By Troy Schwindt
As chair of U.S. Figure Skating’s Theatrical Committee, Roland Bessette gets to mix business and pleasure. His business is making sure events such as the National Theatre On Ice Competition and National Showcase run as smoothly as possible. The pleasure he receives comes from watching the faces of the skaters light up when they compete.
Bessette, who hails from the Boston area, is leading the charge this weekend at National Showcase in Hyannis, Mass., where 226 skaters and 57 teams (473 starts) are displaying their theatrical skating talents for judges, friends and family to enjoy.
The top performers from the preliminary rounds on Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning will compete on Saturday afternoon in the Parade of Champions. The event is being held at the Hyannis Youth and Community Center, with the Bourne Skating Club serving has the host organization.
“It’s fun and one place where people really go out and enjoy themselves,” Bessette said of National Showcase. “The competition stress is very different for this; there really isn’t any. Skaters are out there enjoying it, they are having fun and it’s keeping a lot of people in skating who normally wouldn’t have stayed with the sport; they would have left a long time ago. Now they have a place to use their expressive way of skating rather than just the technical part. They can actually perform.”
Showcase fuses artistic creativity with figure skating for single skaters, duets, small ensembles of three to seven and production numbers of eight to 30. It offers the categories of light entertainment, dramatic entertainment and interpretive to singles skaters. Singles participating in light or dramatic entertainment programs perform under spotlights as do duets. All other events are performed under full house lighting.
While there was another major event going on this week on the East Coast — State Games of America in Hershey, Pa., — Bessette said he is still encouraged with the turnout at National Showcase.
“That (event) didn’t help us but we still have solid numbers,” he said.
Like Bessette, co-founder of Showcase and longtime judge Morry Stillwell takes great joy in watching skaters develop into seasoned entertainers. Stillwell and Jack Curtis started Showcase at their home club – the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club – in 1972. Stillwell, who served as U.S. Figure Skating president from 1995 to 1998, has watched and judged countless Showcase events over 42 years, as well as many of the sport’s elite competitions. \
“I love to see the creativity,” said Stillwell, who is working this year’s event along with his wife Elda, who is the chief accountant. “You see skaters who suddenly blossom. You watch them wander around the rink and try and do the more difficult jumps, which I really appreciate, but suddenly they come out of a shell and you watch them develop from very small to seasoned performers. I also see them suddenly understand music and that to me is really great.”
Unlike Showcase performers in those early years, the crop of young skaters today are more confident and thrive in front of an audience.
“Now their peers cheer them on, they can stand up to audiences,” he said. “They are having fun — even when they do tragic things — they are still having fun.”
Stillwell likes the international judging system, he said, but he loves the fact that Showcase offers an open canvass to the skaters.
“They do exactly what they want,” he said.
One National Showcase tradition that will continue on Saturday during the Parade of Champions is the performance of Mr. Debonair, Richard Dwyer. Dwyer, who starred in Ice Follies and Ice Capades for decades, has been in town all week and has watched every event.
He’ll perform with the Dwyer Ladies at the end of competition. He’ll also present the trophy to the overall Parade of Champions winner, which is named after him.
“One of the great things about Richard being here is that these kids get to learn from him,” Bessette said. “When he goes out to practice, he doesn’t have private practice time. He goes out there with everyone else and works with the younger skaters. He’s one of our best ambassadors.”
See below for photos from National Showcase courtesy of Christopher Stockman Photography