FIRST HAND POINT OF VIEW FROM A VETERAN WALT DISNEY ENTERTAINMENT PROFESSIONAL
If you didn’t know- around 28,000 cast members from Disneyland Park were released from their job after committing decades of work to the Mouse. A very profound and deep love for the magic of Disneyland motivated these cast members to sacrifice above and beyond every single day of their employment. They worked their holidays, sacrificed family time, and overlooked personal well being, all to bring the masses joy and happiness.
Being a veteran cast member myself, my heart breaks for my Disney family, in that I still have many friends that worked for the Mouse in many different positions (ie. choreographers, directors, dancers, performers, stage managers, etc.). Countless hours of training, designing, directing, and creating were exhausted all in efforts to meet the standard of the Mouse. Not to disrespect the Mouse! I adore him deeply and I craved to simply give him more and more the longer I worked for him. He gave me magic, and it was the greatest privilege of my life to give back the magic he was sharing with me. To be a part of sharing his magic with thousands of Disney enthusiasts from all over the world was the greatest privilege of my life. It is an honor I still treasure to this day.
What I am trying to say, is that his magic is addicting, so much so, that- us performers – sacrificed everything we had to bring the magic to fruition. If we weren’t training in dance class, we were in dance rehearsal, and if we weren’t in dance rehearsal, we were performing in a show. Many times I have told my students that in ambition to obtain a lofty performance job in the entertainment department at Disneyland, I was training up to 60 hours a week to become the very best dancer/performer I could be. And, even when I obtained my very first job at Disney in one of their most notorious shows “Fantasmic!”, I continued still to train in dance class during my non-work hours.
I will never forget the moment I finally landed a job with the Mouse. It was the most surreal moment of my life. I don’t think outsiders really understand what it takes to not only be ‘of caliber’ for the Mouse, but the circumstances we must overcome in order to break through to the other side. Let me share some statistics with you:
- Your competition: you will be competing against around 1,500 people for a coveted position in their new show or parade. YES! You will be waiting in a very, VERY long line in order to just make your way into the rehearsal hall to learn the routine you will be auditioning. Girls: you will see some of the most beautiful girls waiting in line right along with you- don’t be discouraged! This is Disney- they see your potential! Remember, they have many different roles to fill. Boys: get in there and TRY! They need great male dancers and handsome princes, so there are many different roles for you too!
- Your environment: you will be fighting to simply be seen in a room jammed full of about 150 dancers. Remember: you are one of hundreds, so they must move you through the room- and QUICKLY– so that they have the opportunity to see everyone. Yep- that means you need to be a quick learn. Yep- that means, when someone steps in front of you while you are learning the routine, that means you step right back in front of them. Remember: YOU want the job. This is not the time or place to ‘make nice’. You want the choreographers and directors to see you…so BE SEEN.
- The length of your audition: DEPENDS! My audition for “Fantasmic!” was a week long. WHAT?! – you say…yep, a WEEK long. When the caliber of the show goes up- the audition process also increases in length. I auditioned for every position in the show, so I returned every night in order to be considered for other roles. For instance: Monday was for dancers by height; Tuesday was for face characters; Wednesday was call back for dancers in addition to character performance; Thursday was call back for face characters, and finally Friday was the final call back for all finalists- this was the casting night, which typically happened FINALLY at 2am.
- The roles available: now, I don’t know if I should put this out there, but for the sake of eager aspiring Disneyland performer’s, you HAVE to know what to expect. When I auditioned for “Fantasmic!”, it was announced that the show had 51 cast mates they were looking to cast. What they failed to announce was that the show had been running for 4 years, and they had already pre-cast their current cast members. In reality, there were only 5 positions available and I was lucky enough to snag one of them. I am proud to say that my very first role for Disney was the Snow White Witch (not to be confused with the Queen). LOL! – yes, I have a picture to prove it.
- Commitment: what are you willing to sacrifice? I along with my cast mates were willing to sacrifice everything for the opportunity to make magic- how about you? That is what the Mouse expects, and if it is inconvenient to you, there are 1,499 other people that will gladly take your job. Stay sharp! Stay trained! Stay humble and the world is your oyster.
These are just some of the components you must be aware of when approaching the Mouse for a job, especially a job as one of his esteemed performers. Maybe some day I will tell you the story of my audition process with Disney when I landed my first job, but for now, I want to honor all my friends that remained with the Mouse for these past several decades.
There are broken hearts and devastation every time I scroll through my Facebook and it deeply saddens me to see one friend after another being released from their job. The castle has been their sunrise and sunset for literally decades, and now their sense of normalcy has disappeared. The lack of understanding from our own government deeply upsets me, because they fail to see how very important the performing arts are! Nothing has been done to secure their jobs or even find an alternative so that they can sustain their way of life.
Performing arts has and will always be seen as expendable until something significant is done to change this thinking. It is sad to see that the performing arts has to fight to sell how relevant and impactful it is to the entire world. Where would the world be without the performing arts?? Literally! I am asking you that- where would it be??
As an entertainer, our audience comes to our show to be entertained for one reason or another, but they COME. Whether it be a deep love for the arts, supporting a family member, or running away from something in their lives they don’t want to deal with. They come to our house, our safe space – the theater- to find refuge, peace and joy. We educate our audiences! We train diligently for our audiences because we love and respect them! We give our soul to our audiences, because that is what they deserve.
Don’t we deserve the same kind of respect from our government? It almost seems that our lawmakers haven’t made it to one show or watched one movie in their lifetime, because they don’t hold true admiration for what we do.
We are some of the most educated people on the planet. We research. We collaborate. We don’t sign up for this because its “fun”- we sign up for it because we want to give back. So- my audience- give back. Have empathy for your Disney entertainers that are now without their normalcy. They are already hoping for the opportunity to bring joy to YOU again.
Have these people in your heart and wish them joy and happiness at this time of great personal sadness.
They deserve it.
(please see individual stories below of the Disney Cast Members affected by the COVID shut down)
Renee Rand– Maintenance Choreographer; Performer/Dancer. 20 year Disney Cast Member
Larissa Lee– Parade Cast Member since 1990
Lorraine Coronado- Show/Parade Performer/Lead: 28 year Disney Cast Member
Shannon Page– Character Special Events; 28+ year Disney Cast Member
Oliver Almonte– Maintenance Choreographer; Performer/Dancer. 20 year Disney Cast Member.
OTHER STORIES TO BE ADDED. SOME WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED OUT OF RESPECT FOR THE EMOTIONAL WELL BEING OF THE DISNEY CAST MEMBER AFFECTED.