Monday, November 25, 2013

Underneath the Mask

Over the past few weeks, I have been in search of a current character cast member to talk to about their job, and some ins and outs of College Program at Disney. My Fiancee actually works with student involvement at the local university and found a wonderful young lady named Olivia Ellis. Over the past week Olivia and myself have been messaging back and forth, and what an insight she has shared with us!

Jason: Is being a character something you always wanted to do? What inspired you to become a character? What sparked your interest in working for Disney in the college program?

Olivia: I never thought I would be a character performer at Disney World or that I would ever audition for the job. I actually was going through a rough time in my life this January(2013) and I needed a release. Somewhere to go, or something to do. I researched college internships on Google, and the Disney College Program popped up. After doing some research I decided to apply, but I made up my mind to only accept the offer if I made it through the auditions to be a character performer! I love performing on stage and interacting with people, so that seemed like the role for me. One of the highlights of spring semester was receiving the letter saying that I got the job!

Which "Friends" do you like to have fun with?
I have so much fun hanging out with my good friends: White Rabbit, Pooh, RABBIT(from Pooh and Friends), Handy Manny, Jake the Neverland Pirate, Princess Sofia, Max Goof, Chip and Dale, Terk(from Tarzan), The 7 Dwarves, the teddy bears(Mr. & Mrs.) in Celebrate the Season!

Who's your favorite friend?
My favorite friends would be either the Christmas bears, or Jake/Sofia. Dancing on the Castle stage has been the highlight of my time here as a cast member, but I also love doing meet-n-greet sets. Jake & Sofia are from Disney Jr shows, so they get to meet a much younger age group of kids that are usually adorable, precious, and full of "pixie dust".

As a character, what is the biggest enjoyments?
The thing I enjoy most: Meeting Make-A-Wish children and their families. They are always very polite and grateful for the opportunity to meet a character.

What's the best and worst things that have happened to you while with your "friends"? 
Best things to happen as a character: getting gifts such as drawings and letters from fans from all over the world, ALSO meeting kids that are dressed head to toe as your character.

Worst experiences: My friends have had lots of rude foreign guests and drunk guests(Epcot) come to meet a character. Once a kid tried to stick his hand up Jake's neck/head to see if Jake was real. Also, sometimes kids try to "ride" on your ankles-- a big no no. With our very restricted vision as a character-- this can get kids hurt real fast, and "heads will roll" if a character trips/falls.

What training goes into being a face character? A non face character? 
While I am not a face character, I have had experiences with face auditions, face fittings, etc. FIRST OFF: every "face" character also does "fur" characters throughout the week. One can never be cast as "just face". The first training sessions you do is a character performer is called Character Core. It's a 3 day course where you learn everything there is to know about interacting with guests, animation techniques, prepping your costume, character set schedules, and character profiling(studying each character in depth-- including picture poses, and autographs). Once you pass auditions to be a character performer, and you move down to Disney and finish core training, you can then attend a "face typeout" 4 times a year(once for each season). Only current Disney entertainment cast members can attend these exclusive auditions, and few people are picked for "fittings" out of the hundreds that show up. Once picked, you will stay after the "typeout"(audition) and be fitted into wig/costume/makeup. Once fitted, you meet with a character analyst/acting coach for about 5 minutes and practice a short paragraph script to read on camera. Once you're ready, you go into the room with the casting directors that picked you, and read your lines for their camera. Your films are reviewed by a panel of casting directors from California Disneyland and Disney World Orlando. In about a week, they will call and tell you whether or not you got approval in the role, and when your scheduled face training will be!

Any suggestions to make character interactions better for the visitors?
Characters love guests that just have fun with them and talk to them! Sometimes if a family is super nice or makes a meet and greet fun for us as characters, we will give them a special/fun picture pose or write special notes in their autograph books. Days are long in character, so we really enjoy when a family comes up and tells us jokes or asks us questions for us to animate things. Little kids say the funniest things sometimes about how 
their Disney trip has been and it's adorable. 

Sometimes if Chip and Dale see a family with Donald Duck merchandise, we'll animate things about Donald and the attendant will interact and "speak" for us. Our favorite game to play is character tag. The attendant will ask "Are you guys going to meet Donald next?? Well the boys(chip n dale) have something for you deliver to Donald!" and we will write "TAG UR IT!" on a piece of paper with our autographs on it. The family will usually deliver it to Donald and the game will go on throughout the day. This happens for lots of characters-- not just Donald and the Chipmunks. Its just something fun I thought I'd let you in on!

Do you get to keep the pictures given or are they considered Disney property since they were given to a character?
We get to keep any gifts that guests give us ๐Ÿ˜Š Sometimes they bring the princesses little trinkets, or Pooh bear little honey pot.

What would be the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you while with your friends?
Before returning to the breakroom after sets, a character is always supposed to give a final wave to the guests. Once I turned around and waved before entering the doorway to leave a set. I forgot the doorway had a 6 inch ledge, and after waving and turning around to walk through the doorway, Chip fell because he didn't see the ledge, My attendant as well as Dale had a good laugh once we were secure backstage. That was one embarrassing time!

Is there a character that you wish you could portray?
I would love to portray any of the fairies because I am a fan of the movies and the different personalities of all the fairies. My favorite fairy is probably Rosetta because she's southern, but she is a taller fairy so I couldn't portray her sadly ๐Ÿ˜ž Alice would also be very fun because I would love the voice training for her(she's British!)

Do you plan on trying to go out for Tinkerbell or Alice in the future?
There is a "Face Typeout" for current Character Performers the first week of December so I'm going to attend that and see if I get another fitting! You can be pulled and fit several times for any given role until you get approved. My friend has went to 20 auditions and been fit in many princess roles and she was finally approved in one about 2 weeks ago-- Pocahontas!

What is is like to perform on the castle stage? How long have you rehearsed for the show?
Performing on the castle stage... WOW this experience was so overwhelming on opening night that I cried during the finale! Putting a smile on over 25,000 faces on opening night November 8th was just magical. It is every performer's dream to dance up on the Cinderella Castle Stage, and I was very very blessed to have been cast as a College Program kid. I don't mention it a lot at work, because performers with more seniority get mad when they hear that a CP was picked for a castle stage role. Out of the 40-45 people cast in CTS, only 6 of us are in the College Program. We began rehearsals in early October and practiced about 4 days a week for 8 hours a day until the week of opening night! Opening week begins with 4 "Overnights" which are overnight rehearsals in Magic Kingdom after park close. Those were the most magical days of my life. Cinderella throws the best slumber parties at her house hehe. Complete with potluck dinners! While it was 60 degrees(freezing for Orlando people) outside each night, and raining on us, the cast still had a blast and grew closer as friends as opening night approached. After 4 nights of rehearsal Overnights, we had Thursday off to rest and get over any sicknesses we had caught over the past few days. I had gotten a stomach virus because my immune system was so low from my messed up sleep schedule. It was rough. Then Friday night I got to open the show in a packed out Magic Kingdom(the park reached capacity 2 hours before showtime!)

How is the college program? What is something people who want to be involved with it in the future need to know?
As I explained earlier, I was going through a rough patch as my boyfriend and I broke up only 20 days after his family took me to Disney World for my first time ever. It was our New Years trip. When we broke up, I followed one of my lifelong favorite quotes. "The best revenge is success." I knew I had to overcome this low point in my life and keep working towards my career and being successful. When the Disney College Program(DCP) popped up on Google, I thought, "Wow. What if I really decided to do this?! Nahhh, that's impossible... Well I'll just apply. A small percentage of people even get accepted! What could it hurt?!" So I applied! And 2 interviews and a competitive audition later, I got the job! Though my relationship circumstances have drastically changed since January, I wouldn't have changed my decision to apply for the DCP for anything. It has been such a growing experience and I have really matured professionally, socially, mentally, and emotionally. When I get back to Troy, I hope to be hired as a Disney Campus Rep so I can inspire others to apply for the internship as well.

What is involved in the college program?
The college program is a great experience and an opportunity for college aged people to branch out into the professional world. It helps with networking skills, social skills, living/interacting with people from different cultures and countries every day. It really puts you out on your own and gives you the opportunity to mature and shape your own future based on your goals and work ethic! Plus you make lifelong friends. 

What are the benefits of being in the college program?
The college program is basically a paid internship where you can start to pursue a future with Disney or just build your resume for other career opportunities. We don't get paid much as CPs, but character performers do get paid the highest of all CP roles(and we're still pretty broke lol). 
CP benefits: a beefed up resume, free access into any and all Disney parks worldwide, and 6 family park hopper passes per semester in the program! 

Character performer benefits: Character break rooms also have free water,  Powerade, and athletic trainer access-- which I do consider a perk because of how grueling my job can be. The costumes really take a toll on your body, we have to see trainers a few times a week for pulled muscles, deep tissue massages, spinal pain, and normal injuries that happen on sets. 

Are there down sides to doing this program?
There really aren't many. If you do the program(as a character performer), know that you will be expected to work about 55 hours a week or more. In other roles, you can expect 40 hours a week. Roommates can be a downside for some. I'm easygoing and my roommate and I are great. One of our roommates had to be moved to another apartment however for posting nasty slander on social media about everyone in our apartment and about hating her job at Rockin Roller Coaster. We stumbled upon her blogs and Disney investigators got involved.... If you can live in harmony with other cultures and people from all over the world, the DCP living situation isnt a downside.

You mentioned Disney Investigators, what do you have to worry about posting on social media and  blogs? 
I'm not allowed to take any pictures backstage or post any Disney secrets or anything that would not be in the character integrity guidelines. For instance "There is only one Mickey!" And I am "friends with" Princess Sofia. The characters are considered like real people. My boss is Mickey Mouse. I can't take pictures of "dismembered" characters or any group of characters that wouldn't typically be seen together(Stitch and Tigger holding hands/ prince Eric and his girlfriend playing Jasmine) Etc.

Do you have any financial struggles while working the program?

Disney automatically subtracts $100 for your rent each week as a CP and after rent, you are left with a little bit of money for groceries/food. Anything extra after that, I try to save.

What is it like backstage?
Backstage is different at every park. The Magic Kingdom "Utilidors"(utility corridors) are the coolest! We're not allowed to take pictures or anything, but they house everything from costuming/cosmetology/the cast cafeteria/the character warmup room/athletic trainer center/show rehearsal rooms and manager offices.

How's Disney's cafeteria food?
Cast cafeterias have awesome food! It costs about as much as McDonalds! It's not as much of a cafeteria as it is a grill & food court type dining area.

What is your favorite time of the year for you in WDW?
Favorite time of year at WDW is Christmas for sure. Its gorgeous this time of year!

Do you have any questions for Olivia? Ask them below and we will make sure that she will come back and answer them!


  1. Do opportunities exist for character performers to make trips outside Disney to hospitals for children, schools, etc.?

    1. Olivia: Once employed for 6 months, a performer is eligible to pick up DCE shifts. DCE's are "Disney Character Events". These include visiting local hospitals, granting wishes for Make-A-Wish recipients, weddings and birthday parties, RunDisney events like marathons within the parks, etc. Unless a College Program student chooses to extend his/her program-- he/she is not eligible to be scheduled a DCE shift, because the College Program is a 5.5 month program. (:

  2. Do you take classes for your university in the Disney University building?

    Can you stay on part time after the internship if you go to college locally?

  3. Olivia: I don't take any classes at Disney U. The only classes held there that I know of are Traditions and Welcome classes such as Welcome to Entertainment, Food & Beverage, Custodial, etc.All classes offered as college courses through Disney are taught in classrooms at each of the Disney cp housing complexes ๐Ÿ˜Š