In the middle of summer 2012, performers at Germain Arena in Fort Myers practiced to skate right into 2013, creating a magic potion of Walt Disney’s family entertainment for Southwest Florida.
The first show for “Disney On Ice presents Worlds of Fantasy” revs up Friday, March 8, with a race between Lightning McQueen, Mater and the crew of Disney/Pixar’s “Cars” across Germain’s slick, gleaming surface.
There’s plenty of Disney effects, with a dancing rainbow of color on set and booming music, comical life-size “talking” and skidding cars, breathtaking ice theatrics, spotlights and even fire shooting from the ice.
And yes — the opening has Mickey and Minnie.
The thrilling show promises almost two hours of four favorite Disney story variations: “Cars,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Tinkerbell” and “Toy Story 3.” It all comes to life on the ice with a team of 40 professional skaters who make Disney magic seem as easy.
But, off the ice and behind the scenes, it’s hard work to make all that magic seem so effortless, and it began in summer.
By that point, its characters were on the ice.
Principal skater Dora Vikar, from Budapest, Hungary, started skating when she was 4 years old, and has been with Disney on Ice for 13 years. She is in the current tour as Jessie in “Toy Story 3.”
“I love my job,” said Vikar, 33, a vibrant, athletic blonde. “But, yes, it is demanding. We must practice a lot, and perform perfectly because the shows are live.”
Vikar and all the other performers are professional ice skaters who perform vigorously and sometimes pull off dangerous stunts. All told, Vikar said, she puts in about
40 hours a week on the ice, including performances.
And then there are workouts off the ice. These cast members bring the Disney magic to children in area hospitals and YMCAs, and then they spend time traveling — on the road nine months at a time, living out of suitcases.
“There are times when it can get a little hard. When I’m injured or sick, the show must go on. I’ve missed 10 Christmas holidays with my family,” Vikar said.
“But, you know, I could not imagine any other life. I love it.”
Plenty of work was going on outside the arena as well — in fact, some of it on the other side of the country. Feld Entertainment, which produces the Disney shows around the world, is responsible for creating some of the Disney magic, and Philip Hoobing is in charge of forging the fantasy with precision. Hoobing is the company manager for ice and stage show operations.
“When we bring it in, you’re looking at eight huge trailers worth of equipment, plus backup,” he said. “ (In) every arena we go to, we have to put up trussing, rigging for the lights and sound.
“If we can’t rig a building, we have towers we bring in. And, of course, we design, build and bring all of our own sets, props and costumes. It takes a lot of crew and time to set up.”
Hoobing said some arenas don’t even have the show’s main ingredient.
“In instances where the venue doesn’t have ice, we have our own ice department. In the case of Germain they do the ice for us,” he said.
Scott Lane is a costume designer with Feld, and among others, he designed the “Toy Story 3” costumes.
“Designing the costumes is a long and precise process, from concept to actually putting it together, it’s about a year,” Lane said from his California home. He and the other designers work closely with Director of Costumes Dawna Oak, a Feld employee who is stationed in Florida.
“The costumes, materials and props have to work for athletes moving around and performing.” Lane added, “The biggest challenge in designing for this show was trying to keep the toy scale, coming up with the right fabrics for plastic, wood, and metal, and things that would appear like real toys and also (be) movable for the performers. To turn it into the human element and make it work on the ice was the biggest challenge.”
Part of what they’re all creating is, of course, secret.
“I can’t let anyone back stage, or in the dressing rooms,” Hoobing said. “We have everything here, the props, the costumes, but there’s a lot I can’t tell you,” he said with a smile. “We don’t want people to know everything that goes into the fantasy world on ice, because that’s the secret Walt Disney wanted kept tucked away to preserve the Disney magic.”
And even they can feel the magic.
“I have made such good friends with the people I work with,” Vikar said. “And to see the faces of the people in the audience, especially the children, there’s nothing like it.”
IF YOU GO
‘Disney on Ice presents Worlds of Fantasy’
Where: Germain Arena, 11000 Everblades Parkway, Estero
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 8; 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 9; 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday, March 10
Tickets: 1-800-745-3000 or www.germainarena.com