All the World’s a Disney Stage
Copyright 2014 T.R Feather
Table of Contents
When first writing this, my goal was to create something instructional that would provide support and insight into the life of someone who has performed for the Walt Disney Company. So, it was to be informative, full of lessons, and taught with the authority and know-how of a Dr. Phil book. But it turns out that people don’t really want to be taught on a subject that is interesting enough just to hear stories about, and don’t want to be taught by someone even less qualified to teach within their field than Dr. Phil. So, needless to say, the text needed to be revised.
I now present a book of my experiences, of stories and my journey, and hope that it interests and fascinates you in a way that gives the feeling of being at Disney World, and a little less like you are having coffee with a TV Psychologist.
For whatever the reason was that caused you to pick this out of the virtual world and read, whether it be a look at the inside of Disney, or because you’ve already read all the other ‘I Worked at Disney’ books, I hope that you get out what you are looking for.
I’d like you to first take a moment, if you will, to remember April 2011. Do you recall what you were doing? Easter is just over and...I don’t know how you answered the question, and perhaps I never will. But for me it was sitting in my parent's living room in Australia, enduring the heat and trying to avoid permanently sticking to the couch. I had been “let go” from my job and university was growing more skull crushingly boring by the day. Adding to that was an encompassing feeling of age, and failure was growing on me like any other reasonable twenty two year old who hasn't yet made the big time. I was practically retired in my mind, at the time.
There was something about performing on a stage, as crazy fun as it is, for 150 people didn’t feel as fulfilling as it once did. Whether by some misplaced sense of entitlement or gross overconfidence in my performance skill, I wasn't sure. But, regardless, I wanted something else.
My entire family was sitting in the lounge watching something loud on TV, and I was on my laptop searching local jobs when a Disney audition was one of the advertisements off to the side. You know, those silly ads that tracking cookies "custom tailor" to you and then try to sell you stuff? Yeah, those ads. But I clicked on it anyway.
The audition was for a week's time and I happened to have that day off from both work and school. And to add fuel to the fires of fate, the day I was able to go was the very last day for registration.
So. I registered, and about a week later I suddenly didn’t feel like going anymore. It was going to cost too much in fuel and I would have to leave for the audition at the crack of dawn. But I obviously set my excuses aside and went, since I'm telling you this story right now. Yes, this story of awesome experiences and a one of a kind journey that you're going to rave about to all of your friends.
So I went, carting half a ton of paperwork that I had been asked to bring with me, like resumes and such, then gave it all to a nice Brazilian receptionist that Disney had brought with them. I watched her staple them together and comment surprisingly that everything was there.
Essentially, the tough life starts now. It's not easy getting all of that paperwork together. The website Disney had available at the time was buggy and it wasn't easy sending through fourteen pages of forms that would stop loading randomly and then crash the browser. To be honest, I devoted an entire day to getting this form finished. It's because of this, and the amount of other forms needed, that I believe is the reason several people turned up without everything. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world for these people, they were sent away to find a computer and finish the job, but I believe it payed off for me to have the forms to create not only a good first impression but to secure early interview times while the interviewers were still fresh and excited.
So score ‘one' for me so far, sitting patiently in a little plastic chair wearing my scratchy formal clothes and praying that I don’t sweat them into becoming my informal car washing rags when Mr. Smiles arrived.
My interviewer, Mr. Smiles (not his real name) was a very happy thirty something year old man who loved life and loved Disney almost as much as his teeth whitener and hair polish. He seemed like someone you’d love to sell something too, but not as much work or room with. His smile tried to reach for the roof and he beamed without bias in all directions, he just couldn’t seem to be any happier to represent Disney or he might burst. It was then that I knew I had some serious impressing to do. I answered lots of questions. I tried to sell that I, too, had Disney stapled to my heart and soul, then I performed and was subjected to measuring and weighing. He then informed me that that was all, and if I passed the first round then my next audition would be in Orlando. But failing wouldn’t mean deporting, just merely meant that I would be shuffled into something as awful as a janitor. Or worse, until I was begging for deportation. Not his words exactly, but needless to say it was terrifying and nauseating, made worse by the fact that I wouldn’t know my acceptance or rejection for three more weeks.
Three weeks could have been three months, every day was harder to get up for and I felt sick constantly. My mum braced for my depression, anticipating the news that I had been rejected. Then, one night, June 1st 2011 to be exact, I received an email from a lady named Karina from Disney Recruiting:
Congratulations!! You have been offered the position of Entertainment Performer with Walt Disney World to begin in January 2012! Please reply to either accept or decline
Hmm a tough choice? Trust me, I replied immediately and half a second later happily danced my guts out before calling my brother and then mum.
After that came six months of preparation, my life leading up to that point in time was literally closing shop and I had six months to finish the chapter before an entire new life in a foreign country could begin. I lived at my friend's place and worked for him, selling his baked goods for rent, and sold paintings I’d acquired from overseas on eBay to keep myself alive until I could begin my real job.
The airport was traumatic, I left my all my friends in a teary mess and had already left my family at their house in much the same manner. I then began my journey to Nadi Airport in Fiji (No, the airport is not a tropical paradise). Then to Los Angeles which was kind of less impressive that I had hoped. I don't know what I had expected but the air you breathed there, being 50fifty percent glitter, was sort-of part of it. Then finally to Orlando, Florida, which I decided on the bus ride to my resort, was not somewhere I would ever live under different circumstances. It’s not really a city that makes a lot of sense; it's more of a small town but on a massive scale. It almost feels beach side city without a beach, if you can imagine it. Anyway, a strange place that happened to harbor 100 kilometers worth of Disney plus every other theme park ever dreamed up since the time of Jesus Christ. Are you aware of the existence of the "Holy Land" theme park? Oh yeah, that's a real thing.
Skipping through the boring stuff-I have moved in, settled and about to attend my first day of performance training. I should tell you now, the book from this point on is going to be a lot less about my home life and a lot more about the job because I assume it’s the job that intrigued you into buying this book and the opportunity to learn from one who has gone before you. This book is what I wished the other “I Worked at Disney” books talked more about when I was reading them. This one’s also not going to complain about Disney, unlike almost all of the others, because, in my opinion, Disney is awesome. And the opposite is also true; there are no unicorns and rainbows.
We do not play all day and not every day is filled with smiles. We work hard and long hours and I am stiff and sore right now reclining while writing this paragraph after a long day working. However, the work is awesome and I love it, and anything you love to do that is constructive and gives your life value is worth the price you pay to keep it.
A Disney Audition
Audition time! Each performer is worth different amounts depending on how good they are, and your value can be reassessed as regularly as you like at an audition, or I guess a re-audition. Typical Disney auditions have been detailed meticulously in several related blogs, which I know a lot of you will have memorized by the time you found this, but I’m going to explain it a little for those of us just hearing about it now.
Lots of people will be there warming up and silently freaking out together, people generally chat while waiting to be measured and are then given a number. You sit down; maybe do some paperwork if they want some information from you that they don’t already have such as “if a role required it, would you be willing to shave your head and/or body?” But also some less extreme questions too, one that isn’t typical, but more likely based around Star Wars Weekends, which we get to later.
We are then split into groups and put with people depending on our numbers, 50 - 65 etc. We learn a dance and are given time to practice it, and are asked to break into small groups of about five people and are given a scene that we're required to act out together. With a minute of preparation time, we then perform the dance. That’s pretty much the long and short of a typical Disney audition but if you want more detail there is no shortage online, believe me.
So, I’m in the clear and don’t need to worry about auditioning again for a while (woohoo! High fives all around!). Throughout the year I auditioned many times, in several locations, all for different roles within the same job. Most, nearly all, in-fact, were soul crushingly disappointing. But I think I speak for most when I say we are all on the stage because every now and then, when the planets align, and the casting director happens to be an angel sent by God, we are picked. And so here we are doing what we love to do best.
Picked and Ready to Rehearse
Skip forward to when Day One of training begins. It starts by simply throwing everything away we ever thought we knew about life and starting over again. Everything, even the tiniest most natural habitual movement is re-thought out, adapted and made better for the ‘new us’. Walking, waving, gesturing, nodding, nothing can be taken for granted. Our minds are being reprogrammed as if we have begun again as babies and are re-growing within a professional children’s performer mold.
Days pass, and exhaustion takes hold. Overworking and terrible American food combine and I become very ill for the next couple of weeks, but I hide it from the trainers as each day was as valuable as it was daunting, and also physically exhausting.
Disney performance training is highly sought after and has a lot of sensitive information that I won't/can't go into. But after a few weeks of January sliding by, it is time to hit the streets for the very first time and embrace the next twelve months of my new life.
Training along with me were a bunch of other fledgling performers ready to make their mark on our new behemoth of a stage called Home, and would come to be great friends of mine in the months to come as we each performed in our respective spots across Disney World.
There are many places across Disney where one can perform, and most performers are never stuck in one spot for more than a day or two. So becoming bored with the job, in my opinion, is really difficult to do, particularly if you're like me and are hired to complete a mere twelve month contract only to be sent home afterwards with an expired visa, kicking and screaming all the way.
Walt Disney World spans four theme parks, two water parks, one shopping and entertainment mega, several full scale golf courses, spas, retreats and more than thirty resorts boasting a combined effort of more hotel rooms than New York City. And plenty of shows, parades, and streets to go around. When you begin, you are likely to start the same as I did, on the street.
There are a great many street performers throughout Disney parks and resorts, never allowing a second for you to entertain boredom. Even many of the restaurants, in both the parks and resorts, boast performers that entertain people at their tables. My first discovery: grumpy people and suits on business trips eat at Disney, too. So learn early on how to spot them, and move on! Nothing takes the shine off your shift like having your first show of the day spoiled by a business couple you cheesed off during their protein loaded pre-meeting hangover-cure breakfast at six a.m.
Most of our guests are happy, however. I mean, it's pretty difficult not to be when you're at The Happiest Place on Earth, but some people still manage to be grumpy and I had to realize that early on so I could make my peace with it.
I began the year being perfectly fine entertaining grumpy people close up and simply focusing on the happy ones and allowing the grumpy to move on. It was only later in the year that they started to bother me, causing me to focus more on them to try and change their mood only to have them leave early making me feel like I’ve wasted my effort and the time of the happy people. I feel like mimes and other such street performers are going to be able to visualize my struggle very easily while reading this.
Performing on the street is hard, hot and tiring work. Depending on what you're wearing, and the nature of your routine, some days can be brutal. I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted when I stress the importance of water and hydrating fluids like PowerAde. One fluid I can’t demote enough is coffee (actually let me add poisonous energy drinks to that also).
In those early days, I went through a massive life overhaul, and began to really rethink what I consumed and, in particular, how much water. I’ve done mime and clowning before, but I have never struggled so intensely to maintain enough water in my body to keep going strong. It became a very purposeful focus.
But no-matter what level of effort I committed to becoming better for the job, many, most even beat me out in commitment. People put serious time and effort into maintaining their bodies that allowed them to put their best foot forward.
Besides hitting the gym, running and yoga are important tools for a performer. Building stamina and flexibility are paramount to success. It's an awful fact that we do get hurt, and eventually we get too old for the job which can come far too early if you don't prioritize your health.
When I first started performing, I couldn’t imagine how my Captains and Supervisors were okay with having such performance knowledge and passion without ever getting out there and doing it themselves. To me, the benefits of promotion and a better title and position didn’t outweigh the downside, which was stepping aside and letting others hit the stage.
It was only after talking to one of my Captains, Brock, which I discovered a lot of them actually did perform, and did so in some absolutely spectacular shows.
Brock toured with 'Disney on Ice' as well as 'Disney Live' which staged shows around the world. He’s in his late thirties now and his body is just unable to cope under the physical pressure of such demanding work so he now looks after us while we have our time in the sun.
So next time you're at Disney World and you see the performer supervisors standing near the shows and entertainment areas, strike up a conversation with one of them, ponder a little about their life. You never ever know who you might be talking to and what kind of life you may be able to hear about and be inspired by.
One friend of mine struck up a conversation with one such cast member while he was enjoying lunch at the restaurant she worked at. A little while into the conversation she found out that he was a casting agent, around the same time he found out that she was wonderful. He subsequently took her name and now she’s a friend and fellow performer of mine, happily cast a year and a half ago while serving someone lunch.
Disney is always on the lookout for new talent, shining existing talent that can keep the company looking good, and is always watching us to make sure the Disney machine is constantly putting its best foot forward.
Therefore, it stands to reason, that Disney will place its best and hardest working performers in the highest watched shows and give these performers a better job status and anything else they need because they are simply more valuable and harder to replace.
A long time ago, a colleague of mine was cast as part of the Hunchback of Notre Dame show when it used to play at Disney’s Hollywood Studio’s. He was the best at his role but unfortunately for him it was a small role and he really wanted something more substantial. Disney did not want to cast him in any other show while he performed his existing role so well. But over time this made him very disillusioned.
Unhappy that his precious time as a fit and young performer was being wasted, he decided to move to New York and try his luck there. It was then, however, that Disney truly realized his value in the show, the part he’d left behind was difficult to cast and required the level of experience and skill that he had to be given true justice. Of course, parts can always be re-trained to new performers, but it takes time and that experience comes slowly. So they called him and offered to fly him back and teach him Beauty and the Beast in exchange for him rejoining Hunchback.
Needless to say, I want to be THAT guy.
The highest volume park we have is the Magic Kingdom. It's the most magical place on Earth and the biggest draw card for guests; therefore, it needs to showcase the highest quality entertainment we can produce.
We can’t, however, say that the Magic Kingdom really has the best shows; entertainment is always based on opinion. A great friend of mine likes the shows in Disney’s Animal Kingdom a lot more than Magic Kingdom, and another vastly prefers Disney’s Hollywood Studio’s. It’s all really down to taste and what you enjoy.
However, the first show that I saw when I began my training was the quick paced, rapid changing, colorful and musical show that takes place in front of Cinderella’s Castle, Dream Along with Mickey.
Magic Kingdom shows are big, very big. Particularly, the seasonal holiday themed ones. And the bigger the show, sometimes the lesser your role in it. Confusing? Let me explain.
Conventional shows in a theatre are typically about the actor, there are two or three on stage, sets are kept simple and minimal and nothing distracts too far from the actor, they are king of the stage.
Shows here are a little different. The stage is literally a humongous castle. Fireworks and grand pyrotechnic displays are the norm. Scenes change rapidly and often have no reason to repeat themselves (bringing you back) unless to resolve the story. And there are many, many more actors in one scene than would be normal.
Here’s a rundown of Dream Along with Mickey:
There is a big party planned to celebrate dreams with Mickey and the whole gang stars in it. However, Donald Duck’s not thrilled about the party theme because he doesn't believe in dreams.
Despite Donald, Minnie dreams of princesses and Goofy dreams of pirates.
The scene changes, the princesses have arrived to share their dreams through song and dance.
Scene change! Peter Pan has arrived with Wendy to share pirate dreams. Oh no! Captain Hook and Smee have turned up, and are threatening to ruin things.
Peter fights the Captain who ends up being distracted by a ticking clock and fails, once again, to slay Peter. Mickey and the gang laugh at the captain but are interrupted by the laughter of Maleficent, the witch. She has turned up to share her dream, to see the Magic Kingdom become the place where nightmares come true. She’s defeated by a mass effort between Mickey and the crowd, who offset her power with the constant and loud confession that ‘dreams come true’, an idea thought of by Donald, originally a skeptic but moved by the display of dreams over the course of the show and the crowd's faith in them.
She’s defeated and vows to return when the kingdom no longer believes in dreams. All the good guys, including the princesses, return to perform the finale.
Then they wait an hour before doing the how all over again, then four more times after that throughout the day.
As you can see, the show has been built to be the most entertaining as possible for any age, a truly difficult task to achieve. It changes constantly; actors have minutes in the spot light and are sharing it with music, constant plot twists, fireworks and backup dancers. The show itself is a giant, twisting turning, wonderment which in itself is incredible. The guests love it and this keeps Disney far, far on top. The show is so big that roles can be as small as simple choreography that adds very little contribution to the whole picture, as the whole is just so massive. Basically, this style of performance is a bit of a tester for those who perform for the vanity of it, the ego trip of being adored.
It’s hard not to want adoration, though, it’s not like we’re in this not to be the center of attention. I think that being a part of anything here gives you a different happiness, rather than being massive. The sensation of being a true part of something is actually, in itself, truly massive. I’m simply trying to articulate a feeling that I haven’t felt before, I’ve never had so many eyes watching me. I’m not part of anything as close as the grandeur of Dream Along with Mickey, but in my humble role I contribute to the whole that is the Magic Kingdom.
I love the NBC show 30 Rock, created by Tina Fey, and the characters of the show that accentuate the nature of performer types. They vocalize and sing out those tiny narcissistic thoughts that drive out desire for the spotlight. But I finding I’m coping well with the transition from solo spotlight, to humongous shared spotlight with hundreds of others. Ego is not a luxury as easily gotten away with over here as every show is more of a combined effort than ever, so it’s pretty easily, and thankfully, forgotten.
January ended relatively quickly as training had a tendency to fly because you're so focused on everything you need to absorb, and re-learning your craft so intimately, a month can flitter away without a thought of warning and you scarcely look up from your studies for even a moment to check where it has gone.
However, all difficult and tedious things do come to an end and one early morning in late January I burst through the gates of Epcot and performed my first street show.
It’s a curious horror waiting for your first show to begin. You're wearing something surprisingly hot and slightly ill-fitting, the air outside is cold and you can feel it chill your windpipe and burn your eyes slightly. You overreact a little and decide you're going blind and will be useless to Disney in a matter of days (never thinking once of the other disadvantages of being suddenly blind). Anything, really, to take your mind off of the fact that you're standing behind a huge gate that will open in a moment to guests who are silly enough to pay so much money and be rewarded by being subjected to you perform. Okay, it’s not that bad, but the first time is pretty nerve wracking.
So January became February and it had scarcely begun before all the energy at Disney began pulling in the direction of romance and Valentine's Day. When Disney does something, it does it well, and all its power and resources pull together to achieve a single great cause.
Valentine's Day swept the land, and no place more than the Magic Kingdom.
The park began to prepare for the arrival of the Princes, who never generally make a lot of public appearances but would sheathe their swords and leave the dragons to fight another day until the romance had passed. I noticed for the first time that, despite the fact that Disney’s merchandise fills enough shops to rival several full scale malls, it can be thrown away into storage in a single night and replaced by love, romance, marriage and eternal happiness themed merchandise of all varieties.
Okay, I’m being over the top, but the Magic Kingdom becomes suddenly beautiful and it’s quite the sight to behold, and the shows adapt. If you are lucky enough to be chosen for a show as it changes, then good for you. More on my failed auditions will come later.
The hardest thing I’m finding is that I’m not going to climb any ladders auditioning for roles that require extra skills or killer looks, it’s going to come, if at all, by putting in the crazy hard yards. I’m at home in bed writing this, having just returned from an understudying shift where everybody turned up. So where does that leave me? Standing outside of Tinkerbelle’s Nook directing people inside, for literally hours. But do you hear me complaining? Okay, maybe a little. But I want to be the promotable guy that will do whatever they need. I had no accountability tonight, I could have thrown on a jumper and gone on some rides and no-one need know. God knows others in similar postings did, I know this because one came to meet Tinkerbelle.
The ones you talk to with the amazing shows and killer casting’s nine times out of ten spent five years carrying a flag in parade once a day, but did it with conviction. Never late, never fussy, they turned up on time, dressed and ready to go with no dramas and did it long enough to show they weren’t a short burning bright flame, but were long lasting greatness. A performer who can quality act a great scene has nothing on the flag guy, that’s the guy Disney knows they can trust to continue its tradition of greatness every day for the new guests gaining first impressions of what we have to offer. At least, this is what I’m hoping, and seems to be the theme among the captains and veteran performers.
So now, Valentine's Day has passed and so far I’ve reflected mainly on the earlier parts of my year. Back then, I mostly worked the streets and restaurants, through the cold of February I shivered my way down the streets and the love sick crowds of the Magic Kingdom. Valentine's Day came and went, and the magic of romance slowed down and the Kingdom returned to normal. Never to be caught celebrating nothing, close on its tail was Easter and all the festivities it brings with its chocolaty goodness. Bunnies, hot cross buns and six little words - “Star Wars Weekends Auditioning Begins Now!”
"Star Wars Weekends" is an annual event at Disney’s Hollywood Studio’s and is among the biggest Star Wars celebration events in the world. Imagine an entire Disney Park overrun with Jedi, Sith, Ewoks running around poking people and Jawa’s scurrying around stealing people's handbags and small children. It is a consuming and electrifying event and highly anticipated all around the country. Many people camp outside the entrance to the park several hours before opening through the cold of the night. Therefore, it should go without saying, that it's just about every sane Disney performers dream to be a part of this event.
The trouble with "Star Wars weekends" is that absolutely anyone can turn up to auditions, no-matter how built, beautiful or amazing. Not just the friends that I’ve made and the other fellow performers I’ve come to understand and know, and are happy to compete with, but also a few hundred Broadway, Hollywood and Las Vegas stars that have flown over for the day to take their piece of the opportunity pie.
Now I know that sounds selfish, but it is a hard thing to keep your confidence and your cool when the acting elite of America turn up to compete with you because the opportunity is just too amazing to miss. Curse modern day speedy travel. Now I’ve been to a lot of Disney auditions since arriving here, and this was the most difficult and the competition was the fiercest.
The biggest thing" Star Wars Weekends" boasts besides Star Wars celebrity visits and fight scene demonstrations, is the best dance show this side of the intergalactic federation. It’s controversial for Star Wars purists but the ‘Hyperspace Hoopla’ is an incredible show. The Light Side and the Dark Side battle it out in a crazy dance contest that tests the limits to the extreme of how skilled and sexy dance can get. Picture a gold bikini Princess Leia and skin tight white battle latex Padme Amidala dance off to “Sexy and I Know It”...yeah that happened, I kid you not. But, assuming you're human, it pays to learn to be okay with rejection every now and then and to be happy for those that do make the show.
One day after finishing a shift at Hollywood Studio’s during "Star Wars Weekends" I was walking through the park stalking Jawa’s and their thieving and trading activities with the guests. This particular day I found a good cafe with a view of the festivities and bought a Darth Vader cupcake and watched a father trade his child with a Jawa for a Darth Vader action figure, a good trade until he left and the child began to cry. The father ran back and managed to keep both the child and the toy. Anything goes on the Dark Side of the park, being pushed aside by Darth Vader, threatened at the business end of two EE-3 carbine rifles (Boba Fett) and being seduced and nearly murdered by a certain saucy female Tatooine bounty hunter were a few of my misadventures in the evil half of the park.
Oh yeah, and there's a good side too where people are less scarred and deformed, but still somehow have the edge over the light side in sex appeal. On the Light Side you can find a monotone queen with some incredible hair pieces, some Jedi masters and two very famous droids, but not the ones you're looking for.
The people you get to know here over the course of your contract will become your friends, and it pays to be happy for them when they land something you don’t. Also, when you go and actually watch the show they are a part of, you're going to want to enjoy it. These shows are so unique and ‘once in a life time’ you need to enjoy your experience. Trust me; keeping bitterness about your rejection for a part in the show is the quickest way to souring the entire performance for you and ruining the whole experience.
That last part is something I want to copy and paste into the mind of myself, from the past. But I can’t.
Anyway, audition time came and I made it through the warm-ups without too much difficulty, my body is flexible enough that I could at least imitate the strenuous legitimate warm-ups that the seasoned pros were doing easily enough. The strength exercises…not so much. But, once again, ‘personal variations for more specific strength needs’ is a nice rubbish excuse for lazy pushups. Basically, I faked my way through warm-ups which was a clear indication of how the whole audition would go.
Now don’t let my dramatic and pessimistic experience turn you off of a potentially life-changing audition like a Star Wars or, if you want seriously challenging; a Tokyo Disneyland audition. Be confident and know your strengths, remember to be well prepared. Learn real stretches and, unlike me, be capable of doing basic pushups. Put in legitimate work and preparation and you will see the rewards. In other words; the stretch alone killed me, and the first part of the audition was dance. I’m not talking about movement, or soft choreography. I'm talking hard core stuff.
By this point I’m making friends, one would hope that would happen when one is spending enough time with people.
But it was only on the bus to the audition, looking around at all the familiar faces that I speculated about friendship and how it exists in a place like this. Below is the advice I would give my overly sensitive friend, if I only had the courage.
Keep the friends that will support you, and when it's time to compete then do so. Once it's over forget about it, most likely neither of you got it but if one of you did then be supportive, even a great show that is celebrated alone gets dull after a while.
You will win some and you will lose a lot more, keep the friends that are the golden ones or, like me, make friends with those that are not performers or have no similarity in skill-set or possible castings and eliminate the problems before they start.
If you find times when friends are lacking and you don’t have support, and then be strong enough in yourself to live without them. If you need someone holding your hand to make you feel like you can succeed then you have a ceiling on your success that you are never going to bust through.
I don’t know how people are finding the time to make and lose friends around this work, it's hard core hours and it's hard enough just finding time for my single best friend, let alone all my work friends, home friends, Australia friends and misc. friends.
Back on topic, in case you couldn’t tell, I didn’t make it through all the rounds of the 'Star Wars Weekends' auditions and was essentially locked out of my potential ultimate happiness. Needless to say, when I tell myself to ‘shrug it off and attend the show without bitterness’ you know it’s not undertaken easily.
So the audition ended and I went home, and like an idiot I left the rest of the day completely free. Damn morning auditions. I literally had the freezer full of Hagen Daaz, just in case, the day before, and attended the audition prepared for serious sadness. I seriously don’t abuse alcohol or anything with addictive tendencies. Sure, drowning myself in ice-cream blows my weight-watchers points for the day but I’m not going to be in alcoholics anonymous in six months' time.
The next day I had to move on, otherwise six months' worth of failed auditions and I’m a nervous wreck in a corner throwing my sanity down the toilet. I always got to keep looking to the next opportunity, and take the opportunities to ask others in the position I want how long it took them.
On a down day I asked someone how long it took them to get cast in a role I wanted, he said seven years and eleven auditions. Ok seriously that's depressing, but if I get what I want in less time I can inspire the next guy to beat me and pay it forward so to speak. But I still may never get the role at all. Such is the risky and often sad life of us.
Be Ready for Anything
With the cold slowly leaving us alone and warm mornings waking our stiff overstretched bones, the fates it seems, made us pay for this new luxury in a way entirely new to me, ‘Spring break’.
During my time in America I have had the opportunity to watch Americans live and work in their natural habitat, unchanged by another country’s influences like that of my native Australia. And in my time here I have observed ‘Spring break’ and decided that it's the time when the school kids of America and surrounding countries migrate to Disney like hyena’s to a dead corpse.
Lines for characters and rides began to rival those at Tokyo Disneyland (long) except without the friendliness and patience of the Japanese culture.
One such sunny day during the heat of summer and teenage angst, a supervisor of mine (who later told us the entire story) was monitoring the line of a certain entertainment attraction when he noticed something strange nearby.
Our parks are famous for their picturesque gardens and less famous for the fact that you shouldn’t jump a fence to enter one, but I guess that’s because it's just something you assume everyone knows.
Inside the garden close to the attraction he noticed something happening behind a tree, upon investigation he discovered two teenagers relieving themselves because they didn’t want to walk fifty feet to the restroom and risk missing the upcoming show and waiting ten minutes for the next one. The point is the more people (particularly young ones) the more crazy things can happen.
It's amazing to me, but it seems people leave their brains at home. It’s also unbelievable to me that a child can wander onto the parade route and for the parent to do nothing about it but take pictures therefore leaving it to a friendly cast member to save the child from imminent death.
Needless to say, it's a stressful time for cast members working during' Spring break', particularly on the night when the parade was delayed by a child who had found their way onto a dwarf mine train during the nighttime electrical lights parade. As performers you are always conscious of your surroundings, this isn’t your average stage. Besides the children, you also have rivets cut into the street for the old trolley's to watch out for as well the other performers.
It’s important to understand the differences in various styles of performance, as it is to understand that people lose their sanity at Disney. Parenting and common sense are quickly thrown away along with the diet and the savings account. I wish I could tell everyone in the park to keep an eye on their kids, stop getting irrationally upset about everything, and that if they kick or throw something at a character Liam Neeson is going to hunt them down.
Are auditions all the same? I heard that you need to learn scripts or songs and other things at certain auditions?
Auditions are as varied as the shows themselves across the park. We have a lot of varieties of shows that require performers of every nature, there isn’t a valued performance skill set invented that doesn't have some use somewhere across the park. The most useful skill sets I’d recommend working on would be, first and foremost, acting. Immediately followed by dance and vocals. Less common skill sets are made useful by both regular and season shows such as aerial skills, stilt walking and busker acts.
Be ready for competition, though. As soon as an audition becomes available thousands of people across the country jump to attention. So how does one stay ahead and maximize their chances at an audition? Live now as if you’ve already won the spot that you want and are paid to do the skill that you specialize in. Work out, practice and keep on top of your game, a lot of the people you will be competing with are already working at the top of their game and just want to change their game. Or just the field they are playing on.
Work or volunteer in something else that you can make sound impressive when you come to stand in front of the ever scary yet smiley Disney casting agents. It’s amazing how close the difference can be between landing the job and missing it.
Earlier in the year I auditioned at an open call for pirates with speaking roles, and having relative confidence in my experience and naturally pirate-like accent I auditioned. I turned up, took the lines that I was given by the nice lady, and submitted my resume for evaluating while I rehearsed alone.
I’ll tell you, there's no worse feeling than pacing around a parking lot learning lines in viewing distance of some of the best looking guys you’ve ever seen, but you maintain confidence counting on the idea that everyone else’s accent sucks compares to yours. But I auditioned and it went well, pushing out my accent as if it were a desirable body curve and not an involuntary speech impediment.
The beauty of a Disney audition is that you know your success in moving to the next round by receiving a piece of paper inviting you to a call back. Or by not receiving afore mentioned paper...
Unfortunately the difference between me and the other guy was the fact that he was a DJ. Seriously, a DJ, for a pirate audition?
Our skills and resumes were so similar that it came down to the tiniest difference. Painfully for me is that I believe in a nice clean formatted resume that doesn't always include everything that might help me. Lesson being; don’t leave anything out, even for the Feng Shui of a beautiful resume. Basically, come prepared, advertise yourself properly, ignore the beautiful people and realize that your accent is not as exciting as you think it is. Be prepared at all times by keeping your skills sharp, and keep an eye on what Disney’s doing. A good tip is to keep your eyes open every time Disney releases something new, like a new movie or attraction. Don’t get lazy, keep your eyes open and keep moving forward.
Do performers have jobs besides dancing? Do you work rides or anything?
Fortunately, and as unbelievable as it sounds to some, we manage full time hours every week performing and doing nothing else. People who can’t grasp the idea that they would be needed that much, particularly for a small street performing role, mustn't have been here yet and seen how many forms of live entertainment the park offers in surplus.
There are hundreds of street performers spread out through the parks and resorts, many shows and spectaculars. But let's stop and look at the big ones. Five of the biggest shows on offer here at Walt Disney World in reverse order of greatness, according to me, as currently showing at the end of 2012. This way we can see a little of what makes entertainment here so great, and give you some possible inspiration of what's out there. Also; spoiler alert!
5. Finding Nemo: The Musical
This live sung musical is staged inside a beautiful pastel colored indoor theatre, boasting a sizable stage and extremely impressive props. Probably one of the grandest shows, it has a large ensemble comprised of singers, dancers and some amazing puppeteers. First note is that it seems that everyone in the cast sings, which means if that's not your thing then it's time to move on to the next one.
The performers puppeteer some beautiful and colorful characters from Finding Nemo as well as scenery such as coral and reeds and one hermit crab. One of the strongest elements of the show is that the performance is given not just with the faces of the puppets, but also with those of the performers themselves who act along with no less conviction than the puppets. You can feel the emotion deeply in every scene, which is not dwarfed by the insanely colorful costumes and addictive songs. Basically, I really like this show. Nemo scored the lowest of the five not because of a lack of quality but rather lack of re-watch value.
But getting back on topic, it scores very highly on the insanely-hard-to-get-into list as the show hires no less than the very definition of professional singers and dancers. But if you have an amazing voice and a bit of experience then definitely audition, if you're a lead there's a bit of flying in it for you too.
4. Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a smaller version of the full scale musical featuring all the best parts and not much in between them. Complete with song and dance numbers, this show is fairly short but constantly thrilling and never for a moment slows down.
Rather than singing, being the most important as is the case with Nemo, this time it’s dance that takes the center-stage as the common skill between just about every performer. Dance, stunts and of course singing are some of the skills you will need for this show.
The strength of this show is the complex dance numbers with vivid costumes, the timing of some great stunts and in my opinion the strength and presence of the ever charming Gaston. The performers in the show enjoy several costume changes throughout and a variety of styles of dance, no doubt keeping things interesting for the performers involved.
A show that leaves you wanting more, this is a good one with some very classic songs you find yourself knowing word for word and those all too familiar melodies that rip your heart out when they start playing.
I’d recommend auditioning if you're strong with dance or vocals, love Beauty and the Beast and want to impress someone in conventional theatre because this show will look good on your resume.
3. Hyperspace Hoopla
Although only number three, this spot fought for first for me whenever I saw it. The Hyperspace Hoopla is a wild and amazing seasonal show only showing eight nights per year. The focus skill for this show is definitely dance, and incredible, insane dance at that. Dance of all varieties as well, hip hop, jazz and what have you, this show makes use of many styles in a way not many have seen before.
I know I sound like a fan girl talking it up like this, but I truly can’t stress how much seeing this show will amaze you. The costumes, for one, are second to none. Everyone looks amazing on that stage and the choreography just takes your breath away. I’m not sure I give it justice describing it like an above average ice show but really it’s more like an intergalactic inner-city club.
I know it sounds strange, my putting a temporary show like this on a list which features the parks core shows. I understand auditioning for a show like this isn’t exactly job security, but bear with me.
Auditions for this show are open for absolutely everyone, not a privilege offered for every show. Locking down this show ensures you will be learning some of the best dancing on stage period, in my opinion, which is seen not only by Disney, but many various casting directors (catching my drift yet?). In terms of “discovery” this show is definitely worth the effort to try out for, you sign a tiny performance contract like that and you never know what offer might be knocking on the door next.
2. Festival of the Lion King
A short and adapted version of the Lion King, the skill that shines for this show is definitely vocals, and so much so that I compare the vocals for this show to the dance for the last show, Hyperspace Hoopla. Although there are many dancers for this show, as well as stilt-walkers, fire-twirlers, acrobats, tumblers and other awesome skills, the wow factor for me is the singing. This for me is the stand out as far as vocals go for the whole park; the singing is face-meltingly incredible.
If you're more than five and a half feet tall, and great with stilts, then go for that.
Like Beauty and the Beast, this show is much shorter than the conventional musical and features all the best parts. Unlike Beauty and the Beast, it is not so much a shorter version as a whole new show. So, as the story goes, we have stumbled across a traveling group of singers who are on their way to celebrate a grand festival with Simba and his friends. We stay and join in and enjoy renditions of the classic Lion King songs sung, once again in my opinion, at the same quality you would pay hundreds to see on Broadway. These singers are seriously amazing; this show has the highest re-watch value by a long shot. No complex story, but incredible singing and a very relaxed atmosphere that is impossible to tire of. I’ve been to see it many, many times.
This is the big one; this show has been around many years and is performed all around the world at Disney Parks. Boasting an island for a stage and a 10,000 seat arena seating, this show is seen by more than any other.
This show was intended to be the last thing the guests saw at the end of their vacation, and it feels “be all and end all” the whole time you're watching. There are giant pyrotechnics, many Disney character cameos, and stars the king himself; Mickey Mouse.
This show follows Mickey’s imagination and starts 'good' with princesses and happy times, and becomes corrupted by first the Evil Queen from Snow White who then brings in almost every other Disney villain. Jafar makes a cameo not as himself but in his infamous serpent form, and to make a big finale for the villains Maleficent appears before your eyes become a giant fire-breathing dragon once again. Can Mickey defeat the villains and save his imagination and the world? I’m not telling, come and see for yourself.
This is the ultimate show, and therefore not as straightforward to be a part of as simple “auditioning”. You have to be selected. To be selected you have to already work for Disney, so find another way in by auditioning for a different show and if you want this one then put in the effort and make the great eye of Sauron shine upon you, you never know when you're going to check your schedule and see the life-changing words ‘Fantasmic Rehearsal.’ But don’t make the mistake of expecting it to come easy or quickly, be patient and work hard and you never know.
"What was the biggest misconception you had going into the job? Or rather, what most surprised you about working there?"
Oh this question was just too good not to pick, let's run through the list of misconceptions shall we?
“When I work for Disney I’m going to spend all my days off skipping through the Magic Kingdom and going on rides!”
Put a gun in my mouth! If you're working the hours that you definitely will be, then chances are that getting out of bed at all on a day off is going to have to be for something far more appealing than baking for ten hours, sweating all over a massive crowd at work for free.
“Disney’s a big company, like Forbes 100 big, therefore the pay must be amazing”
Haha! No, no, no. NO.
“Workmates must be sickeningly, giddily in love with Disney, surrounding myself with those people would kill me.”
Yes and No. We obviously love working for the company we work for, and take the magic seriously. Not to mention we all know our stuff, we know all the Disney movies backwards and bring genuine enthusiasm to the job. But off-stage most people are normal, they're funny and sarcastic and they have lives that don’t include fan-girling all over Disney. The workplace is like any other, and the people are just like the ones you work with I’m sure. You’ll get along just fine without being an overkill Disney psychopath.
"I have freckles; particularly on my arms, will this hinder my chances of selection?"
Freckles or anything naturally occurring like that aren’t a problem. Moles and small birth marks are fine too. Even if you have some naturally occurring marks that are a problem they can still be concealed, give Disney a person and some time and the most fantastic creature can emerge from the other side.
However, there are plenty of non-natural things that aren’t okay with Disney, and it varies depending on where in Disney you want to work.
Disney Parks are not okay with exposed tattoos. From what I hear, Disney Cruise Line is not okay with tattoos at all. Also those giant holes people sometimes create in their ear lobe, or any piecing that’s not on the ear lobe (normal size and only for women).
Basically anything that's super distracting or potentially offensive, why?
Being the giant stage that it is, and being the best stage there is and wanting to remain so, Disney wants to be sure that we are very presentable at all times.
There are many different cultures that represent us from around the world, and many markings can be considered offensive by someone. A company such as this makes all of its bread and butter off its squeaky clean and beyond-reproach appearance.
Next time you visit and you want to see an example of this, ask a cast member where something is and notice that a point using one finger is never used. There are many ways to point without wagging one finger in a certain direction, and seeing as this is offensive to some people, it doesn’t happen.
Were the current shows always as they are today?
Sometimes shows change over time. The current main 3 o’clock parade we have ‘Celebrate a Dream come True’ is quite a change from the previous parade which itself was the last link in a chain of many great transformations since the first parade that debuted many years ago. Floats change, break down, sometimes better ideas are thought of or themes come into play. For the' Year of a Thousand Dreams' we had different outfits for Mickey and the gang to wear during Dream Along with Mickey, and where Ariel was wearing her dress only a couple short months ago, she had now returned to the sea and appeared in New Fantasyland, a mermaid once again.
The show changes for new ideas and inspiration all the time, but sometimes change is necessary for functional reasons that no one saw coming. A friend of mine use to perform for Disney on Ice before she came to work with us at Disney World and she told me a story one day that is a perfect example of necessary change.
She told us about one show that she had danced in where Tinkerbelle was to drink some poison to save Peter’s life and die on stage. The audience was encouraged to clap her back to life, and when they did she could spring back to life to the audience's delighted applause.
One night she was doing the routine as normal in a Southern American country and she drank the poison and died as usual except when the cue came the audience never clapped.
Perhaps the cue was lost in translation or perhaps the audience weren’t paying attention or weren’t involved in the story, she never found out but Tinkerbelle stayed dead and no-one knew what to do.
I can only imagine the desperate struggle backstage of people rushing out trying to figure out what to do, after what felt to my friend like an eternity they found an applause track and played it over the speakers. From then on an applause track was always part of the show and other shows like it. The show must go on whether the audience wants it to or not.
I can’t even tell you how many things have gone wrong over the year while on stage, and you just have to make the absolute most of it. Only a couple weeks ago my belt came apart while dancing on stage and I had no idea it was happening!
So I continued to dance away oblivious to the fact that a belt is swirling around and slapping my legs and stomach. In the end the supervisor couldn’t take it anymore and noticed 'Stitch' standing nearby and begged him to join me on stage and do my belt up.
So now my friends have videos and photos of me looking like an idiot and dancing on stage, while 'Stitch' tries to fix my belt while I am somehow, still oblivious.
Eventually, I noticed 'Stitch' and what he was trying to do, so I made it a part of the dance the best I could, the audience was dying of laughter knowing what was happening so I refastened the belt as theatrically as I could and finished the show with 'Stitch' and got my biggest applause this year to date.
"Can you describe what a day might look like for you?"
I can to some extent, so I will do so below in first person format. I will describe last Friday simply because I liked last Friday.
I woke slowly, peeled my eyes open and turned towards the bedside alarm clock. 4:12am. Damn this needs to be a fast shower. I raced out of bed and towards the bathroom using shampoo for soap again and cursing the night I’d spent hanging out and not at Wal-Mart purchasing hygiene supplies.
I decided that I would have to eat at work again; my starved savings account was a product of my own design. As someone that relied on a certain shape and fitness for my job it was shameful how terribly weak I was when it concerned food. Tempt me with a stomach bloating booze fest on the town and see my strength in refusal, even throw the most tempting of video games at me and watch me control my time like a pro. Just don’t offer me cheesecake.
So after a breakfast of nothing I headed to the front of my apartment where Serena had agreed to meet me and drive me to work. Thank God for Serena, I would have been in quite a pickle trying to get to Hollywood Studio’s without her.
Conversation was light as is customary at such a time in the morning that a woman has not yet applied her makeup or realized she’s driving a friend to work at 4:30am at no benefit to herself whatsoever.
It’s strange sightseeing a Disney park abandoned as it is at such a time of the day, no-one on the festive streets and no laughter in the air. It was as if the streets were taking in a deep breath preparing for a long day of merriment, joy and being stepped on. A more clever person than I would have brought a camera and preserved the memory forever, some of us instead have holes in our brain where such ideas would normally live in abundance.
I hurried down the streets eager to be ready in time to begin, remembering first that I had to meet my superior and get dressed. The first task of the day was to shoot a commercial to advertise the latest Disney film, Wreck it Ralph, to Latin America as International release dates were fast approaching. Unfortunately, screen is not my favorite medium in which to perform as it tends to disagree with my impatient side.
It turns out that when trying to get Latin American stars to weave English through their sentences, one needs even more patience than ever. But regardless of the difficulties, everyone involved eventually managed to perform their parts, with only very limited words of frustration in Spanish.
One positive aspect of performing for camera however is one's ability to learn new things while watching parts that lead into yours. One of these lessons learnt that day was that Spanish is close enough to English that you can more or less understand your cue based on watching how actors portray words with their face, and ignore their actual words completely. So even if you can’t hear or understand your cue to save your life, you can however remember a facial expression.
Following this adventure I finally went and bought a slightly more expensive meal than I would have liked; $six dollar chicken strips and fries with a side order of guilt and self-loathing.
The real self-loathing wouldn’t start however until I hit the streets and began to perform my days bread winning performance. Were people particularly annoying today? I doubt it, people reflect the mood I’m in and are therefore much nicer on days I have cheesecake.
The day's not over yet I’m afraid. I’ve performed for quite a few hours on the streets and am turning in my company owned clothing and props before I head to Magic Kingdom in time to be a part of Disney’s 'Electrical Parade'.
'Electrical Parade' is a giant and glittering spectacle that dances down the streets of the Magic Kingdom and is quite an amazing sight to behold. I arrive at the Magic Kingdom early and decide to grab a salad this time, but one with beef because I’m still a man even if I’m one that has to worry about food. Upon finishing that, and feeling better, it was time once again to check in and begin getting ready.
The parade went as smoothly as it often does and the guests loved it, but I’m tired just writing about it. The best thing about parades is the sights you can take in from parade route. The glittering of the lights on Cinderella’s castle is simply breathtaking, I love seeing Tiana and Naveen under their canopy in Adventure land and even the lampposts glistening from the rain earlier that day. But best of all would you believe we dance past the best bakery in town that sells the most fragrant cheesecake in the world. I’m ashamed to say I limped there as fast as my hurting, rapidly crippling up legs would carry me after work and bought some. I then sat in perfect view of the castle and ate, slowly enjoying the moment. Tomorrow would be another day with another adventure potentially bearing no resemblance to todays. How does anyone live any other way?
It’s now June and well into summer. The parks are once again filled to capacity as they were in the spring and it is hot beyond sanity. It’s during this insane time that I was looked upon with favor and began my first two parades, ‘Celebrate a Dream Come True’ and ‘Disney’s Electrical Parade.’
There’s a lot to learn about performing a looped routine down Main Street and through two different lands around the Magic Kingdom, the first being how exhausting it is.
Once again, it’s another show where your role can be very small on its own, but forms a part of something large and contributes to the whole dazzling spectacle that dances down Main Street.
However, no matter how easy it seems, you perform with such vigor and sometimes in such heat that it’s very taxing. Despite how tough it is, though it’s pretty amazing being watched and cheered on by hundreds of thousands of people, not to mention gazing at the magical castle that preludes every Disney film and you get to perform past it.
This isn’t theatre, leave any notion of that behind, people aren’t just talking, they are screaming and waving. It’s electrifying. However, in an atmosphere such as this with such high energy and excitement, the performance must match or exceed the levels of energy in the audience so as to carry the show successfully and not bring the audience down as lame or half-hearted performing would in a heartbeat.
Therefore everything we do is giant, however channeled into specific movement. I think the difference between animating your movement as random thunderous energy, and channeling great amounts of energy into specific action is the difference between a flailing crazy person and a great character.
Let me explain what I mean. It’s by your specific actions that we can best judge and get to know your character. If you have uncontrollable energy and you are someone happy yet masculine, and the performer near you has the same habit but is meant to be happy yet feminine, how can you tell the difference? You can achieve this with very specific mannerisms, and this cannot be communicated effectively until your movements are defined and every word you deliver can be easily understood by the audience. And if by chance you don’t have lines, your character won’t be lacking because clear and precise actions powered by strong energy are enough.
My first parade was quite a challenge. It was a hot Saturday afternoon and I was absolutely panting by the mid-way point. Once I was off, I took a very cold shower and collapsed in a corner, my skin utterly red and exuding enough heat to fry an egg.
Lesson to self; drink more water and hit the gym more than once every never. I couldn’t stay collapsed for long because I had more work to do before I got ready for the night parade.
Parades at night are far better temperature wise, plus sometimes there's an adorable little marching band of school kids that goes before you and nothing makes them happier than meeting a chap with an accent, I can tell you that.
I do like saying 'hi' to people that are let backstage, and more than saying 'hi' I love the looks on their faces as they take in the wonder of a world closed off to the eyes of the majority. But not just precious little marching bands come backstage. The parks offer a backstage tour every now and then (for a price) that will take you on a tour through the backstage areas of the parks and allow you to see the everyday mechanics behind the machine. Generally, I’ll leave these people alone, but will flash them a smile and let them know we are nice, even for free.
There are rumors ever circulating that, though performers are nice on-stage, that we are mean backstage. This can honestly root back to a person smiling at one of us and we perhaps missed it or were in a daze and weren’t looking where our eyes were pointing. That disgruntled person then tells eighty million people, via any social media you can name, that we all rejected him because we think we are somehow better than him.
Let me tell you now, we are nice. We didn’t mean to diss you or snob you, we are truly sorry.
I hope that helps.
Parades are a long cherished performance style dating back to the origins of the parks. I don’t know what it is about parades, but they are everywhere. I had the fortune of celebrating my first Thanksgiving over here, and let me tell those of you reading who are not from America do not ask an American the meaning of Thanksgiving, Google it yourself.
My workmates jumped at the chance to fool me, I suppose I had deserved it having told them all year that kangaroos are our preferred animal to ride as riding horses was considered immoral in Australia on account of their weak backs. I also told them that koalas are aliens we shelter from the US Government and that Australia and Austria are the same country, simply with different pronunciation and that the 'Sound of Music' was shot down the road from my house.
I assume you get the idea, therefore, when Thanksgiving turned up I was horrified to hear that it was about slaughter, that it was basically Halloween except as part of tradition we had to hunt Native American’s. Lots of things were told to me that horrified me.
To put the cherry on the cake, so to speak, I was talking to Pocahontas on the day of Thanksgiving who hadn’t known all the lies I was told, and she told me that she was celebrating a party that night at Fort Wilderness and I thought she was heading towards a trap!
I went ballistic; I flew into an angry speech of how immoral Disney was to do that, only to learn much to my embarrassment from her that Thanksgiving is nothing more than a lunch and something between the Americans and the Native Americans which is why they force us to eat terrible stuffing, turkey and cranberry sauce.
I used this opportunity to ask whether Black Friday really was an African American holiday in which they are the only ones allowed to go shopping, turns out this is also fictitious.
But back on the topic of Thanksgiving and parades, there is a splendid one I very much enjoyed watching on TV sponsored by Macy’s Department store that happens every year.
No-matter where you are, parades are a way to celebrate, and we have plenty of high quality ones here at Disney. Parades are not something you can generally audition for on their own (except for ones with specialty roles, but since the end of 'Block Party Bash' none of the current ones include roles like this). Therefore you need to get a job here the conventional way and then be cast.
Not long after I learnt parades I re-auditioned for better performance scores and subsequently made myself officially ‘good enough’ to join the team I’d dreamed of joining since the beginning and perform ‘Disney Character Events’. Events are things such as weddings, special parties, and formals, even things like filming commercials or TV spots. It was a very exciting time.
My first event was a Halloween party on the night of Halloween at the Fort Wilderness resort. My job was to dance at the party with the kids and keep them involved in the fun; however, something happened that I did not expect and it had me paying dearly.
When we arrived at the resort we began to prepare and get dressed and go out to meet the kids, when with only five minutes to go someone came in and offered us food.
Oh my goodness, in a space of about three of those minutes I must have put away half a chicken, five or six spare ribs, dinner rolls and half a pound of the best macaroni and cheese ever. Needless to say, I was nearly crying the first hour or so of the party because I was being paid to dance vigorously despite the fact I had stuffed my face two minutes before and all of that food was rolling around inside of me refusing to digest!! A big part to being successful in this line of work is learning self-control, and it’s something that weakens all the time for me at least and I pay for it one way or another every time.
The events department of Disney World began in 1996 in response to growing demand for Disney performers at outside functions; we therefore represent Disney whenever we leave it in every aspect of our conduct.
I therefore recommend a person who wishes to be given events should show fantastic personal behavior off the stage as much as on the stage. Also consistency of performance is important as well, nothing is less attractive to Disney event coordinators than someone who’s amazing one day then boring the next. How can they trust that on the day of the event you will be in a mood to be amazing?
Generally, parades come before events, a reason the chapters are in the order they are in, but not always. Keep persevering and over time good things keep coming.
One of the best things about working here is that the opportunities to advance are endless. You never have to worry about hitting a ceiling and working the same boring thing every day for twenty years, there's always more to aspire for.
So keep aspiring and don’t get frustrated, keep a consistently good performance and keep good conduct backstage. That's the person they are truly looking for.
Another event was the shoot I told you about it my little story earlier, and my most recent event in which I’m writing this chapter, though I’ve got another this week, was a Christmas show I got to perform at' Give Kids the World' village (GKTW).
GKTW is a charity foundation that houses children brought to visit Disney World and Universal Studios with the Make a Wish Foundation. Children suffering life threatening illnesses and their families are given a free vacation to Walt Disney World that includes free tickets to the parks with priority passes to both rides and meeting characters. Their accommodation and food is all provided by GKTW who also facilitates events, special evenings and even brings Disney characters to meet them at home rather than at the parks, characters such as Belle and Mary Poppins.
Some may think a free resort staffed entirely with volunteers would be nothing special with a “be grateful with what you get” attitude. This couldn’t be further from the truth; the resort is beautiful with clean bright buildings, themed and clean streets and amazing games, pools and activities for everyone. The restaurant is themed as a gingerbread house, and giant novelty cookies and chocolate dipped strawberries and other wonderful things line the street. There's even a machine that blows balloons!
All staff including cleaners, store workers and cooks volunteer their time happily and provide even the best services including room-service and 24 hour guest service. My favorite perk is that there are special characters unique to GKTW that visit every child at night and tuck them into bed before they go to sleep.
The opportunity to work an event at a place like this was truly a blessing, and the kids were an inspiration. Everyone is happy and hopeful and the volunteers are doing an amazing job, it simply must be true that people who volunteer are happier and live longer because everyone there loved it and the fulfillment they got from doing it was beaming from their faces.
We love what we do because of the kids, and serving them in this way is well worth it. If you ever come and work for Disney, stop by Kissimmee and I strongly recommend offering a hand to something at GKTW, it will change your life.
Well, summer is over now and the temperature is beginning to drop, but not by much, this is Florida, after all. But it’s not just impending winter that is bringing a chill in the air, things are about to get seriously not so scary! As September draws near, preparations begin for my new favorite time of the year, at Disney anyway, Halloween and 'Mickey’s Not so Scary Halloween' Party.
Halloween is the first all-consuming holiday that takes over everything, followed closely of course by Christmas. The Magic Kingdom is completely taken over by villains and everything scary and creepy, or should I say not so scary?
If you want to go somewhere with senseless fear and where driving people mad with terror is ok then head instead to Universals Halloween Horror Nights.
Disney is a place where people want to be enchanted and happy, even if they want fear mixed in just a little. So terror, gore, tears and hating life is generally left to other parks because that's just not us.
This is going to test the limits of your showmanship, because while people want true Halloween, they still want to bring their kids and take advantage of childlike things such as trick or treating and villainous fluffy characters such as Lotso from Toy Story 3.
The nature of our performance morphs to suit the needs of whatever is being celebrated, because like the words to 'Move it Shake it Celebrate it Street Party' “Every day is a celebration!” There is always a reason to celebrate, even if the occasion is not so scary scariness.
Entertainment offered during Halloween parties include many unique characters, such as Tarzan and Jane, and dance parties, trick or treating and such. But, besides 'Hallowishes' (the fireworks), the main shows are the 'Villains Mix- n-Mingle' and' Mickey’s Boo to You' Parade.
To celebrate this particular event you may have to be villainous, you may have to be downright naughty and unpleasant. So how is this achieved? One thing about villains is that they love to get people on their side, if you notice a reoccurring theme with Disney villains is that they are generally pretty charming.
Villains are mostly villains because they want something or they hate one or two particular people, not everyone necessarily. Besides that, they are schmoozer's who get what they want.
Therefore, charming guests is one way of being villainous and creepy, without ruining their night. Always remember that while at Disney people have to enjoy themselves and have a great night and leave happy. Therefore, perform your role in such a way that accomplishes that yet is correct for the part.
Another way to interact with people is to try and convert them to your side, or turn them against each other. I love to harmlessly knock something over and blame someone in the family; turning families against each other, in a fun way, particularly if it recruits you a minion or two.
I find villains to be seductive so I like to break couples apart, walking away with one of them on my arm. Or perhaps if you like treasure or valuables try to convince someone to share theirs with you, even if it fails they have narrowly escaped being robbed which leaves them with a fun story to tell later.
It really isn’t fun to have a bad experience because a performer thought he was giving guests the ‘evil’ showman. Performers in the past have tried rummaging through guests bags to come across something embarrassing and ruining someone's night. Others may steal and accidentally break people's things or scare kids, leaving them sobbing and ruining the parent's night. Nothing is worse than paying money to get in, then having to leave because your child’s too petrified to stay because someone thought it would be funny to jump out from behind a shadow.
Don’t get me wrong though, I’ve done scary stuff. Walking up behind an adult, stressing adult here, and putting your hands on their shoulders and rubbing their neck creepily is hilarious on a Halloween night, particularly if your very tall and thin and pull off scary very well. Not so much if the person is alone, but someone with a group of friends who purposely drew attention away from you coming generally means that chances of scaring them in this way will be a high point of their night.
I guess using common sense and thinking about how something you do will look later on when the victim is re-telling the story will help you make better scary choices.
One thing about Halloween is that, generally, to be scary you have to be poised, physically controlled and possess a scary demeanor. Not the case with me one night when I was being scary in the Magic Kingdom in a black velvet robe and sneaking up on adults and generally power walking scarily though the Magic Kingdom providing atmosphere and enjoyment. I was approaching a corner and was considering how I would walk around it in a way that would create the most presence when suddenly the world turned on its axis and I was soaking!
In my dazed thought I had walked straight into a water fountain. Needless to say, the ‘presence’ was all but destroyed and I was a laughing stock, but laughter can be silenced with a few well-placed death threats and an even more powerful power walk trying to find the nearest breeze to air my robes in.
Being Disney, I hadn’t done anything wrong making people laugh, luckily I didn’t work Universals Horror Nights as I’m sure that kind of thing might not fly so well.
Seriously, do visit Universals Halloween horror nights if you're very okay with fear, I have friends that left in tears. People seriously jump out at you, and things are genuinely scary.
This year was themed on the popular TV show ‘The Walking Dead’ so walkers abounded this year, as fun as it might have been to go, I knew I just didn’t like being scared in a way that was so real. How is that fun to people?
Although, apparently, there's an execution room where actors get their heads cut off and when the blades hits their neck the lights go out and you get sprayed with blood.
At Disney we pump music such as Fantasia’s ‘Chernabog’ and other scary soundtracks, we throw creepy lighting mixes of eerie greens and blues onto the castle and put on the coolest villains show this side of the shadow lands. One thing that is spooky but I love is a part of the' Boo to You' Parade where fog is pumped onto the street and dead dancers waltz through it all white and falling to pieces. That is seriously cool.
And nothing is funnier than seeing Daisy Duck in a giant Princess costume standing next to Donald who has very obviously been forced into wearing a giant pumpkin with the top of the pumpkin as a hat. He looks cute and little, and she looks royal and magnificent, nothing if not the perfect image of their relationship.
Halloween at Disney isn’t so much scary as it is cool, and lots of fun. And it's the one time of year when you, the general public, can dress up and go to Disney in any costume you want and it’s perfectly allowed, which is awesome. Some of you are wondering why you can’t go to Disney at any time dressed however you want, such as a princess or something. But, besides during Halloween, Disney can’t have kids mistaking ordinary adults for the real Princesses, because if they approach Cinderella and it's not the real Cinderella and they are treated badly by a woman they thought was Cinderella, then their whole world might crumble. It’s really quite understandable when you think about it; some people make incredible costumes that sometimes look as good as the real thing.
There was a big news story earlier in the year about a teenage girl who couldn’t enter Disney’s Animal Kingdom because she was wearing a self-made Tinkerbelle costume that looked too good, and she had to change first. The news wanted to make Disney look like the ‘evil corporation’ but she was given clothes to wear from Disney, and explained to that they couldn’t allow the kids in the park to mistake her for Tinkerbelle.
I know, I know, here I am taking Disney's side again but this time I think there was justification. However, Halloween is generally a free for all dress wise as long as it is appropriate, you don't conceal your vision for safety reasons, you do wear shoes, and you don't wear anything shockingly disturbing (go to Universal I'm begging you).
It was my first Halloween this year and no-matter where I am next year, I will be sure to do something to mark the occasion because I had a blast, and I missed it dreadfully when it was over. Also because it’s a terrible truth, but a truth none the less that when your tall and scary you have way more fun during Halloween than the shorter, less imposing people, but it's the revenge of these plusher, cuter people come Christmas time.
I guess it scarcely needs to be said Disney does Christmas very well. And I thought Disney pulled out the big guns for Halloween. From what I’ve heard, from a friend of a friend, each Christmas at Disney the planning begins eighteen months in advance. The entire country (that is Disney) gets a huge makeover; there are giant lights and decorations galore. And it fake snows every night, I love it.
Christmas was kind of my time to slow down, to begin applying the brakes before I went home in January. I was ready to see my family by this point, although not at all over Disneyworld.
I stopped performing parades by December, and was replaced by the performers of the seasonal parade, the' Once Upon a Christmas Time' parade. This parade was cool, but had really nothing on the Halloween parade (seriously it was gingerbread men or ballroom dancing dead people). Despite Halloween winning there, the Christmas shows were amazing, the heartwarming tear jerking factor was equal to Halloweens cool kick ass factor, to me anyway.
Work for me at Christmas time was mostly events and parties, including dance parties (six hours' worth of grueling and heart stopping, bone crushing workouts unlike the world has ever known). As well as promoting Disney’s newest film, 'Wreck it Ralph' and the usual street stuff.
Christmas gave me such good times with my friends, standing in the freezing streets of Hollywood Studios watching Goofy dressed like Santa and the lights of the buildings blink responsively to the festive music. It’s these moments you do it all for, all the work and killing yourself through the week. The chance to in the parks, enjoying it all with your friends, know the family standing next to you maxed out their credit cards for the same pleasure. Suckers. (Kidding, geez).
M and V forever
When I think back, working with Ralph and Vanellope 'from Wreck it Ralph' was really among the best things about the contract. Being a part of something new, seeing it launch, the movie be released and the public's reaction was amazing to be there for. I had always wondered what it would be like to be there for the release of something big, and meet people as they were seeing it for the first time and be a part of their experiencing it for real in the parks. We allowed the guests a chance to visit the video game ‘Sugar Rush’ from the film and provided a new world for them to escape into.
That was awesome, and I treasure that.
The two films I got to experience the launches of while being a part of Disney were 'Brave' and' Wreck it Ralph', and both gave me insight into the strategies and genius of a company that has stood strong for a hundred years on the affection of the general public all around the world.
I also got to see something the worlds never known, a girl with giant red curly hair that is unresponsive to Florida humidity, and fell for a girl with dirty candy hair and an outrageous personality. (Merida and Vanellope respectively).
You can’t judge a guy for falling for a cute game character who jumps on giant cookies with you and insults you for walking slow, but I think something may have gone wrong when you're justifying your romantic affection for a pixilated character in a film too many people thank Pixar for in a book. I might be off topic.
In a word I’m getting sentimental towards the end; it’s not long now until I leave.
Well I’m back in Australia now and it’s been a few months. I’m still entertaining kids and most importantly keeping my antennae out there for the next ‘big thing’.
What's important is that you avoid any significant gaps between your entertainment jobs; thereby, discouraging those horrible periods of time casting directors see and frown upon.
What's it going to look like for a casting director looking at resumes searching for three years of experience and see’s two and half plus six months of lying around moaning “how far the mighty have fallen” to all others who will listen. Although, trust me, I know the feeling of signing off a fantastic contract and returning to...?
But I live in Melbourne now (the one in Australia, not Florida) and am performing at kids parties. But it’s really fun and has allowed for my gap between jobs to be no more than a few weeks. Comparatively it pays way better than Disney and is far less destructive on my body, and is not a bad way to learn a few lessons that even Disney couldn’t teach me. Lessons like entertaining small groups of kids in more creative ways than simply relying on the magic of Disney, and performing my own magic. I have to work much harder to keep the kids attention and captivate their interest. Turns out, it’s possible the grandeur, budget and prestige of Disney assisted my own ability to make people happy, in perhaps a major way.
It seems when the love and attention of the kids isn’t handed to you on confetti covered platter and you have to work hard and earn it, it stretches you and makes you better.
Disney taught me showmanship, and the current job teaches finer skills in more intimate environments. I’d truly recommend working in a capacity where you can entertain people close up and in smaller groups, either with kids or in comedy or something similar. It's truly illuminating.
The strangest thing that can ever happen to you, in my opinion, is that very rare time in your life that all your emotions combine together like a dodgy, messy brownish painting and you're left with almost no emotion, or thought even.
My last day in Orlando was spent with Bryan and Ciana. (I haven’t referred to specific people in the book much before, and have even considered using fake names but we know each other now and I could never lie to you).
Both mean a great deal to me in many ways, and in addition to losing Disney I was losing them. I never think about the impact that people are going to make on me when I join up for something or move somewhere new, but I do end up with great connections and friendships with people and it sucks when I leave. This was that rare finger painting emotional black hole I was describing earlier.
But shifting back to a happy bright and joyful conclusion, before you suddenly decide you can't take the trauma of a Disney relationship. This, so far, is the single best, most amazing and spectacular adventure I have been on to date. Ever. And you, my new best friend, can share in the magic.
So now I’ve told you as much as I remember, everything I’ve got is now yours. I’m going to continue to audition for more opportunities in theatre and movement, and I encourage you to do the same. But first audition, not just for any old job, but I encourage you to try Disney and if you get it then do better than me, write a book better than mine. We’re in this together so I’d love to hear from you, tell me what you thought of the book and ask me any questions that you have.
“All the best performers bring to their role something more, something different than what the author put on paper. That's what makes theatre live. That’s why it persists.
Well it turns out my Disney journey isn’t over after all; just a few days ago I received an email very much like the email in the first chapter, the one that first changed my life.
I officially work for Disney once again! I was really hoping Disney was going to be more than a one-time adventure, but a career, and I’ve got one.
I will still be in entertainment, but no longer for the parks, but this time for Disney Cruise Line. Yep I’m going to see the world. Needless to say I’m very excited, and I’m ready, so I’m going to write about it and you can follow my journey if you want to, it’s up to you. (Details below).
So it’s not goodbye my friends, but ‘see you soon’, and I hope to see you on the most magical stage on Earth real soon.
Talk to me
Email Club: http://eepurl.com/sI-gD