Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Castmember confession

I recently did an interview for MiceChat all about my years as a WDW castmember: that you can read if you'd like more details on what I did.

It got me thinking- a lot of people wonder what it's like when you work for the mouse.  Do you get sick of the parks?  Do you start to hate Disney after a while?  Does it ruin the magic?

Well, I can't answer for everyone, but as I'm sure you can guess from the topic of my blog, my answer to those questions is a resounding no!  Okay, maybe that isn't entirely true all the time.  There were days when I did not feel like smiling- when I'd had it up to my chin with guest issues and strict rules and miscommunications.  I will admit it wasn't all pixie dust all the time. But even on my worst days, I never hated Disney.  My job was to make people happy- it's hard to stay gloomy all day in that environment.  Enthusiasm and joy are contagious.  For every guest that gives you a hard time, there will be a dozen others that make your day.  Also, being a Disney fan is a core part of who I am.  Working for the company could never change me that dramatically.  I will always adore the stories of the films.

Did I get sick of the parks?  I can tell you that you don't feel the need to go all the time after a while once you've seen every ride so many times you feel the need to share random trivia with the person next to you, and you tell your friends not to bother with a guide map because you know where every bathroom is in the entire Magic Kingdom.  Sometimes I wonder if you led me blindfolded to an area of the park if I would be able to figure out where I was.   I avoided the parks during the hottest and most crowded times, rarely tolerated lines longer than 20 minutes, and visited less frequently as time went on.  However, now that I've gone from a local to a 6 hour drive from the nearest Disney park, I miss that easy access immensely.

Some think that being a CM must cause you to not want to set foot in the parks because you work there, and for some people that is true- especially if you are in guest relations and give tours so going around the park all day is part of your job. Most of my jobs, on the other hand, involved being stuck in one spot- I never saw any other parts of Disney property when I was on the clock!  Once my shift ended, it was as if my invisible barrier had been broken, and I was free to explore beyond the confines of my work location. 

Does working for Disney ruin the magic?  After all, you see all the behind the scenes stuff- characters out of character, the grumpy guses who complain to everyone backstage, and the sometimes stinky undecorated underbelly of MK known as the utiladoors.  Thankfully, as someone with a background in theater, I love seeing how the magic is created and learning the secrets.  I have no trouble suspending my disbelief again when I return to guest mode in the parks, so seeing all that behind the scenes stuff doesn't bother me.  Even if I was just talking to a character performer backstage, when I see Mickey out in the parks, he is the real Mickey. (Or at least as real as he can be in our world.)

  Some CMs go through the back way when going to play at the parks even though they are technically not supposed to, but I always made a point to enter through the front like a guest if I was there to play.  Going backstage immediately snaps you back to reality, and who wants to do that when you have plans to jump into fantasy?  I'd rather ride the monorail, pass under the train station, and travel down Main Street to Cinderella Castle- even if it takes longer.

Being a CM doesn't ruin the magic- it only alters how you perceive it.  Going to the parks becomes your local hang out rather than your vacation.  You might only go for a couple hours at a time and not even get on a ride during that time.  You tell your friends you went to Mexico for dinner or China for lunch, and they know you mean Epcot.  Sometimes I missed being a vacationer....staying at a hotel, being completely away from the real world, having the visit be a special occasion, etc.  And other times, I was so grateful to not feel the need to get to as many attractions as possible to get the most for my money.  I loved being able to pop over to Epcot once a week during the Food and Wine Festival or to go check out the newest thing whether it was a brand new attraction in its soft opening or a new shop or even just a new menu item at a quick service stand.  When Tangled premiered, I went to MK to have my picture taken with Rapunzel.  I just missed the cut off for her line and ended up waiting two hours to meet her and Flynn.  If I were a paying guest on vacation, I would have said no way, forget it.  But since that was the whole reason I had come to play that day, I stayed in line and had a really fun character interaction.  (Flynn asked me what was in my satchel, and he and Rapunzel were fascinated by my cellphone.)

Another way the magic is altered is that you are now a magic maker, and when you make magic, the magic you experience yourself is in their reactions.  I have had the pleasure of creating so many happy memories for people- the smiles, the hugs, the expressions of gratitude....I dare anyone to not melt when a little girl shrieks with joy and bounces around like Tigger after you've revealed her new princess hairdo.

Being a CM is not for everyone.  There are many others besides me who let a bad experience forever color their perception of Disney from that point out.  Working for them will either kill your fandom or make it stronger than ever.  It's really all about the attitude.  If you keep your head above the drama and always remember why you fell in love with Disney in the first place, you can live through being a CM with your love for all things Mickey still intact.  Look at me- over 8 years worth, and I'm still on board- forever a Disney dreamer.