Getting to Know Imagineer Steve Davison

Written by Norman Gidney. Posted in Features

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Published on October 06, 2013 at 3:00 am with 13 Comments

Imagineers do the things that we, the fans, can only dream of.  They are paid to devise immersive new shows and attractions designed to delight us. They travel the world on research trips to far and distant lands.  They literally create the magic theme park worlds that we have come to know and love. For many of our readers, it is the ultimate dream job. But it isn’t playtime.  Being an Imagineer demands long, intense hours of non-stop diligence.

But eventually imagineers do get to have a little fun.  Have you ever wondered what Imagineers do in their off time?  After a long day of pepper’s ghost effects and pixie dust, what does an Imagineer do to blow off steam?

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Today, we highlight Imagineer Steve Davison, who began his career with Disney in 1981 as a model maker for the Disneyland Entertainment Art Department. After several years serving as a model maker, Art Director, and Senior Art Director for the department, he was promoted to Show Director in 1997, where he began to work on entertainment creative development. In the same year, he spawned his first big creation: “It’s a Small World Holiday,”.  This was his first big break and served to shine a spotlight on his talents.

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In 1999, as the 45th anniversary of Disneyland park loomed, Davison was approached to create a new fireworks show. Despite having no prior experience with pyrotechnics, Davison was still able to revolutionize Disney fireworks history by creating Believe… There’s Magic in the Stars. The show and his approach to bringing “stories into the sky” proved to be a massive hit, propelling his career.

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Davison’s next attraction conversion was Haunted Mansion Holiday. His idea of “when holidays collide” invited much controversy, from both management and classic Haunted Mansion fans, causing the project to take several years to get approved. But like It’s a Small World Holiday, it quickly became popular among guests after opening its doors in 2001.

In 2003, Anne Hamburger, former Executive Vice President of Walt Disney Creative Entertainment, asked Davison to join Imagineering as Creative Director for parades and shows worldwide, eventually being promoted to his current title of Vice President Parades and Spectaculars in 2006.

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He has since gone on to produce the mega-spectacular World of Color, which opened in June of 2010.  It was that show that set the stage for the reinvention of Disney California Adventure.  The following year, he debuted Soundsational, a wonderful, traditional parade for Disneyland Park which is still playing today.

With all of the non-stop work and producing of shows, it’s a wonder that he has any time to relax, much less breathe.  But he does!  Mr. Davison also took a few minutes out of his crazy schedule to chat with us about a subject that not many other Disney fan sites ask about; his free time.

MICECHAT: Steve, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. We know you are a busy guy. What projects are you currently working on at Disney?

STEVE DAVISON: I have a lot in the hopper at the moment.  The new World of Color – Winter Dreams Holiday show, and its sister show, Dreams of Christmas in Paris.  Also, the new Festival of Fantasy parade in heating up. It premieres this Spring in Walt Disney World.  Then there’s the new projection show for Tokyo entitled Once Upon A Time.  Then Shanghai and Disneyland’s 60th, just to name a few.

MC: It always seems like you are traveling the world. One minute you are in London at Abbey Road, the next minute you are in Tokyo or Paris. Do you ever stop and think, “I can’t believe I am doing this.”?

SD: Yes there are times it can be overwhelming.  But it is fun.

MC: Do you ever get time for yourself?

SD:  I try to do a few vacations a year to get away.  Had a wonderful adventure through Italy this past summer.  But it’s funny, even when I am on vacation, my brain never rests.  There is so much inspiration in the world.

MC: What does Steve Davison do for fun?

SD: Sleep.  Just kidding.  I love music and the arts.  They really are my passion and my hobby outside of my everyday work.

MC: What is SCC Singers?

SD: SCC Singers or South Coast Chorale, is a local performing troupe in Long Beach, CA that I have become involved with.  A close friend on mine was in it and they asked me if I would help.  So for the past 4 years, I have been working on shows with them in my copious spare time.

MC: So basically, on your down time you just do more of what you love to do?

SD: Yes, that is true.

MC: What were some of your favorite productions?

SD: We do a lot of parody shows.  Some of my favorites have been “Queeny Todd” and “The Sounds of Muzak!”  They were pretty fun to create and stage.

MC: What shows are coming up?

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SD: Our next production is “Matthew Shepard – Beyond The Fence.”  This winter is a benefit show “Because it’s Christmas” followed in Spring by “The Lion Queen” and this summer we’re doing “Gay Miz – Stonewall 45!”  It’s a pretty packed season.

MC: Why Matthew Shepard? Why now?

SD: I have always been moved by Matt’s story.  This year is the 15th Anniversary of his death.  The performance takes you into Matthew’s world and shows you how his life and death has changed the way we talk about, and deal with, hate and hate crimes in America. Since his death, Matt’s legacy has challenged and inspired millions of individuals to erase hate in all its forms. Although Matt’s life was short, his story continues to have a great impact on young and old alike.

MC: That’s pretty heavy subject matter. Are all of the shows at SCC like that?

SD: Beyond the Fence is both heavy and light.  We are telling Matt’s story.  When I put it together I was careful to balance it.  You will laugh and cry at the performance.  But most of all you will be very moved.

Most of our SCC shows are lighthearted, but this one is new for us.  It is a drama, but it is very well executed.

MC: Do you have any other hobbies? Pets?

SD: I break out and sing now and then with the group.  Work is really a hobby as well as a job.  It accounts for a lot of my time.  Spectaculars don’t happen over night, they take a lot of time to create and produce.

I have two dogs, Willy and Tucker.  They keep me sane.  When the world gets a bit too intense they are always there with unconditional love.

Lightning Round

MC: What is your favorite color?

SD: Blue!  Because it is the best color to fix any projection problem you have in the world.  That and it represents the sea and the sky, two of my favorite things.

MC: What are some of your favorite Disney movies or movies in general?

SD: Nightmare Before Christmas, Wreck It Ralph, Lion King,  & Aladdin.  Aliens, Goonies, Another Country, Wizard of Oz & Yellow Submarine!

MC: Name a vegetable you don’t like.

SD: Creamed Corn.

MC: If you were forced to stay on a deserted island for one year, what music album, type of food, and what celebrity (living or dead) would you take with you?

SD: If I were lost on an Island I would love a compilation of John Williams themes and fanfares, I would want Southern Barbeque, and Neil Patrick Harris to entertainment and create fun shows out of the jungle flora and fauna!

MC: Where is it that people can buy tickets to your show again?

SD: Tickets for Matthew Shepard can be purchased at www.SCCsingers.com or at the door.  Also, we are offering comp tickets to High School students that want to attend as part of our community outreach program.

Thank you for speaking with us Steve, we are looking forward to seeing your Matthew Shepard show next week in Long Beach and we agree with you completely about both creamed corn and the Wizard of Oz.

About Norman Gidney

Norman Gidney, also known as Fishbulb, produces and edits many of the articles on MiceChat. Tune in every Tuesday for the Orlando Parkhopper and every Friday for In The Parks. But you'll also find his photos in the Weekly Round Up, SAMLAND, and numerous other columns on the site.

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13 Comments

Comments for Getting to Know Imagineer Steve Davison are now closed.

  1. Steve, I’m so happy to see you taking on the Matthew Shepard story. Buying my tickets today.

    I’m a big fan of your over the top spectaculars. I’m sure your personal projects are also top notch and glad you were willing to share them with the MiceChat audience.

    Buy your tickets folks: http://sccsingers.com/see-us/

  2. Great interview! Mr. Davison’s shows will live on in Disneyland history as some of the best produced and executed shows ever. The most wonderful thing is knowing that he’s not finished yet! Can’t wait to see what else he’s got cooking! Carry on, Mr. Davison. Carry on!!

  3. A truly great man!!! :D

  4. Has he had a hand in any of the shows or seasonal Entertainment in Tokyo? And didn’t he have a hand in the creation of Hong Kong DL’s current parade?

    • Definitely! In Tokyo: Fantasmic, Jubilation, Happiness is Here
      Hong Kong: Flights of Fantasy

  5. A man of true vision. I’m glad to see that even with the messy politics of WDI of late, Steve has been able to hang onto his soul and is still inspired to create the wonders that he does. I see a Legend award in his future!

  6. For geographical reasons, I usually head toward the Florida Parks. Yet I made a special trip to the Disneyland Resort just to experience the magnificent World of Color and Soundsational parade. I know it takes a lot of talent from an army of people to make these shows a reality, but in my opinion, Steve’s contributions to Disney’s nighttime shows and parades has been transformational and phenomenal. Now reading about his contributions to his community makes me admire him more. (Queenie Todd sounds like a hoot) Because I like to armchair imagineer, if I were stuck on an island I’d want Steve Davison there to talk to. (I have a few ideas about the area of land in the back left corner of DCA. Call me, Steve!). Seriously… congrats on a fantasmic career.

  7. Great interview. He’s done a lot of great work at the park. The theater shows sound like they’d be great to see.

  8. Great interview! I love Steve Davison!

  9. I got so excited when I saw that there was an interview with Steve Davison. He’s one of the few Imagineers that I seek inspiration from in hopes that I’ll one day be an Imagineer too. Steve’s work never dissapoints. I’m constantly listening to all the soundtracks from his shows. I hope I’ll get to meet him one day.

  10. If you go to any of the shows at SCC you are bound to meet him. Aside from Bob Gurr, Steve is probably one of the most approachable Imagineers I have had the pleasure to meet. He is very very nice, gregarious, and always has a huge smile on his face.

  11. I know there’s a lot coming up, but I am curious to know why Steve, and the Disney California Adventure team, did not want a HalloweenTime layover for World of Color? I only ask because DCA is lacking on HalloweenTime decor.

  12. the circumstances surrounding Matthew Shepard’s death appears to be lore:
    http://nypost.com/2013/10/28/uncomfortable-truth-behind-matthew-shepards-death/