Owen - A Job With Character!
by, 01-24-2012 at 05:08 AM
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Hello, and welcome to this week's [B]'From The Mouth Of The Mouse!'[/B] 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, we talk to Owen, who some of you may recognize for a variety of reasons. He's a regular here on MiceChat, along with several other Disney related forums on Facebook. He's also one of those unforgettable Cast Members that if you have the pleasure of meeting you'll never forget.
Lucky for me, I DID get to meet Owen on my last trip to Walt Disney World. Though our time spent chatting was brief (with me running around trying to experience everything, and with him having to actually, you know, WORK!), it was quite memorable. Owen is always quick with a smile, a high five, and the occasional joke. He's the type of Cast Member that goes out of their way to make sure you're smiling and enjoying your day. Working as a character attendant, he's able to fulfill that goal every day, and he does a fantastic job of it!
Owen was a little concerned about this interview at first; he had only been working at Disney for a few weeks at the time we chatted. However, as you'll be able to tell soon enough, the magic runs deep in his veins, and it's like he's been there for years.
And now, here's Owen!
JEFF: What made you want to work at Disney to begin with? [/I][INDENT][B]
OWEN: [/B]As most people from my generation, I grew up watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” on Sunday nights. For me, it was the greatest program on television and I couldn’t wait until each Sunday rolled around to watch it. Back then, Walt was still introducing the evening’s entertainment, although he had been dead for a few years. As a kid, I thought he was still alive. To me, he was second in line to Santa Claus! I felt like he was speaking directly to me when he was introducing “True Life Adventures” or his vision for the city of tomorrow. Whenever I saw his name attached to anything in the stores, I gravitated toward it, and basked in its magical glow; coloring books, puzzles, board games, toys, balloons, candy, even Donald Duck orange juice at the supermarket! When my parents would save money to take our family to the movies, we only saw Disney titles. Of course, I fell in love with Herbie immediately. Mom was a huge Don Knotts fan, so we saw all of his Disney pictures. But what made me a true animation lover was my first Disney animated feature, “The Aristocats.” After I saw that movie, I knew I had to become a part of the Disney family! When Dad took us to Magic Kingdom on Thanksgiving Day, 1975 and I walked into Town Square for the first time at the age of 10, and I knew in my heart that I was home.
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JEFF: That’s a pretty wonderful story. A lifelong love of Disney, and now here you are! Did you always want to be a character attendant? How did you get into that role?
[/I][INDENT][B]OWEN:[/B] Well, I have a long background in retail and customer service and so that is the area that I applied for…year after year after year. When I got the call to come in to Casting for an interview, I was told to pick 2 areas of interest and those would be the only areas they would look at in order to cast me. I chose merchandise and park greeter. I knew that I wanted to work directly with the guests, and have the ability to interact with them. Obviously I knew what was involved with merchandise, but I had no idea what a park greeter was…I still don’t! As for how I got into being a character attendant…I was sitting in the waiting area of Casting, waiting my turn, and a very happy gentleman called my name, welcomed me, and introduced himself as Steve. We went to his office and I start talking about my life as he goes over my resume. He interrupted me at one point and said something along the lines of, “You have a lot of entertainment background listed here…music and drama teacher, stage performer, musical director….why do you want a role in merchandise?” I told him that retail is what I knew well and could jump right in and get to work. He asked if I ever auditioned for a performing role. I told him that I had MANY times, but for whatever reason, I never made it past the first audition for Dapper Dans or Voices of Liberty.
At that point, he got on his phone and made a call. I have no idea who he was speaking with, but it was a lively, animated conversation and he kept looking back at me and smiling and giving me nods. At the end of the conversation, he hung up and had a huge grin on his face. He said, “You won’t believe this, but I’ve got something for you that you’re going to love! As I was on the phone, a position in Entertainment came open for a character handler. It’s so new that it hasn’t been posted yet. I’ve got your name in that slot to interview for it!” I was thrilled and excited and thanked him profusely for doing that for me, and then I asked, “Um, Steve….what’s a character attendant?” He laughed and explained it all to me, and then I was REALLY excited! If all went well, I would be cast in the WDW Entertainment department! Of course, you know that rest of the story, and here I am today!
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JEFF: You mentioned to me earlier than it took 20 years for you to get to Disney! Tell me a little bit about that journey from Indiana to working at Walt Disney World!
[/I][INDENT][B]OWEN:[/B] Apparently, from what I’ve recently learned, when it comes to getting an hourly position with WDW, a person has to have a Florida address! I’ve been sending resumes to Casting for nearly 20 years applying for an hourly position, occasionally getting a call for an interview but never getting hired. This summer, my dear friend Jana, who has worked for WDW since 2000, asked to look over my resume. I emailed a copy of it to her, and she replied saying, “You have an amazing resume, but do send it to WDW with your Indiana address on it?” I responded that I did, and always have, to which she immediately replied, “Why?? Didn’t I ever tell you to use my Florida address?? You’ll never get hired being out of state!!” I sat down that night and changed my address to reflect that I lived in Florida. I emailed it to WDW Casting, and received an invitation to interview with them a week later! The rest of my journey from that moment to this is a whirlwind: I flew down to Orlando and went to the initial interview with Steve, and miraculously he found that character attendant position for me.
A few days later, I received a phone call from casting asking me to return for a second interview with a representative from Entertainment, so I flew down at the end of that week. Mind you, I couldn’t afford the cost for the flights, so I was begging family and friends to help purchase the airline tickets! The second interview went great and I was given the green light for “the phone call” should the position become available. That second interview was on a Monday. On Tuesday, I received “the phone call” that I was offered the position as character attendant and would I accept? You have no idea how difficult it was not to scream with joy into the telephone! I calmly said yes, and then the casting rep said, “That’s great! We need you to report to your Traditions class on Thursday.” I thought, “What???? In 2 days???? Whoa! That’s not gonna work!” I stalled a moment, told the rep that I already had an appointment that day, and asked if I could begin at a later time? He said that I could begin the following Tuesday. That gave me 3 days to pack up and put my 3 bedroom home on the market, quit my current job, and drive with an extra large dog down to Florida!
Thank goodness my family helped me pack up and store my belongings at my parents barn, and my friend Jana graciously offered her home to me until I found an apartment. In addition to hourly roles, I’ve also been applying to salaried positions within the Disney company: theme parks on both coasts, Walt Disney Studios, resorts (Vero Beach, Aulani) and cruise ships. Those positions are highly competitive and I really don’t have the background to get into them at the moment, but I wanted to get my name out there, you know? And it’s true that Disney would rather promote from within, which makes complete sense.
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JEFF: What are your basic responsibilities for working as a character attendant? Can you give me an overview of what a typical day is like for you?
[/I][INDENT][B]OWEN:[/B] My number one priority is the health and safety of the performer, whether they are a fur character (such as Mickey) or a face character (such as Peter Pan). I take my responsibility as their eyes and ears very seriously. If they are not at peak Pixie Dust level of performance, then the guests will not receive the Magical Moment they’ve been waiting for! My second priority, of course, is the guests. I make sure that they are kept informed about meet and greet times, character break times, whether this is a Photopass meet and greet, that autographs books need to be open and pens (that work!) ready for use.
I also attempt to answer all questions regarding everything in The World, including, “What time is the 3 o’clock parade?”! I have extra park maps and times guides on hand, as well as extra pens for autographs. When the lines are especially long, I like to have conversations with the guests about their vacation, sing with the kids, play Disney Trivia (I pass out stickers and, on occasion, pins for correct answers), and inform them about the new Fantasyland expansion. I have to keep an eye on my watch at all times to make sure that the characters get on and off set at their designated times, and that they get their required breaks. There are signals for the furs to communicate with the attendants, and so I have to watch for those as well (if Mickey needs a pen, if Pluto is in distress and needs to leave the set, if Donald has a costume issue, etc).
A typical day is NOT typical! Every meet and greet is always different due to the guests, the weather, and so on. I check into the base for my assignment that day and clock in. I meet my area manager and captain and gather any information I need regarding the meet/greet area, weather, special events, and the like. The characters and I check in, meet each other and discuss their needs and what makes a good shift for them, and so on. I make sure the character has everything it needs, make a note of the current time on the clock and our set times for the shift. I then assist the character into costume. Then we “hit the stage” and make some magic for our guests. I perform all of the duties mentioned above. Breaks are taken. At the end of the shift, I help the character out of costume, do some light cleaning of the break room, and head to Entertainment base to clock out and go home. Needless to say I am exhausted at the end of a shift, whether the shift is 4, 6 or 10 hours long!
JEFF: Any times you can think of that you went out of your way to make a guest's visit more magical?
[/I] [/SIZE][INDENT][SIZE=3][B]OWEN:[/B] I don’t know if I’ve made any guests visit extra magical, but I have had a wonderful time interacting with them as they wait to meet the characters. I pin trade, sing songs with kids, give high fives, wish happy birthday and happy anniversary, and have small talk about their WDW experience. I have posted on a couple Facebook Disney fan pages some stories about memorable experiences I’ve had, actually.
My favorite story is the little boy that I met at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. As usual, I was talking with the guests and suggesting things for them to do while at the party. A lovely family was in line to meet Captain Jack Sparrow and I asked them if they had tried the Cookies that Minnie baked for the party. They shared that they had and that the cookies were delicious. I jokingly asked if they brought one to share with me, and the youngest son (around 7 or 8 years old) told me that he would bring me a cookie after his visit with Capt Jack. I laughed, said thanks and forgot all about it. Several minutes later, I feel a tug on the back of my shirt so I turned around. There stood the little boy. He looked up at me with eyes glistening, smiled, held out his hand and said, “Here you go mister. I told you I’d bring you back a cookie!” I was in shock! I took the napkin wrapped cookie and sniffed it, rubbed my belly and carefully placed it in my utility bag. I thanked him, gave him a high five and he went running off to find his family with a big grin on his face. I’ll remember that moment for the rest of my life…We’re always told that we’re the ones making the magic for the guests. Who knew it would work the other way around, too?
[SIZE=3][FONT=verdana][COLOR=black]Thanks, Owen, for chatting with me! And if you happen to see Owen in the Parks, be sure to say hi!
[/COLOR][/FONT][FONT=verdana] Don't forget come back each week to hear more of the magic directly [B]From the Mouth of the Mouse[/B].
Be sure to LIKE the brand new [URL="http://www.facebook.com/ftmotm"][B]'From the Mouth of The Mouse' [/B]Facebook page[/URL] 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.
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[/URL] [/FONT][/SIZE][HR][/HR][SIZE=3][FONT=verdana] 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="[email protected]"][email protected][/EMAIL]. I'd love to hear from you!
Jeff also writes a MiceChat column titled [URL="http://micechat.com/blogs/the-626/"][B]The 626[/B][/URL]. We invite you to check it out!
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