Walking into the JFK Coliseum this weekend will be like walking into a bookstore, complete with classic stories like Harry Potter, Treasure Island, Oliver Twist and Charlotte’s Web.
Southern New Hampshire Figure Skating Club skaters ages 2 to 60 will perform as some of literature’s most famous characters, and they’ll do so against a jumbotron, bookstore backdrop and props that took about 50 people two months to build.
Spearheading the literary theme with this club’s annual exhibition is show director Teri Nordle, who’s been skating with the club since she was a kid herself. The idea came after perusing Barnes & Noble in Manchester this summer, looking for books for her son’s upcoming fall college classes.
“I was thinking, you could spend hours and hours in a bookstore and never get bored or see the same thing twice. It opens a world of imagination,” Nordle said.
The exhibition promises creative costumes, sets and props. Each program tells a different story with special effects. The Aladdin number has an elephant, genie and Aladdin dummy that will fly via carpet from the top balcony. For Alice in Wonderland, the ice is topped with giant flowers, mushrooms and 48 skaters dressed in card costumes, and for Matilda, it holds a blackboard, desk and scary Miss Trunchbull. Fifteen cats in hats plus Thing 1 and Thing 2 will glide on the ice for a Dr. Seuss number, while a 10-foot Big Ben makes an appearance in one themed around Oliver Twist. For Goosebumps, skaters start the program inside a tent with flashlights.
“When we do Charlotte’s Web, we’re telling the whole story. Someone will be playing the role of Charlotte, dressed as a black spider with her chiffon sparkly web behind her. There will be barnyard animals, the mama goose and Wilbur, the famous pig who could talk. And we have Templeton the rat, who ate all the food at the fair,” Nordle said.
The woman playing Templeton, in fact, returns to the ice after years of skating dormancy, reviving the role she played in the club’s 1996 production.
“Twenty years later, she’s coming back because her 5-year-old daughter is skating, and we wrangled her into becoming a coach with us,” Nordle said. “Once people come to our club, they tend to stay for a long time. … We’re not training Olympians. We do have some competitive skaters, but we’re a grassroots club. We teach kids who are figure skaters, hockey players, adults.”
Nordle’s husband Ken Lajoie leads the production team for the annual exhibition. He grew up in a theater family and spent many after-school hours building sets for the Community Players of Concord. The day before the show, the club rents the entire rink and set up from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Members install special lights and assemble pieces across the ice.
“I definitely enjoy it,” Lajoie said. “I enjoy the challenge of trying to make the reality of what [Nordle] has envisioned.”
The show budget isn’t huge. Some older skaters are required to put in volunteer hours, building sets, props or sewing costumes at “prop parties,” the majority of which happen in the old St. Joseph School auditorium. Nordle has a longstanding relationship with the New Hampshire School of Ballet; her daughter learned to dance there, and the two companies help each other out with costume inventory.
But 2016 has been a good year for SNHFSC. The Learn to Skate program has taken off, with lessons three times a week, and this year’s show has a cast of 80. Nordle credits great coaches, volunteers, the improving economy and the club’s 50-plus-year history, standing as the longest-running skating club in the state.
“The economy plays a big factor, and it always has. I’ve been here through five decades of skating. Certainly the last 33 years I’ve been coaching here, I’ve seen it go up and down based on economic factors,” Nordle said. “It’s exciting to be able to come full circle, being able to develop the program where we’re back on the upswing.”