The Original 3-D Entertainment

Nicole Feld, an executive vice president of Vienna-based Feld Entertainment, peels back the curtain on what goes into the shows produced by the largest provider of live family entertainment

Nicole Feld, an executive vice president of Vienna-based Feld Entertainment, peels back the curtain on what goes into the shows produced by the largest provider of live family entertainment

By Caroline Hailey

Nicole (right) working with her sister Alana on the newest edition of the circus.
Nicole (right) working with her sister Alana on the newest edition of the circus.

For decades, Feld Entertainment has dazzled audiences in more than 65 countries with its “Disney on Ice,” “Disney Live!” and “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey” productions. Founder and D.C. native Irvin Feld started the company with the acquisition of the well-known circus in 1967, and Feld Entertainment has been growing ever since. Now the largest provider of live family entertainment in the world, the company has called Vienna home since 1989, when it relocated from D.C. Nicole Feld, 32, an executive vice president of Feld Entertainment and granddaughter of the late Irvin Feld, found time between business trips to discuss the goings-on behind “Disney on Ice presents Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story 3,” her decision to join the family business, and what about Northern Virginia has kept Feld Entertainment here.

“Toy Story 3” is the next “Disney on Ice” show. Why did you decide to make it your first 3-D production?
What I would say is that all our shows are 3-D because they’re live. We’re the original providers of 3-D entertainment. What we decided to do with this ice show is find different and more cutting-edge ways to demonstrate the “Toy Story” concept and production numbers. Given the fact that “Toy Story 3” is 3-D and is absolutely the most brilliant animated and three-dimensional entertainment there is, it seemed only fitting that we do something as cutting edge and exciting for our ice show. What our projector lights do are project and animate imagery and scenic elements on the ice. The ice being a blank canvas really takes that kind of artwork very well. It creates another dimension to the live skating that allows it to feel more real and tangible to the audience.

How do you decide which characters or movies to feature in “Disney on Ice”?
We do a lot of research to understand what characters and properties are popular. By that I mean, if you were a mother and you had children, what would your child want to see? Being that we’re actually creating “Toy Story 3” around the same time the movie came out, we’re really on the heels of the newest, freshest, most exciting property that Disney has to offer, which is very exciting for us. We’re thrilled with the success of the film, and we’re confident that the ice show is going to be equally as popular because we know that kids and parents love the characters. The characters have human qualities and personalities that I think people can really relate to. So the idea that these characters are literally coming straight from the screen to live in your hometown is a very exciting future for us.

How does Feld Entertainment understand what appeals to children? How do you think your children viewers are different from the ones during your grandfather’s time?
We spend a lot of time talking to kids and parents and seeing what kids are into. This is anything from real research to just walking down the street and seeing a child with a Buzz Lightyear backpack. You get a sense of what kids are into, what appeals to them and how their attention spans differ today from 50 years ago. They’re exposed to so much more so I think kids today are growing up faster. They’re smarter at a younger age, and it takes a lot more to dazzle them then it did 50 years ago. That’s all part of the reason why we’re using the 3-D projectors on our “Disney on Ice” production because it enhances the experience so much more and creates another level of sophistication that kids are ready for and expect.

What was it like growing up in a well-known family business?
We thought it was all very normal. Every December we would go to Florida for rehearsal with a new production of “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey” when school let out for the winter holiday. In the summer, we would go into rehearsal with “Disney on Ice” and race around on the ice rink and learn how to skate. Growing up, we didn’t know people didn’t do what we did. It was a great way to spend time with our father. We had this whole additional extended family with performers and the people who worked on the shows alongside our father. That was a very embracing environment.

Did you always know you wanted to work for the company your grandfather started?
I didn’t know that, which apparently was surprising to everyone but me. I thought I wanted to be a photographer so I went to NYU to study photography, and when I graduated I went to People magazine. It wasn’t until I was spending a lot of time away from the business that I started to miss it. I suddenly didn’t have my summers available to go to ice-show rehearsal or to spend three weeks in circus rehearsal in December. I started to feel out of the loop. I guess it just dawned on me one day that I’m very fortunate to have this amazing family business and that I’d be crazy not to take advantage of it.

How did you tell your father you wanted to join the company?
I approached my father and told him I thought I wanted to work in the company. He asked what I thought I wanted to do, what would I be good at or where would my strengths be. I told him, ‘I really want to work with you, I want to learn from you, and I want to spend time around the productions and creations of the shows,’ which wasn’t dissimilar from what I did growing up.

What was his reaction?
I think he was completely thrilled although he tried to contain it. He knew it was a big decision for me, which it was. It was a decision I didn’t make lightly because I knew that once I made that decision there was no turning back, and that the road ahead of me was a difficult one. Being a part of something like this comes with its own level of responsibility that’s different than working for another corporation that’s not your family’s business. You have a different stake in it.

Are there any challenges of working in your family’s business?
When you work in a family business and you’re the so-called “boss’s daughter,” you suddenly don’t have colleagues in your company anymore. When I worked at People magazine, I had colleagues and friends and people I could go out and have dinner with after work. The situation changes when your last name is the name of the company. It certainly helps to have your family around you.

What’s your typical day at the office like?
If I could take you through a course of a year, I spend a lot of time traveling around the world looking for talent for the circus and meeting with various creative types to actually put together the shows. I collaborate on how we’re going to make “Disney on Ice” or “Toy Story 3” a success.

How does Feld Entertainment continue to grow?
In two ways. In the last year and a half, our company has expanded with the acquisition of Feld Motor Sports. We have more content to provide to the venues we play, and we’ve expanded into other venues. Before we were only in arenas and theaters, but now we’re in stadiums, arenas, theaters and speedways. The other way that it grows is by expanding into new territories primarily outside the United States. The potential with all our properties is basically unlimited outside the United States because as countries begin to build new arenas, stadiums or theaters, we have content that we can provide.

What has kept the business in Northern Virginia?
One of the most incredible strengths and elements of our company is the people that work here. It’s an extraordinary group of people, and when I say this I’m not just talking about my family. I’m talking about all the other people in the company. A lot of them have worked for the company for a very, very long time, and these are people that I know my sisters and I have learned a tremendous amount from. These extraordinary people live in the D.C. and Northern Virginia area, and it takes all these people to help make this company a success.

“Disney on Ice presents Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story 3” will be showing at the Patriot Center in Fairfax from Oct. 20-24. Nicole Feld’s father, Kenneth, is the CEO of Feld Entertainment, while sister Alana is an executive vice president and sister Juliette is a director of strategic planning.

(October 2010)