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Mouse Tales
A “behind–the–ears” look at Disneyland
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David Koenig
Disney's Casting Adventure
In the Good Old Days, as old-timers love to recount, Disneyland's casting center used to receive 30 applications for every job opening. The park didn't have to run Help Wanted ads. Applicants would come unsolicited—by the thousands—hoping to realize their dream of being part of the magic.

Naturally, Disneyland could be extremely discriminating in who it hired and where they would be assigned.

Disney's California Adventure (DCA) doesn't have that luxury. The sheer number of low wage positions needed to be filled and a tight job market have many concerned that the average DCA cast member won't be the courteous, ever-smiling Barbies and Kens typically associated with Disneyland.

Heck, pessimists just hope they aren't drooling, wild-eyed felons.

California Adventure's main gate -taken 10/8/00
California Adventure's main gate - taken 10/8/00

It wouldn't be too far off to say that Disney is desperate for warm bodies. The company has staged job fairs around the country, including one weekend simultaneously in Florida, Detroit and Hawaii. Managers have visited military bases to interview Marines about to leave the service. The park even has flown in candidates to interview for third-shift maintenance work.

Certainly, many of DCA's Opening Day employees will be experienced theme park professionals. Current Disneyland cast members had until the end of the summer to apply for a transfer. "The official period where current cast members chose which park they wanted to work at is over," explains one manager. "Foods and Merchandise generally met their quotas. Attractions fell short of their transfer goal by about 35%. Now it's up to the job fair in the big Casting Tent near the Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) building to make up the difference in Attractions and get the 7,000 they need for DCA."

The Casting Tent opened for a 16-week engagement on Sunday September 10. Yet most positions being offered won't start until November or December. Many of the openings are front-line, onstage roles. While there will be several weeks of training and gearing up for soft openings in January, these jobs won't be needed until there are actually guests on the property in January and February. Consequently, applicants who are offered a job are given a "report date" that can be several months in advance. It should be interesting to see how many actually show up at their report dates in November and December, and how many, in the interim, found other jobs.

Although the park's Job Line supposedly is receiving thousands of inquiries, no one reports long lines of prospective employees wrapping around the Casting Tent.

Downtown Disney -taken 10/8/00
Downtown Disney -taken 10/8/00

Already, rumors are circulating about some of the more interesting applicants. For a Sound Team position, Facilities interviewed a candidate who held a degree from the Rush Limbaugh Institute. "He was asked about any felonies on his record," a cast member relates. "It turns out, he was convicted of manufacturing illegal weapons — full automatic assault weapons. We chose not to offer him a position."

A newly hired electrician was fired as soon as he arrived for his first shift on graveyard. Seems he, too, forgot to mention a felony on his application.

For some cast members, the Tent has become the fodder for the latest jokes and snide comments. They've planned "field trips" to see what it's like.

Others aren't taking the hard-core recruitment drive as lightly. "The mood among the cast members is extremely cautionary and a bit worried," reveals one worker. "Most of us assume that there is simply no possible way that they can get 7000 new cast members and still maintain the current Disney hiring standards."

Among their concerns:

Will we see visible tattoos onstage?

Will we see piercings and funky hair?

Will these new hires be able to interact with the guests courteously and graciously while in busy situations?

What will the new cast members be like once Casting gets to about the 4000th or 5000th person hired?

And once the local job-seeking population has been completely sucked dry of anyone who has the most basic of guest service skills, what will be left to choose from by the spring of 2001 when at least 1500 more cast members have to be hired for seasonal summer jobs?

Paradise Pier area -taken 10/8/00
Paradise Pier area -taken 10/8/00

Cast members already say the new park has drained away many good, hard to replace workers. Disneyland, one veteran recounts, "used to hire the cream of the crop, and got their pick of the best and brightest. Not anymore. A lot of the new cast members are real losers. There are a few that really shine—and remind us old-timers when we were that way. Many of the new hires quit or get fired for some infraction. A friend of mine has told me that in the park overall, we are losing cast members faster than we can hire them."

Disneyland employees also are worried as to how they will make up for the inevitable shortfall in cast members. Will there be mandatory overtime and scheduled six-day work weeks?

Will labor-intensive attractions like the canoes be shuttered to send the manpower to other locations? [It takes 21 workers to operate six canoes for five hours on a busy Saturday, while the Haunted Mansion can run at full capacity utilizing both stretching rooms with just nine workers.]

FastPass will also add to the labor crunch. The system is now being installed at Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder, Star Tours and Matterhorn, which will require a few dozen extra cast members at any given time.

It all adds up to make cast members as well as management worry where all the new help will come from. And, more importantly, what kind of help will it be when it gets here?

You can write to David atthis link..


David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.

After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999); all titles published by Bonaventure Press.

He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.

You can contact David here.


Click here to go to David's main page for a list of archived articles.

Visit MouseShoppe to purchase copies of David's books. (Clicking on the link opens a new window.)


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