Scott - A Character's Best Friend!
by, 12-27-2011 at 08:35 AM
Hello, and welcome to this week's 'From The Mouth Of The Mouse!'
Each week, we spotlight a different Cast Member story to give you more insight into some of your favorite attractions, resorts, and movies from all over the Walt Disney Company.
This week, I talk to Scott, who "helped" some of the characters we all know in love at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. At the same time, he was juggling law school, and a job as a clerk in the DA's office. Talk about a busy schedule! He has some great stories to share.
Scott also provided all the pictures for this week's column, letting us peak behind the scenes a bit to see what the life of a Face character was like!
And now, here's Scott!
JEFF: So tell me about your time working for Disney!
SCOTT: In 1997 I was selected for the College Program and went down that summer for a stint at the (then) Disney-MGM Studios as a tour guide on the Great Movie Ride. I had graduated college already and was in a transition phase where I was trying to decide what I wanted to do - go to law school immediately, or take a year to work and evaluate my options. About 3/4 of the way through my CP summer, character auditions were held at Vista Way, so I auditioned. I indicated that I would be interested in a Full Time position with the department on my application. Combined with my audition, they hired me into the Character Department at the Magic Kingdom, effective immediately after my CP summer had ended.
I worked full time with the Character Department for almost a year, and at that time, primarily with the "Parks" department. Characters were divided up between Parks, Shows, and Parades. During that time, I was primarily "helping" Tigger, Captain Hook, Goofy, and Liverlips, the Country Bear. There were a handful of others that I would "help," but those were my main characters. Parks characters could volunteer to help out with the nighttime parade (at that time, Spectromagic) without having to be specifically trained, so I did that as often as I could. This caught the attention of a couple of managers in the Parade Department, so I was asked to "help" the Big Bad Wolf for the Halloween parade, which I did gladly. I also auditioned for the Christmas parade, where I was cast as a Blitzen the reindeer, and I also shot a commercial promo as Blitzen after that. I basically had the time of my life.
JEFF: But you didn’t always work for them Full Time, right?
SCOTT: Correct. I went Seasonal in the summer of 1998 as I began attending law school (Pepperdine), and returned to MK in the summer of 1999 where I auditioned for "Face" Characters. I was offered the role of the Princes (all of them), and Aladdin (a prince, theoretically, I suppose). From there, I was shifted over to both the Parade & Shows departments, and was immediately trained in the Remember the Magic Parade, as well as DisneyMania. My typical day began at the Castle breakfast. Then I had a short break to prepare for the Parade. After that, it was time for the Parade, and a few sets in the park before going home. On my late days, I'd go in for parade, do a few sets, then do a dinner apperance, then prepare for the nighttime Parade. On my show days, I'd do a full day of DisneyMania.
JEFF: So you were going to school full time, and working at Disney whenever you could?
SCOTT: Yup! I spent spring, summer, and winter breaks at MK, also while clerking for the District Attorney's Office in downtown Orlando. That made for some pretty comical days where work at the DA's office was slow, and I'd get a call saying "We need an Aladdin at ToonTown!" So I'd check in with my supervisor at the DA's office to see if he still needed me for the day. If not, I'd show up to ToonTown in a suit and tie, ready to get into street rat mode. That, or I'd get out of work at the DA's office only to drive over to MK and clock in for the Electric Light Parade. It was schizophrenic, but it was also a blast.
JEFF: What happened when you finished law school?
SCOTT: Well, after graduating from law school in 2001, I went back to Orlando to study for the Florida Bar Exam and work part-time. After taking the Bar, I went back to FT status with Disney while I waited for my bar results. At that time, they were just beginning to train for the 100 Years of Disney Celebration, so I was instantly thrown into rehearsals for parades and the Castle show. I was actually rehearsing for the parade the morning of September 11, and I distinctly remember being in the tunnels when I heard over the news that a plane had hit Tower 1 (at that time, I thought it was a small prop plane and a terrible accident). The Park closed that day, and I remember there was a moment of silence on the 12th when everything at MK stopped for a few minutes, followed by the National Anthem.
After that, I launched the 100 Years of Disney Parade and Cinderella's Surprise Celebration and was set to be cross-trained at the Studios for Fantasmic as Prince Eric. But then I made the decision to leave Disney. I was at an interesting crossroad at that time: I had passed the Bar and was sworn into practice law in Florida, but I was also waiting for Tokyo Disney auditions to come around so I could audition and hopefully get a contract. At the same time, I was in a long-distance relationship with the woman who would later become my wife (and mother to two beautiful children), who was still going through law school herself at Pepperdine. Love wins out, and I made the decision to leave my Disney life and return to California to take ANOTHER bar, and eventually settle down into the life of a lawyer.
JEFF: So, let me back track a little bit here…You mentioned that you were in a transition phase before heading to law school, but were working the College Program in the meantime. What made you want to do the College Program to begin with?
SCOTT: What made me interested in the CP to begin with was a pure love of Disney, and a desire to work there since I was little. I went to college at the University of Michigan and, at the time, Disney wasn't even interviewing on campus. Nowadays, they are on every college campus in America! So, a small group of my friends and I actually drove about 2 hours away to another university in order to interview for the College Program. I actually interviewed, and was accepted, into the program twice. The first time was for the Fall program during my Junior year of college, which I turned down only because I felt that I needed to focus on my studies more than taking a semester to work at Disney. A friend of mine went down to his CP during that Fall and returned with wonderful stories, which of course made me want to do it even more.
I decided to interview again during my senior year. I figured that I would go down after I graduated from school, and spend the summer at Disney. While there, I would try to decide whether I wanted to go to law school (I had already been accepted) or whether I wanted to start working. Having grown up outside of Detroit, and attended college at UofM only 45 minutes away from home, the CP allowed me the opportunity to branch out and try something new in a totally new environment. When I arrived at Vista Way on June 1, 1997, it felt like, for the first time, I was doing something completely on my own.
So, like I mentioned earlier, I was placed at the Great Movie Ride as a Tour Guide. I guess most would consider it an Attractions Host, but that's not the terminology used at TGMR. At TGMR, my favorite times were cycling the ride first thing in the morning, and when the guests first started to arrive. There was so much energy from people hitting the ride as their first attraction, and as a Tour Guide, feeding off of that energy made the spiel much less rote.
When Disney held their internal character auditions, I was one of about 10 that were offered full time positions with them. Although I had the prospect of law school hanging out there, I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and something I had dreamed of since I was a kid. I couldn't turn it down. I told myself that I'd only do it for a year and then I'd go to school the following fall. Of course, that turned into about 5 years of full time, part time, and seasonal employment in the Character Department!
JEFF: To go back even further, you mentioned your love of Disney as part of the reason you joined the CP. How did your love for Disney start to begin with?
SCOTT: I was born in Southern California, just outside of Anaheim, so my parents tell me that they took me to Disneyland more than 10 times before I was 2 years old. My oldest memory in the cobwebby corners of my mind is actually of Sleeping Beauty's Castle. Disney was engrained in me at a pretty early age.
My family moved back to Michigan when I was very little so my Disney upbringing was primarily through movies after that. We had a library of VHS tapes and my parents treated it as a special occasion when a new film was released on tape. Plus, then enjoyed collecting Disney sericels, so we had Disney art throughout the house. As I got older and into high school, the first Disney Store in our area opened up and I'd frequent it. Eventually, I went to work there as a summer job in high school, and transferred to the one in Ann Arbor during college. I loved everything the company was doing in the 90s, during its animation renaissance, and I wanted so badly to be a part of it in some way.
JEFF: During that first year, were you giving it serious thought to stay with the Company and not go to Law school at all?SCOTT: Very much so. I had my coming of age at Disney moreso than at college. Again, I think it was the feeling of freedom and having to manage my life outside of an academic setting. Going to law school felt like going back into a restrictive, institutional setting and I was enjoying the experience of living on my own. Not to mention that "work" for me was really a lot of play, and then after work, I'd hang out with my friends. It was virtually all social time and fairly carefree. As a young 20-year old, and having the time of my life, I wasn't sure I wanted to leave that experience so soon.
But the reality of earning $7/hour, or whatever sum of money it was at the time, began to catch up with me. And for all the fun it was - it wasn't particularly challenging. Could I really spend the next several years doing just this, when I had the opportunity to advance my professional future by going to law school? If I had stayed with the Company, I would have set my sights on a management track and worked my way up in the company. But I knew that even if I did that, it would take many years. There was this nagging feeling inside my head saying "You have the opportunity to go to law school and become a lawyer, why are you turning that down?" Ultimately, the choice I made wasn't about what I wanted to do for my present, it was what I wanted to do for my future.
JEFF: What was a typical day like when you were “helping” one of the characters?
SCOTT: It really depended on what my shift for the day was, whether the character was a "Fur" or "Face" character & and whether that character was a Parks/Resort, Parade, or Show character. As far as pragmatics go, every day started with clocking/checking in with the respective division of the Department. Then you'd head into Costuming where you'd get your "Blues" (since re-termed "Blacks"), which was the shorts/socks/undershirt/headcap that you'd wear for your shift. For fur characters, this often entailed multiple sets of Blues, since you could be sure that 30 minutes of "helping" a character like Baloo on a warm Orlando day would guarantee a change of sweaty clothes.
The "Zoo," as it was known, was where all of the fur character costumes for Parks and Resorts were housed and washed. Once checking in for your shift, you'd request your costume from the wonderfully helpful women who serviced the costumes and then proceed to the stacks of heads that were arranged based on character. Imagine going to a library, but instead of books on the shelves, there were just lifeless heads of animated characters - that's pretty much what it was like. Hilarious and surreal all at the same time. Once getting your head, you'd spray out the inside with a chemical solution that would disinfect and clean it, fit your headgear into the head for a proper fit, and then load the whole kit and kaboodle into a huge black bag where you'd take it to wherever your set location was - be it a place in the park, or onto a van going to a resort location.
For parades and shows, it was similar, except those costumes are housed at their respective locations. All of the parade fur costuming is housed where the floats are stored. The show costumes are inside of the prep area for the castle show.
For face characters, it was a little different and more involved. You'd clock/check in for your shift, get your blues, and then head to Entertainment Costuming, which house rows and rows of costumes for prince and princesses. If you were a regular like myself, then you had your own specific costume with your name on it, fit specifically for you. So I'd grab my Street Rat getup, throw on my shirt and vest, and head on over to Hair and Makeup.
JEFF: This all sounds pretty intense so far! Hair and Make up? It sounds like being on a movie set every day!SCOTT: Exactly! Hair and Makeup is exactly as it sounds, too. All of the Face characters would go there to get dolled up for the day. Most people go to their cubicles with coffee and surf the web to wake up before their day starts - Hair and Makeup was our morning ritual. It also doubled as morning gossip time between the characters and the stylists about who was dating whom, what drama was happening, and so on. I'd pop my brown contacts in, throw on a little bronzer, darken up my sideburns and eyebrows, and throw on my wig and fez. The stylists would pick at the wig to fill it out and make it look more natural, and then I'd throw my MC Hammer pants on, slip into my turned-up shoes, and head on out to my set location.
Sets in the park as a fur character are generally 30 minutes on, 30 minutes off, with the "on" time decreasing as the temperature outside increases. Face Characters were generally about 45-50 minutes on, 15-20 minutes off. For an 8 hour day, we’d get an hour for lunch. Of course, for fur characters, there are your "back-to-backs" to make sure that Goofy or Tigger are always meeting with guests; but for Face Characters, there are no back-to-backs. Hopefully you're also the only one of that character in the park all day in order to maintain the Magic.
For Breakfast in the Castle, there were no breaks. You spent 3 hours circling the restaurant and meeting with all of the guests eating there that day. After you got through the entire restaurant, you could steal into the kitchen for a 60 second drink of water, but then it was right back out on stage to greet the next group of guests. As soon as that shift was over, we’d head back into the Tunnels for some lunch and prep for the 3pm parade. We’d get to go home around 4:30.
If your shift started with the parade, you'd perform in both the afternoon and evening parade, with sets in the park in between. That can get a little sweaty during the day, as you could imagine how hot it is to do the parade, do sets out in the park, and then back into another parade. There were some times when I'd go from "helping" Prince Charming during the parade, and then "help" Tigger in the park, only to go back to Prince Charming for the nighttime parade. For those days, I'd be hitting the showers multiple times throughout the day.
Finally, at the end of your shift, you’d sterilize the character head, drop your costume back to costuming for it to be washed, and clock out - ready for a long shower!
JEFF: When you went back in summer of 1999, it sounds like you had a pretty full schedule every single day! Was it wearing you out? And was it worth it?
SCOTT: Worth every moment of it! Though, it was schizophrenic, to say the least. Summer of ‘99 was when I was approved in all of my Face roles. Fur characters have got it rough - they get knocked around, pulled on, overheated…But the Face Characters, they have it easy. They are professional celebrities, taking photos with people all day who adore you and are there to get your autograph. I will never understand those face characters who would come off stage with sour attitudes. I always wanted to tell them "Trust me, you will never find another job this fun or this enjoyable in the world - live it up, you're not always going to look like a princess."
JEFF: I’m actually pretty impressed with your work ethic! Clerking at the DA’s office, and still working at the Parks. That most have been a hectic time of your life. Any funny stories about that time? I can’t help but imagine you going into work at the DA’s office in costume!
SCOTT: It was such a weird time in general, but isn't that everyone's 20s? When my department at the DA's office found out I was a character, they were so entertained by that and my escapades at the Kingdom. Honestly, I think they offered me a lot of grace and flexibility as a result. If I was just another law clerk, it probably wouldn't have been as fun of a group to work with. Disney brings the whimsy, even when prosecuting real scum. I remember one time when work was light for me at the DA's office and I got a call saying that "ToonTown needed an Aladdin." I checked with my supervisor to see if it was fine with him to leave for the day and he gave me the ok. As I was walking out of my office, on the In/Out board someone wrote "Scott Out, Mickey needs help." It was pretty funny.
One of my last weeks of the summer while clerking, my Division Supervisor and his family came to the park to see me in the parade. That was a fun opportunity for both of us. After the parade, I met with them and Cinderella at Guest Relations, where they had a special photo session with his family. It was weird to stay in character the entire time, when your boss from another job is standing right there interacting with you.
Another funny story involved falling asleep on Main Street USA during overnight rehearsals for the Christmas parade. Parade dress rehearsals have to take place overnight in order to use the Park’s intended parade route to work out the kinks. Shifts would often start at 9pm and go until 7am. When there was considerable downtime, because a parade section would have to work and rework something, a lot of the performers would just be hanging out on Main Street at an ungodly hour. A few of us nodded off during those long times and I always thought how absurd that sounded.
When I was training for the Castle Show, we had overnight rehearsals too. There were 5 Princes, including me, who were all in the training. We'd hang out together when we weren't rehearsing. On our lunch one time (lunchtime being at about 2am), we walked around the park. We actually went into the Haunted Mansion from the exit, and walked the track through the graveyard and up into the attic. We were on our way to the ballroom when we realized we needed to turn back around and get out before we were either A) late for rehearsal, or B) caught by security. Think the Haunted Mansion is creepy? Try walking through it in the middle of the night when the show lights are still on but is deathly (pun intended) still!
JEFF: How close were you to the auditions for Tokyo Disney?
SCOTT: I actually left the company before auditions came around. This was at the crossroads I mentioned where it was: A) Move to CA for love; B) Stick around Disney for Tokyo Auditions; or C) go out and find a real job. Love always wins out. Though I do still think how much fun it would have been to go to Tokyo on contract for Disney. I have a lot of friends who did do it, and it was an incredible experience for them. But I think I ended up with a superior incredible experience, in what resulted in a marriage and kids!
JEFF: You clearly have some strong connections to Disney since you kept going back during that time, even after completing law school and taking the bar. How hard was the decision to leave Disney? I totally understand the allure of love taking you away from Disney, though. In its own way, it’s an incredibly “Disney-like” story that way! Love always wins out!
SCOTT: That was one of the harder decisions I had to make. I was in my element at Disney, and it felt like home to me. But again, I was in a relationship with my future-wife who was still in California in law school. We were early into our relationship, but we also knew this was the real-deal, so a change had to happen. She was in no position to move out to Florida to complete law school, and I had no right to ask her to do that. The allure of being a Prince at Disney and getting a lot of attention was really starting to challenge our relationship - it was artificially inflating my ego and causing a disjointed reality between what she was doing in school and what I was doing in work. In my heart, I knew that if I stuck it out at Disney and tried to make a long-distance relationship work, I would only end up driving it into the ground - there was too much temptation to stray away from the relationship.
I also knew in my heart that this relationship was different than any other one I had been in. Not only was she the only non-Disney character that I had dated since working for the company, she was also someone amazingly authentic, brilliant, selfless, and grounded in reality - she was unlike anyone I had ever met. I knew that I had to give the relationship an honest shot, so I flew back to LA for a long weekend, and told her that I would try to find a job in LA and move back once I found one. Seven days later, I was hired by a firm over the phone, and 5 days after that, I was packing my things, doing my last day of shows, and saying goodbye to my friends for a permanent move back to California.
That was definitely very difficult, and it took some time adjusting to that decision. Though, I never regretted it. What was probably the biggest shock was entering the "Real World" again. After years of either being a student or being a professional celebrity at a theme park, now I was working a desk job at a law firm. No one cared about my past (most actually found it odd) and day to day work felt so mundane. Suddenly, I was just another guy with another job - and not a particularly rewarding one at that! It was like waking up from a very vivid dream and that took some time to adjust to.
JEFF: I’d love to hear any stories that still stick out in your mind about interacting with the Guests! Any really good ones that you can remember?
SCOTT: Every day was an opportunity for Magical Moments, and I loved finding the opportunities for them. One of the moments that impacted me early on was while "helping" Goofy and a child who was blind came up. She was so sweet and gentle, and I remember kneeling down and giving her my big hands and letting her feel the gloves and then my face. Her mother would say to her "Those are Goofy's big hands, aren't they silly? And now that's Goofy's big nose, and those are his whiskers." It felt so special to have that moment with that little girl - to be very still and gentle to give her the time and attention to really get a good picture of what Goofy was like. It was so contrary to what most of my interactions with kids were like as that character, which were generally very animated and larger than life.
Another time, a little boy was visiting Aladdin in ToonTown and had one of those spray bottles with the fan. For whatever reason, it stopped working at that time and the boy was bummed - not hysterical or crying - just disappointed. A lot of slack is given to all Cast Members when dealing with Guests, but it is especially given to Face Characters. So I took him by the hand, and we walked out of the ToonTown meeting hall together, and just walked through ToonTown together to pick out a new spray bottle for him. We didn't just stop at the first place that sold them, either, we took time walking hand-in-hand and talking about his day and the things he was interested in doing and what he had done. When we had finally gotten to a place that sold the bottles, he picked out whatever one he wanted and I said to the CM working there "This one isn't working, we're going to get this one instead, OK?" The CM responded "Whatever you want, Aladdin!" His parents were following behind us the entire time, snapping off a roll of photos. We said goodbye there, and I walked back to ToonTown Hall, casually meeting with people along the way.
Once in ToonTown, instead of standing there waiting for them to come up to us one at a time to take photos, I gathered all the kids up into a big circle and we sat together and told stories. That was a great exercise of my improv skills, because the kids would just ask random questions, and I & the princesses would have to answer with a story. For instance, one of the kids asked how Aladdin got that patch on his pants. I had no idea! So I acted out a story about how Abu and I were on the run from the Sultan's guards one day, and we were running along the rooftops. I told them I slipped and fell, and as I was falling, my pants got caught on an awning pole and ripped right through it. Thankfully, Aladdin fell into a big bale of hay, which broke his fall. There was a nearby vendor selling scarfs, and as street rats often do, Aladdin swiped a scarf from the cart to use as a patch on his pants. The fall actually helped give the Sultan's guards the slip, so Aladdin and Abu was able to get away that day. And there's the story of how Aladdin got the patch in his pants! Don't know if that's canon at this point, but it's good enough for me!
Also, one of my favorite things was asking for an autograph from the kids when they would as for an autograph from me. As Aladdin, I always kept an autograph book tucked behind my back so that when kids would come up and ask for an autograph, I'd say "Sure, just as long as I can get one from you too!" I told them that I was just as excited to meet them as they were to meet me, and it only made good sense to get each others autographs. I still have that autograph book in my box o' Disney gear.
JEFF: You mentioned to me before the interview that you just went back to Walt Disney World for the first time in years. And this time, with your children! I would love to hear your thoughts on it now. How much did your kids love it? Did they know you used to work there?
SCOTT: What a wonderful return it was for me. The cast members always say "Welcome Home" at the resorts, but for me, it really felt that way. My wife refers to it as going back to my alma mater, and in most ways, it is. Navigating through the Magic Kingdom felt like going back to your high school and finding your old locker - just a wash of nostalgic and wonderful memories. I was concerned whether I'd feel envious or desirous of going back when I saw the characters - specifically the Face Characters. I'm glad to say that I wasn't. I was just very delighted to see how the characters interacted with the guests, and especially my kids. All of them took the right time to spend with them and made a magical memory for them. I had a kindred moment with Tigger at the Crystal Palace when I told him "Tigger, you and I worked REALLY closely together at this restaurant 10 years ago - like REALLY close, you know?" Tigger had an extra bounce when I told him that, and greeted me with a knowing and appreciative hug.
All of the characters were so wonderful to my kids, and to think that I may have had the same impact on other kids, just made me more appreciative of the magic of Disney.
As far as their experience in the park…I have a 3 year old boy and a 1 year old girl, and both of them were blown away by the Magic Kingdom. My wife, who had only been to visit the MK for one day when she came to see me in an afternoon parade, was additionally blown away by our visit. We spent 3 days there and only went to MK. I was fully expecting to not leave Fantasyland for 3 days and we pretty much didn't. We rode "It's a Small World" and "Winnie the Pooh" 10 times each. We rode "Pooh" 6 times in a row without getting off because no one was in line, and my son probably would have spent the night riding it over and over again if he could. It was hard to believe that I could have had so many magical experiences at MK after all the time I spent there, but there were so many things that I did for the first time, and things that I did for the first time-again with my kids and wife, that it was unlike any other experience I've ever had there. And although I still have not seen Jack Sparrow in the "Pirates" ride, or gone through the new "Haunted Mansion" queue, I know that we'll be heading back regularly and for longer periods of time. Disney is in their blood, how can we not?
After we visited, I told my son "You know how Daddy goes to an office every day for work? One time, before you were born, Daddy used to work at the Magic Kingdom - that was his office." He looked at me incredulously, and I don't blame him! He often says to me "Daddy, I'll be Abu and you be Aladdin" and I always say to him "Buddy, you have no idea." Someday, many, MANY years from now, I'll let him in on the secret and hope that he and his sister carry on the torch. I never thought there could be anything more exciting than being at Disney as a character, but there is - being at Disney as a dad.
Thanks for sharing with us, Scott!
And thank you for reading! Don't forget come back each week to hear more of the magic directly From the Mouth of the Mouse.
Be sure to LIKE the brand new 'From the Mouth of The Mouse' Facebook page for more information on the meet up!
And finally, a lot of folks who followed me over here from my old stomping grounds have been asking if the Podcast will return anytime soon...and the answer is yes! I have a few lined up that need to be edited, so look for them in the coming weeks. And if you're new to the column, and would like to catch up, you can download them by visiting it's iTunes page right here!
If you are, or know, a Cast Member who would like to share some of their stories and possibly be featured right here on MiceChat, please email me at [email protected]. I'd love to hear from you!
Jeff also writes a MiceChat column titled The 626. We invite you to check it out!
LIKE US ON FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/ftmotm
FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER: www.twitter.com/jeffheimbuch
FRIEND ME ON FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/jeffheimbuch