One Ocean, SeaWorld's new 'Shamu' whale show, debuts in San Diego
Published: May 26, 2011 at 10:25 PM
I made the drive down from Pasadena today to watch the first public "dress rehearsal" of the show this afternoon. Before the show began, I had a few moments to talk with SeaWorld San Diego's director of entertainment production, Rick Schuiteman, and director of animal training, Al Garver.
Schuiteman, left, and Garver, with a mutual friend in the background
I asked Schuiteman how SeaWorld's animal shows have evolved over the years.
"When I first started working here, 25 years ago, it was all about the trainer standing on the stage, very presentation-like, with facts and figures," he said.
"That was great, people loved that. But as time has gone on, people want the whole entertainment piece. They can get facts and figures on the Internet. So we've evolved where we try to get a nice mix of entertainment and education, and at the end we hope that the audience will be inspired."
You can see that trend in the shows such as last year's Blue Horizons, which looks more like something from a Cirque du Soleil production than one of those old SeaWorld shows, with its elaborate costumes, acrobatics and impressionistic narrative. Given that the "Shamu" shows are the parks' signature production, it's ironic that there's less of that Broadway-style glitz in One Ocean, where the focus remains on the animals themselves - the "stars" of SeaWorld, the park's six killer whales.
Garver explained when you're watching a killer whale show at SeaWorld you're really watching a play session between animals and their trainers, one that varies from performance to performance.
"Each of the killer whales has several hundred behaviors," Garver said. "Now for each whale, each show is different - what behaviors they are going to do and the sequence. So we have a menu of maybe 20 or 30 behaviors for a sequence that may contain 10 or 15, and our audience might see the show and think it's about the same each time they see it, but for the whales it's always very different. That's all part of keeping it interesting and stimulating and keeping the whales really focused with the trainers."
You don't always see the same whales in each show, either, Garver said. "We have six killer whales here, and in a typical shows there will be three or four, up to all six whales. Again the name of the game is variety so that it doesn't get predictable, and so that the whales are looking to the trainer saying 'what have you got for me now?'"
Garver said that the orca trainers have been working on the new show for about six to seven months.
"We're always looking to train new behaviors, but a lot of what we also do is take old behaviors and combine them in new ways with other behaviors," he said. "We also look through the music and get a feel for it, then we plan out the segments."
The One Ocean set will look familiar to fans of Believe, the former killer whale show which closed yesterday. But One Ocean's a much more colorful affair, with an explosion of color across the set, and on the trainer's new wetsuits. Like in Believe, the show opens with a film, which illustrates how contact with marine mammals, both in the wild and the in parks, can spark a lifelong curiosity and passion for animals.
Also as in Believe (the 2.0 version, at least), the trainers remain out of the water for One Ocean, though that doesn't stop the trainers from engaging the animals.
And of course, there's plenty of splash time, too. With the trainers out of the water, they're spending more time engaging the audience, dancing with kids and goading every around them in the 5,500-seat theater to get into the spirit of the show.
My recommendation? If you're coming to see the whales, don't sit up high and miss your chance to interact with these awesome creatures. No, you won't get the chance to touch them. But they'll greet you with a thorough soaking instead. Everyone in the theater will be watching when these huge creatures hit the water after a jump. But only the visitors up front will feel the percussion of the impact... just before the wave crests the barrier for a drenching "hello." One ocean - in your lap.