“It was an experience that I will never forget,” was the simplest way that Cole Stanbra, professional athlete and skater, could describe his most recent performance at the Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman.
Broadway on Ice was the title of the star studded event where renowned skaters and musicians came to showcase their talents and dazzle a crowd with some relatively high standards.
Hosted and produced by Willie Bietak Productions, Broadway on Ice is an extravagant show performed annually around Christmas time delivering the grandiose entertainment associated with Broadway, combined with the grace and finesse of figure skating.
This is where Stanbra comes in.
Born and raised in Castlegar, Stanbra has represented the Castlegar Skating Club at six national championships and has been skating on cruise ships for the past six years.
The ships he performs on are associated with Willie Bietak (W.B.) Productions and that is exactly how he got his foot in the door.
“I’ve been with W.B. since 2008 and I was one of the lucky ones to be chosen. W.B. like their regulars. Skaters who can be consistent because it’s such a large show and they can’t afford the time to teach all of these new skaters.”
W.B. has 10 cruise ships that they run shows on and Broadway on Ice is one of their only land shows. This performance is usually kept to one location, but this time the production was expanded and shows were put on in Cancun and Oman. Stanbra was part of the Oman show.
The transition from the smaller shows on the cruise lines to this massive show in the Royal Opera House did take its toll on the young skater.
“The two settings are a lot different actually. When we first get to the ship and start rehearsing for a show we have two weeks to prepare ourselves. I feel like that’s a little more time to get used to everything, whereas with Broadway on Ice we only had nine days to prepare for a two hour long show. Now the shows on the ships are only 45-50 minutes in length. So, this was definitely a much more intense experience. Which is why they have to pick skaters that have a lot of experience. It’s a lot of information going into our heads and we have to be able to handle it very quickly.”
Time restraints weren’t the only pressures put on Stanbra and the crew, of which there were eight men and eight women.
“The world renowned choreographer we worked with Sarah Kawahara; she’s very demanding and she expects a lot for the show, obviously for it to be successful. You kind of had to bring your ‘A’ game,” he added.
“I think the rehearsal process for me was the most difficult. Just a lot of knowledge and it was grueling at certain moments,” but Stanbra added that as soon as he arrived at the venue the show started and he was in performance mode and everything came together.
“I think in the future if I had to work on something I think I would try to relax more, and if I get the opportunity again I will be more relaxed because I know I’ve already done it before.”
Stress and demands aside, Stanbra said the whole event was breathtaking.
“It was amazing to perform in that type of venue. It seated 1,100 people and was like a palace, literally, just beautiful. Outside of our performances, because we only did four shows but it was quite demanding we didn’t get to see a whole lot. One of the days we took an excursion into the old town of Muscat. We got to see their lifestyle and their ways of living and then we also traveled to the Grand Mosque. You kind of feel like your in the movie Aladdin a little bit. All the same kind of architecture and surroundings.”
The culture over in Muscat is certainly different and he explained how it caused a small hiccup for the group.
“We did have to be careful over there. All of our girls over there had to be completely covered head to toe and no skin was to be showing. Everyone was a little nervous about that but it ended up being totally fine.”
As for the actual performance, Stanbra was involved in a number of memorable shows pieces including Phantom of the Opera, Chicago and Jersey Boys. The last number received exceptional praise from critics at the event.
The Jersey Boys number was especially difficult due to the fact that there were only four boys in the group. Stanbra said this made it harder because “if one person is off then everyone else looks off” more so than other performances.
However, the show can’t go on forever and all good things must come to an end.
Stanbra will be off performing on the open waters again after a brief visit in Castlegar with family and friends.
As for the future, Stanbra recently purchased a condo in Vancouver, so he considers himself locked into the cruise line business for the next couple of years, but he would love to eventually get into coaching.
“This definitely isn’t something I can do forever, but I would like to give back to the sport. Whether that be by coaching or doing something along those lines.”
Stanbra is hopeful that the team will approach him next year to perform again and if they do he already has his answer, “Yes, definitely yes.
“It was probably the hardest show that I’ve ever done in my entire life, but every experience that I went through whether it was good or bad I can definitely take with me, and I’ve definitely grown as a skater which is great.”