For Disney on Ice cast member Sarah Nolan, performing at the FirstOntario Center in Hamilton this week is a looping moment, 12 years after she first auditioned for the show at the same venue.
The tradition of bringing Disney On Ice to the city’s downtown is back until Sunday after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s where it all started,” Nolan told CBC Hamilton earlier this week ahead of opening night Thursday.
Since that first audition, the Brantford resident has toured the world with the family production, which marked 40 years of performances in 2021 and has visited 68 countries since its debut in the United States.
But Nolan hasn’t returned to performing in Hamilton since joining the cast.
“My grandfather comes to the show on Thursday and he hasn’t seen me skate in seven years. My parents come to the show, my sister, a couple of my cousins. So to be back and play for them, oh my God, I get emotional just thinking about it.”
A dream career
As a cast member of the ensemble, Nolan plays a variety of roles while on her skates, ranging from a little green soldier in the Toy Story numbers to a seashell during the “Under the Sea” performance. “.
Her favorite role, however, is as a towel during the song “Be Our Guest”.
“It’s completely unlike anything you’ll see on any other Disney On Ice show because we’re skating for about a third of the number and then all of a sudden we’re airborne for the rest of the number. It’s kind of cool to hear, the first time we all get on, the whole crowd screaming ‘wow!'”
Nolan now hopes to get more people interested in skating for Disney On Ice, saying it’s “the best career a young skater can have”.
“There’s something super special about making a connection, especially with kids…and you wave to them, and they respond to you, it kind of breaks that barrier.”
A forced break
Nolan and her husband, who is the show’s production manager, had intended to quit touring life and settle down before the pandemic canceled their last tour.
“My husband and I weren’t necessarily supposed to do this tour. We were going to go off road [before the pandemic hit]so as soon as I saw we were coming to Hamilton, I couldn’t believe it.”
After an enforced nine-month hiatus, Nolan decided she wasn’t ready to quit touring just yet.
“My whole identity was really shrouded [around skating]so that was interesting because I got to really visit that and sit with how I had wrapped up my identity [around] performing and who I was outside of that. It’s kind of a harsh reality to sit with,” she said.
Nolan said those months gave her the opportunity to look into other interests, which led to her becoming a coach and getting a part-time job with Michael, but it also gave her the opportunity to reconsider his decision to leave the series.
“By dint of leaving the road [because of] covid, [my husband and I] realized that the main thing was that we wanted to finish on our terms, and we are now able to do that, and we are very grateful for that.”
As a cast member of Disney On Ice, Nolan is often away from her home in Brantford for six to nine months out of the year, but the pandemic hiatus has made her realize the importance of family time.
“I think the draw to get off the road and the draw to settle down and have your own house is definitely pulling a bit harder right now.”
A return for FirstOntario Center
Not only have actors like Nolan had an unpredictable two years, but Hamilton’s FirstOntario Center has also seen changes in the pandemic.
The venue’s general manager, Andrew Nash, said Disney On Ice’s return feels like a return to where things left off in March 2020.
“March 12 was kind of the day that literally the whole year was rolled back, and we went from one of our best years in the venue’s history to literally nothing in 24 hours.”
The venue served as a shelter for homeless people for a few months in 2020 after they were forced to cancel all events that year, and it has taken many forms since then.
“During the different waves of the [pandemic] … we went straight from the homeless shelter to a little ice rental and that kind of stuff, it looked like events might start again, with the [Ontario Hockey League]of course, but then everything fell apart again and got stuck.”
Nash said he was thrilled to see people willing to return to Disney On Ice locations.
“It’s really exciting to see the excitement in the community… It’s almost kind of emotional, just the excitement to have that next step to move on and get back to doing what we’re doing. the best.”