew heads. The Creative Team consists of a Head Choreographer, Assistant Head Choreographer and a team of Choreographers and Associate Choreographers. The show’s Director, Tim, will work with fellow Creative Team leaders to develop concepts, stories, and themes. From there, they will pick a variety of music and begin constructing the vision and outline for the show. Tim will deliver his Creative Team with the overall skating vision and it is up to the Head Choreographer and Assistant Head Choreographer, along with the rest of the Creative Team, to bring the skating element of that vision to life through movement and choreography.
During this process, Tim will continue to work with the Production Team, outlining props, costumes, set and lighting design plans. They will go through a series of visuals and renderings constructing the various artistic and technical pieces of the production design elements to bring a new and fresh set design and visual experience to life. Through working out all these pieces over months and months of time, finally, it comes to the load-in week, where the Club moves into the show arena and begins to see their vision come to life as they transform the arena into what the audience experiences for every year of Ice Chips.
While the Club members and cast have just finished a busy 7 to 9-week rehearsal process, the Sunday before the show marks the final rehearsal at the Club and is also known as the Full Dress Rehearsal. This is where the show is fully run with costumes, and all finishing touches are made prior to switching over to the show arena. After a long and busy day at the dress rehearsal, the work does not cease for the team, as it is often the same night that early preparations are beginning at the show arena.
At the beginning of the week, the Club’s facilities and production teams take over the show arena and begin painting a clean layer of white across the top of the ice surface, to magically allow the hockey lines to disappear. They then flood the ice and build layers and layers of ice up above the white layer to leave for a nice and clean show-ready look. From here the hockey glass is removed, nets are tied up, and the arena is ready for the production and lighting design team to take over the arena.
At the crack of dawn on Tuesday, trucks begin rolling up to the loading dock one-by-one, and crate after crate is rolled off, along with heavy machinery and equipment, all through the tight Zamboni doors. Suddenly the arena has become a workspace filled with crew members and technicians all working away to transform the once hockey arena into a magical performance center.
They begin with setting up the main truss structures, which typically consist of two long series of trusses going down either side of the arena in addition to two horizontal trusses over the ice. Each section of truss is keenly positioned to provide key lighting elements to the show performance and ice surface. Then last to be set up is the main set trusses which will hold the curtain, set structures and the pieces that create the beautiful backdrop for the show.
One of the most exciting times is when the various lighting equipment and artistic elements are put into place. One by one each light is lifted out of their crates, with every light taking 2-3 guys to lift. They are then placed on the trusses for their new temporary weekend home. As hours go by, lights are moved into place and dialed into the board, and one by one each light beam comes on and you begin to see the excitement of what’s to come.
Then comes the moment where all trusses are finally raised, and the arena is ready for the finishing touches. Drapes have been put in place around the arena to dress it up, and seal off the day-to-day feel. House lights are modified and dimmed, and the production experience is ready for its initial tests and programming.
Now comes the fun part. For the next two full-days, Creative Producer and Show Director, Tim, sits with the Production and Lighting Designer, Scott Clyve, and they tirelessly go through the entire show from front to back. They program every single lighting look, and cue for every little music bump, change and movement of excitement, all of which is meticulously planned ahead of time to coincide with the music and choreography. A very long and tedious process, though exciting, the show slowly comes together. Tim and Scott begin to see the various fruitions of their vision come to life and feel the excitement they are about to display for our audiences over the weekend.
Next to come is the Tech Rehearsal, an exciting but equally stressful process for all. Exciting for everyone to see the show set and lighting altogether, however especially stressful for Tim and Scott and all members of the Creative and Production Team as they know so much is at stake. This is the time where they take all of the technical elements they have been planning for a year and put it together with the actual show, cast, and choreography. If just one simple issue takes place, it could set them back at a time where time is valuable, and as many as 380 cast members are depending on them and the Creative and Production Team’s meticulous planning to come together for one smooth operation. Once Tech Rehearsal is complete, Tim and Scott need to tend to all final adjustments and fixes late into the night and early the following morning which, of course, is now day one of the show.
The shows are always an exciting time. The energy and excitement of the arena once the final ice resurface is complete, the pre-show music begins, and the doors open. Suddenly audience members are pouring in and experiencing the excitement and anticipation of this year’s show. As the start of the show nears, the countdown begins. Tim, wearing two headsets, calls the show live. One headset is to communicate with all production and backstage personnel, and the other headset is used to communicate with all lighting, spotlight operators and cameramen. And, so as the time comes he initiates the official countdown, “all set here we go team, show control fade to blackout with music on, three-two-one, and roll Overture with volume!” And we are off; the first Ice Chips show begins! Tim and Scott work together as Tim calls all the live production and lighting cues, counting the music out loud and giving Scott the verbal and visual cue to hit the go button for each of the sometimes 600 or more show cues. An adrenaline rush, but fun time, as they blast through the music, pumping the fog and making the lights move bringing Ice Chips to life.
Once the first show is done, it is always a sigh of relief. The first show is the ultimate-test since most technical elements that went wrong the night before during Tech Rehearsal had only been fixed in testing time outside of the rehearsal. After the first show, the weekend often flies by. Tim and Scott always joke with the Production Crew that by Sunday’s show they got it all down pat, so much, in fact, they think they are ready to take the show on the road, a bittersweet joke, of course, for as fun of a weekend as Ice Chips always is, and for as long as the anticipation builds, the sad end of the weekend always seems to come so fast. By the time the end of the Sunday show is near, the trucks and load-out crew have already arrived and are waiting out back for the house to clear of audience members, and for the cast to return to their locker rooms. Before the Creative and Production Team even has a chance to breath, the load-out process is in full swing.
Ice Chips has always been a long-standing constant with the Club, an annual tradition filled with laughter, spirit and love of skating from the Club’s rich 100-plus year history of members and most of all memories. It is with the devotion and passion of the Club’s members, volunteers, professionals and staff, that events like Ice Chips can happen, and for them, we should all be forever grateful. We hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of Ice Chips, and just remember, while this year’s big spectacle of a show might not have happened, Katharine, Tim and their team are already working away with plans for next year’s most exciting Ice Chips show, at the Club’s new facility, where new memories for the next era of figure skating at the Club will begin and live for The Next 100 Years.