Treasure Trove production includes African American figure skaters
By James L. Stroud, Jr.
Year after year, since its debut in 1981, Disney on Ice has entertained families around the world and employed more than 400 professional skaters that bring life to Disney characters on ice. The Disney on Ice concept was created by Kenneth Feld.
Feld’s company, Feld Entertainment, is the licensee of the Walt Disney Company, with exclusive worldwide rights to produce live Disney-themed shows. Disney on Ice has performed in more than 70 countries and six continents.
On Thursday, December 8, 2011 through Sunday, December 11, 2011, Disney on Ice will make its way to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, with their latest theme show: Treasure Trove. Treasure Trove is a combination of different Disney stories all wrapped up into one performance.
For decades, much has been said about the importance of African American role models in general and African American athletes as role models in particular. When young African American children are in front of a camera and asked what they want to be when they grow up, many times they typically respond by expressing an interest in becoming a rap star, actor, or a professional football, basketball or baseball player. One not so typical response is to hear African American children say that they want to become a figure skater as an athletic choice, professional or otherwise.
Farryn Johnson (FJ) and Alexander Allen (AA), two African Americans who are featured professional skaters/performers with the Disney on Ice touring production of Treasure Trove, were introduced to ice skating at an early age — Johnson at age four and Allen at age 11 — and responded by deciding they wanted to become professional skaters.
MSR spoke with both Farryn Johnson from Chicago, Illinois and Alexander (Alex) Allen from Ft. Washington, Maryland about their journey from skate clubs and local competitions to traveling the world with Disney on Ice. According to both skaters it was a hard-earned journey that is still paying off, but required much sacrifice, practice, determination and money in order to reach their goals.
MSR: Alex, when did the tour start and how many cities are you going to visit?
AA: I’m not sure about the number of cities, but the tour began in Lakeland, Florida.
MSR: When did you start touring with Disney, and how did you get the job?
AA: I first started with Disney about four years ago with High School Musical. When High School Musical opened up in 2007, they had an East-Coast, West-Coast and an international tour. I was in the East-Coast tour.
MSR: What role did you play?
AA: I played the role of Zeek.
AA: It was only two of us in that show: Zeek and then there was Chad. Chad had the long hair and Zeek was the baker.
MSR: How did you get the job on ice?
AA: This is where the blessing comes in disguise. Ever since I was young and skating in my local rink, we had production teams. The production teams would do skits or music videos and compete with it. They would be about four minutes long.
Well, our skating team always did a Disney show. We did The Lion King, Beauty & the Beast, Cinderella and Aladdin.
MSR: Sounds like a good training ground for Disney.
AA: You could say that. So one day after working with my trainer before going off to college, one of the longtime choreographers for Disney named Jill Thomas came over to visit the rink. She saw me and remembered seeing me skate before, and she asked if I was interested in doing a Disney on Ice show.
I said yeah. She said that she would give my information and material to her best friend. I didn’t know at the time that her best friend was Judy Tomlin, who is the talent coordinator for Disney that handles all of the performers. We’re all here because of her. They sent me a contract.
Allen continued by pointing out a few coincidences, but he believes it was God ordering his steps along his journey. First, there was the starting out young doing mostly Disney shows locally and then getting the part of Zeek (the baker) and now working for Disney.
Allen’s mother was also known as a baker. In fact, to fray some of the costs associated with skating shoes, lessons and competitions, Allen and his mother would sell cookies door-to-door in the neighborhood. Since then, and with no coincidence, Allen has been selected for tours in Brazil, Japan, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, Australia, South America and back home for the current production Treasure Trove.
Allen says that professional skates could cost anywhere from $700 to $1500, and professional lessons could cost $1.00 per minute.
MSR also asked Farryn Johnson about her skating experiences growing up. Johnson plays the role of Princess Tiana in Treasure Trove.
MSR: Now you started skating at age four. Did your mother put you in lessons then, or did you do it for the fun of falling down on the ice and getting back up?
FJ: I originally went for fun one day when I was four years old at the mall. It was an ice skating rink inside of [the mall]. My mom saw that I took to the ice quickly. She asked if I would like to take lessons as a hobby, and I said yes. I was getting lessons right away — not private lessons — but when I was five, it got serious and I began private lessons.
MSR: I understand that skating can be very expensive, talking with Alex. Seven hundred dollars for skates is not cheap.
FJ: We didn’t have a trust fund or go around selling anything. My mom decided to work long hours: two jobs and working on the weekends. We had to cut back on fun things like cable or going out to eat.
There were times when we just had spaghetti and hotdogs for one week or two. So that’s basically how we paid for skating; we just cut back on things. Also, my coaches knew how hard my mom was working. They would look out for me.
MSR: You are affectionately known as a perfectionist. Tell me about that.
FJ: I guest you could say it’s something that I always wanted to do. I can even remember being little and every time that I saw a falling star, I would wish to be a professional skater. I just take the job seriously.
This is my second year. The first year, I wasn’t a principal skater; I was part of an ensemble. So I had to work for the job title that I have now. I want to make sure that I do good, because you know it’s an honor to skate in the role of Princess Tiana. I want to always make sure I’m on my A-game and I don’t disappoint anyone, including myself.
Johnson gives thanks to God and to her mom/manager, a.k.a. “momanger,” as she says. Johnson’s success comes from wishing on falling stars to become a professional skater and a rising star.
For information about the Disney on Ice Treasure Trove, go to www.xcelenergycenter.com or call 651-726-8240.
James L. Stroud, Jr. welcomes reader responses to jlstroud@spokes man-recorder.com.