I really liked it when Aaron told us about himself in his Axels, Loops, and Spins Q & A, so maybe you'll like this too. And if you have any questions for me, please don't hesitate.
An Interview with the Author, Jenny Hall
By Sylvia Froescher
Many years ago I toured with a show called “Nutcracker on Ice”. It was one of those show experiences that always stays with you, because of the people that you met. It was a really hard tour. We did one nighters and traveled on a bus right after the show each night and then a show again the next day and not knowing where you were or what time it was. The particular cast or “cast of characters” was one of the best I had experienced in all my touring years. One of those unique combinations of individuals who “got it” that when everyone does their job, and does it well, Wow! It can be so much fun to go to work. During this tour is when I met Jenny Hall.
About 6 months ago, Jenny Hall sent me a Facebook message to ask me if I would like to read a book she had written about show life. I said “yes”, not really knowing much about her recently finished work. The book arrived and I was off on yet another business trip and tucked the book in my bag. Once on the plane, I cautiously opened up the book wondering what Jenny may have written. “Would it be good?”, “What if it wasn’t a good read….how would I tell her?” Well all of those fears quickly went away as I got absorbed into the tales of a girl’s first ice show experience. For once I didn’t want the plane to land. I flipped page after page completely engulfed in a world from my past. This wasn’t “my story” about show life, but boy oh boy did it feel like I had experienced so many of the situations. The book pretty much took over the next 3 days of my trip. While there was work to get done, I did it more efficiently so that I could slip back inside those pages and feel like I was reliving a moment in my life that changed everything. The moment when you “fall in love with show skating”.
I don’t know many people who have set out to write a book and then actually have done it and curiosity of knowing “How, What, Why” and more was the inspiration for this article.
Q. How many years did you tour?
A. I started in 1983 with Holiday On Ice and went until 1996, skating every year except 85-86. Thirteen years in thirteen different productions.
Q. How does one make the decision to write a book and then actually DO IT?
A. When my husband decided to take a job in Cincinnati, I had to leave my job with the State Department. That gave me a lot of free time, so I thought writing could be fun. People always seemed fascinated when I told them I used to be a showgirl. Once I scribbled out a few chapters I joined a weekly writing group in Cincinnati. None in the group knew anything about skating, but they taught me a lot of tricks to writing fiction and they were the reason I finished the book. Every week the group tore into my story with their red pencils and they wanted to know how it ended.
Q. What was your inspiration?
A. Part of my inspiration was to write something realistic about skating. So many books and movies are about some little bumpkin that overcomes the odds to skate in the Olympics. Oh and did I mention she’s blind too. Meanwhile the reality is most of us skaters are standing at the back of the ice dressed as trees or sometimes thinking about how many calories we can have for dinner.
Q. How long did it take you to write the book?
A. It took two years to write the book, in which time I learned how to really write, and then it took three more years to edit the book. I gave the rough draft to anyone I could sucker into reading it and got a lot of good critiques along the way.
Q. Was the book based on actual events that you experienced while touring?
A. Yes and no. The story generally follows the touring schedule of my first show, Holiday On Ice in 1983. And the rehearsals resemble what it was like to be new in a big intimidating show, but once the cast gets on the road the story is a mix of other shows too. As for the romantic plotline in the book, I had to make that up because I didn’t have much of a love life in Holiday. Or any ice show, really. And I didn’t want to bore the reader about my faithfulness to my lousy first boyfriend.
Q. Was it based on actual people? If so, who?
A. Yes, that lousy boyfriend, that’s all you, Jim. Don’t worry, he’ll never see this. Most of the skaters are a mix of two to four people though. I wanted to include a lot of friends, but too many characters make the story hard to follow.
At first I was worried about portraying some skaters as the total bad guys I remember, so I dialed them back and found it more interesting if they had both good and bad qualities. The beauty of writing fiction (and inserting the standard disclaimer on the second page) is I can hide the identities of mean skaters while calling out the skaters I really liked and admired.
Q. How do you think touring in ice shows has changed since you toured in the 80s?
A. Obviously, technology has changed things so much that leaving home isn’t as absolute as it was in the 80s. With the internet, Skype and Facebook, skaters may be just as connected with friends and family touring Asia as they would be sitting in a dorm room only forty miles down the road.
Back in the early 80s, flights were expensive and no one had credit cards, so skaters were always poor. In Japan, the exchange rate with the yen was so bad that even though we didn’t have to pay for a hotel, we could barely get by on our per diem. One trip to Tokyo and you were broke until payday. But I was talking to a British gal this fall, who was skating in Mexico after coming from HOI. She told me that HOI had paid for her hotels and health care, but they had a sneaky way of docking her paycheck up front to compensate. So maybe some things haven’t changed much.
I think the demands on show skaters have changed and I sometimes wonder if I were twenty years younger would I have landed double axels so I could get in the cruise show. Good thing I’ll never know because those shows look really fun. I think skaters now have to have tricks of all sorts. Circus training or gymnastics background anyone? It’s definitely harder choreography out there than a lot of the “step-touch” shows I did.
Plus, there are more skaters on the scene now like the Russians, (who were not allowed out of the country in my day) so there is more competition. And I can’t imagine countries like Japan will still be producing shows called “American Super Dream” or “American Ice Fever” featuring a bunch of North Americans when they have so many great skaters of their own.
Q. Would you have changed any of the choices you made during your touring years? Which shows you performed with? Which companies you worked for?
A. I regret that I never did Capades or Disney. But once I left Holiday and started doing shorter shows mixed in with trying to finish college and get a “real” job, I bounced from one show to the next.
I’m glad that I toured with the Nutcracker On Ice shows. We were treated really well in that gig and I wished it could have lasted through June. But that’s a tough ticket to sell after January 2nd.
Q. Tell us how your show experiences have had an impact on who you are as a person now?
A. All my time being lost and confused in France or Japan prepared me for life now in Mexico City. For example, the other day I finally figured why the strange look from the local grocery store gal who, for a year has been asking in Spanish if I had found everything I was looking for. I would answer in Spanish, “No, I don’t have a car,” because I thought she was asking if I needed parking validation.
Reminds me of when I skated in Japan and one day I asked a stagehand how to say, “I’m tired,” in Japanese and he thought it would be hilarious to use the phrase, “I’ve been drinking,” instead.
But seriously, I’ve always said ice shows are a unique profession because you work, live, and play with your co-workers. I can’t think of another job that requires that, so skaters have to learn people politics as well as the choreography to survive. Then every show has its own set of unwritten rules, so you need to figure them out quickly if you are going to be happy. I think it teaches skaters to be very adaptable and quick on their feet. Pun intended.
Q. Are there any "stories" that you left out of the book? If so, why and can you tell us about them now?
Luckily, I have enough skating accidents and costume malfunctions to fill another book, probably two. I’m writing a sequel set in Japan in 1989-90, so there is a lot of the beauty and craziness of that country to get into.
But I think there is room for a lot of other skating stories to be written. I think we need a compassionate story of A.I.D.S. in the 80s from a skater’s point of view. That was a big aspect of our life then. I would also love to read about a skater growing up in the Soviet Union, for example, with a bleak childhood from the strict training and then they head into the decadence of an ice show like Disney or HOI that travels the world. But they say you write what you know, so I can’t write those stories. I would, however, love to edit one of them!