In today’s From The Mouth Of The Mouse, we continue with a multi-part series we started two weeks ago where we talk to Stan, who worked all over the Walt Disney World Resort.
Today, we talk a bit more about Stan’s time on Space Mountain, and then move over to Disney-MGM Studios.
Let’s hear what he has to say!
JEFF: Before we go on to the next part of your journey around Walt Disney World, I wanted to ask about Ron Weaver, who you mentioned in the first part. Can you tell us a little more about him?
STAN: Ron Weaver was simply the most model cast member you would ever meet. Honest, forthright, caring; there just aren’t enough adjectives for him. He exemplified the true spirit of what a cast member should be. I remember how he would always be “up” anytime he was on stage. If he noticed that you were having some issues, he would offer to take your spot so you could step offstage and get composed. He also was extremely patient, and would do whatever it took to help out in any situation you could imagine (be it professional, personal, or otherwise.) He was the best coach I have ever worked with. Seriously, the guy picked up on EVERYTHING. However, anything that he would coach someone on was never done in a way that made them feel bad. He had a way of making you see things from the guest’s perspective, and to put things into the context of how the seemingly insignificant fit into the larger picture of the Disney Show.
Ron was able to carry this over to the guest experience. No matter how busy we were, every guest that crossed his path was given personalized attention. He somehow would always find ways to do that, and it was amazing. Children and guests with special needs were always especially cared for. I mean, most of us had that ingrained in us, but Ron made it seem as though there was always so much more you could be doing for the guests. Working with him really elevated your game, and I felt that I became a better cast member for having seen how it was truly done.
JEFF: I’m really interested about how your fear of heights related into your time on Space Mountain. It’s basically a steel structure inside, with no supports for people walking across it. It must have been terrifying for you!
STAN: Yes, that was particularly troublesome. It took some serious time to get to a point of being able to function as a track runner. It was bad enough working on the platform at Astro Orbiter and on the TTA. Mountain was a beast. You are right; a steel structure with catwalks that would flex under your weight is not a comforting thing to be up on. It is even less comfortable when you add ladders to reach certain track points into the mix. There was quite a few times where I questioned my sanity for continuing to train on the attraction. However, I felt better about myself for getting “over” it enough to do it on my own.
The really weird thing is how much more confident you get in yourself when scared guests are involved. It no longer becomes about you. Your fears take a backseat to the people who have no idea what is going on. When trains are stopped out on the track, you work as quickly as possible to get to them. Many times, you get there to find some pretty shell-shocked looking people. Most people have never been stopped at a rollercoaster track before, and especially coming to a stop like that in the dark can be unnerving for some. Then, the lights come on to reveal this monstrosity of track, girders and crossbeam supports (which is overwhelming even from the TTA or ground level, nevermind from in the middle of it). Finally, this booming voice starts talking over the PA system and eventually, cast members start climbing this structure to get to you. Many take it in stride, but you do get that percentage that are freaked out and just want off.
Cascade breakdowns were the most common, in which a train gets to the last brake on the track and has nowhere to go because all 4 positions in the unload station are occupied. So all trains are allowed to continue to the last unoccupied brake. Used to be that this took 20 minutes to reset and required that cast members fully reset the track manually, but I think I heard that they can do much of it from the tower in some cases now. This shortened the time quite a bit, since less people need to go out to attend to the unoccupied brake zones.
JEFF: You mentioned to me a funny story about that, involving a famous person…
STAN: I won’t mention names, but this famous actress, who is the daughter of a famous rock star (who also happens to have a roller coaster named after his band at Disney) freaked out when the train stopped on track during a cascade breakdown. Her father was okay and was cool about it, but they requested that we walk her off to the unload area instead of making her ride down as we reset the track.
JEFF: Let’s move on to your time at Disney-MGM Studios. Tell us a bit about that.
STAN: This would have been late ’98 or so. I decided to transfer as a way to find a new challenge. Once I feel as though I have learned something thoroughly, I like to look for new things to learn to prevent myself from getting complacent. So, the next step I took was into the world of spieling attractions. I was accepted for a position at the Studio Backlot Tour in the Shuttles area.
This attraction required not only the standard positions of any other (load, unload, etc) but also the added ones of driving and spieling. Driving that monster was intimidating to say the least. These things are 182 ft long and not exactly able to stop on a dime. Driving that onto a curved bridge and making every car stop on its own individual table (without hitting a guardrail of the side of the canyon wall), all to make the show work as intended, really makes you feel much more appreciative of your own car at the end of the day. However, telling your wife to stand behind the yellow line in the garage, and honking your car horn twice before moving it gets old after a short time.
Spieling is one of those things that people love or hate. In those days, the shuttle tour script was around 30 pages long (not counting the filler material that you learned along the way). We had 7 days of training to get it memorized enough to pass a checkout tour, but this also encompassed learning to drive and all the dock position responsibilities. Once you checked out, though, you became part of a family. This attraction, above all else that I worked, really had that sense of being a family. I still keep in contact with many of them all these years later, and a few of them became some of my closest friends.
JEFF: So some of these folks really became like close family to you?
STAN: I think the sense of family at this attraction was based on how much we all depended on each other to make it run smoothly. There was a serious degree of trust involved that everyone was on their game. It made everyone extremely comfortable with each other. We spent as much time (sometimes even more) together there, as we did with our own families at home.
Once I learned the attraction well enough, and put some time under my belt, I became a trainer there. This was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a cast member. It is a great feeling to get someone over a fear of public speaking and memorization issues…and we had some pretty interesting ways to make that happen. It is amazing how much someone can suddenly remember when they thought they were going to be running empty to practice and suddenly their shuttle is being loaded with guests.
What was great about this particular spieling attraction was that we were free to give it our own personality (within reason). Yes, we had a script, but that was referred to as a living document. Since we were at the mercy of many issues out of our control (weather, technical difficulties, guests, production activity on the backlot and soundstages) our spiel had to be flexible enough to change it at a moment’s notice. If you saw something of interest, you talked about it (or worked quickly to cover for it). Many times, this involved winging it off the top of your head. This was especially fun when something changed on the route that you were unaware of (New costumes in the cases in the tunnel, New vehicles in the bungalow turnaround or boneyard…or George of the Jungle’s treehouse having collapsed to the ground from years of exposure to the elements.
JEFF: Did you guys mess around with each other during the down time?
STAN: It was always fun to mess around with your teammates, but you had to be careful about when you did it. You never knew what someone would pull at any time, and had to be ready for it. I remember a few of us grabbing Starship Troopers props from the Prop Warehouse and staging a battle against a bug tentacle on Residential Street. We would also have a phrase of the day contest to see who could work a ludicrous phrase or word into their tour in the most creative way.
Training at shuttles led to my first experience as a coordinator. This was what used to be known as “Attraction Leads”. Here, you were responsible for making sure that all the shuttles necessary to keep the attraction operating efficiently were running. We would staff enough cast members to run up to 6 shuttles at once (each carrying about 170 guests) It was a balancing act to do this while making sure cast member breaks and lunches were taken care of, in addition to attending to the guest’s needs and occasional maintenance issue with a shuttle or Catastrophe Canyon.
Thanks for sharing with us, Stan! Check back in two weeks for the next part of this interview!
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