Disney cuts jobs from its largest and most popular live theme park shows

Posted Wednesday, October 28, 2020 1:10 PM | Contributed by Jeff

Walt Disney World laid off entertainers from its highest-profile shows Tuesday night in what some described as a “bloodbath” as the scale of the layoffs rocked the Central Florida arts community. The deluge of pink slips showed the theme park has no foreseeable plans to remount marquee attractions such as “Festival of the Lion King” or “Finding Nemo: The Musical,” both of which have been dark since COVID-19 shut the parks this spring.

Read more from The Orlando Sentinel.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020 1:12 PM
ApolloAndy's avatar

So, why is the one show that's running (Frozen Sing Along) the one that's indoors where everyone sings together? Like, even if they needed a people sponge in DHS, they could have gone with Beauty and the Beast.


Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020 1:19 PM
Jeff's avatar

Yeah, that's a head scratcher to me. It seems like the Indiana Jones show is the "safest" for audiences, because it's outdoors. Festival, Nemo and others are not only indoors, but involve large casts in close proximity, so probably not ideal. But the sing-along, I don't see how it meets any criteria, as you don't want hundreds of people indoors singing.

I follow a young woman who used to be a ride op on Test Track who was extraordinarily kind to my son. She went on to work as a Toy Story "army man," stilt walker and others. She seems pretty devastated. My wife is a non-active Equity member and works at our downtown theater facility (normally), and she's seen the reverberations. The performing arts community is hurting pretty bad here.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Music: The Modern Gen-X - Video

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020 3:42 PM

This was a glaring absence at Epcot a couple weeks ago. There is something about the live music taking place in the parks (Canada is always a favorite stopping point for me) that, without it, lessens the experience.

I had not even considered the live shows at Animal Kingdom not taking place. They are, in my opinion, some of the "E-tickets" in that park. Nemo and Lion King are "can't misses" when we go there so I am glad I didn't waste my one trip up there on that park.

And, of course, I feel awful for the cast members who have been impacted.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020 4:07 PM

When I was at Epcot last the mariachi band was playing in the American Gardens Theater to an audience of less than 10 people. It was more than a little strange.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020 4:25 PM
Jeff's avatar

That all makes me feel better about getting the passes refunded. One of my more vivid memories in the first week I was here was the sheer volume of live music I saw, and to Don's point, it's critical to the experience.

They won't be able to rebuild all of that overnight. Some people may move out of the area, others will take up "safe" jobs in other professions. It's a particularly bad time for the arts, among other things.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Music: The Modern Gen-X - Video

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020 9:15 PM
99er's avatar

I would assume it is because the Frozen Cast/Crew has already been back since before this decision was made. That show takes very little to operate as compared to the massive cast/crew something like Epic or Nemo take.

Something around 750 Equity were let go. That includes...

Festival of Lion King
Finding Nemo the Musical
Citizens of Hollywood
Beauty and the Beast Live!
Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular
Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue
Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor
Green Army Men
Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire
Turtle Talk with Crush
Voyage of the Little Mermaid
Disney Junior Live Dance Party
Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge First Order Encounter

I have had a hard time finding any positivity lately with everything going on in our industry. The last two people on my team are done tomorrow leaving just myself to handle everything. My Leader asked me today how I felt and if I was good with taking everything on by myself. I kinda just zoned out at the question.


-Chris Remember, if you're arguing on the internet, you've already lost.
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Thursday, October 29, 2020 3:03 PM

Hoop-Dee-Doo is a particular disappointment for me. One of my favorite shows at WDW despite the food being unremarkable at best. But beer is/was included though!

I know it's indoors, but you would think that you could remove some tables and distance the remaining ones and re-imigiane the show where the performers stay on the stage and you eliminate the part where they call audience members up on stage.

Last edited by Hanging n' Banging, Thursday, October 29, 2020 3:05 PM
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Thursday, October 29, 2020 3:12 PM

Jeff said:

...One of my more vivid memories in the first week I was here was the sheer volume of live music I saw, and to Don's point, it's critical to the experience.


Interestingly, I was at WDW for a few days last week and ended up at Disney Springs at night a few times because the parks are closing earlier than typical. There was quite a bit of live music playing there each night.

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Thursday, October 29, 2020 4:05 PM
99er's avatar

You'll probably still see live music at Springs for awhile because its all contract acts from the Orlando area. It's rare that you'll see something from Disney Entertainment there.


-Chris Remember, if you're arguing on the internet, you've already lost.
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Thursday, October 29, 2020 8:36 PM

Hanging n' Banging said:

Hoop-Dee-Doo is a particular disappointment for me. One of my favorite shows at WDW despite the food being unremarkable at best. But beer is/was included though!

I know it's indoors, but you would think that you could remove some tables and distance the remaining ones and re-imigiane the show where the performers stay on the stage and you eliminate the part where they call audience members up on stage.

They don't want to zip-a-dee-do it yet because they want to retain the WHOLE experience and not have to modify. They will likely bring it back when the time is right.

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Thursday, October 29, 2020 9:24 PM

The concern among the locals and the now laid off cast is that even when things are "better" and "normal" that these things won't return. Sort of like the old Dick Kinzel "people gotta eat" remark when talking about overpriced and mediocre food at Cedar Point. If the tourists return and spend money and they can reduce significant overhead without these shows, the worry is that whatever does come back in terms of live entertainment won't hold a candle to the shows we just lost.

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Thursday, October 29, 2020 9:53 PM
Jeff's avatar

That's the "fan" perspective about everything, and I don't buy it. Every time they've cut some entertainment, they've generally replaced it with something else.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Music: The Modern Gen-X - Video

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Thursday, October 29, 2020 11:35 PM

I act occasionally for a professional theatre company and in cancelling the season in it’s entirety the consideration was not only the audience and how to socially distance, but also (mainly) the cast. There was no way to keep everyone safe and still maintain the integrity of the production. I can’t imagine how shows like Nemo, Hoop de Doo, and Lion King could keep the cast itself from becoming super-spreader events. Test everyday and keep everyone in a social bubble? Good luck.
And Jeff, I have a question that maybe Diana knows the answer to and might shed some light if you will pass it along. But in a case like Disney, are there royalties involved? Even though they may own the IP, do they still have to pay Samuel French and ASCAP? With the screwy way show business works I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised. And if so it may be financially responsible to just close down productions than run occasionally. Let’s say performances are cancelled due to changing state guidelines or the condition of the performers- I think royalties are paid whether a show actually performs or not. Or, let’s say Disney has a sense that a shut down is approaching and they’re hedging their bets by cancelling in advance.
Plus shows like Hoop de Doo, Dapper Dans, and many others not only use Disney property, but other numbers that would fall under the general heading of “Americana”. Some may be public domain but some aren’t. So who owns those?
And I think the answer to the Springs situation is indeed that those performers are independent. They pay their own fees , so Disney is off the hook and they can continue to offer those shows and performances through a different contract.
Thanks.

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Friday, October 30, 2020 9:32 AM
Jeff's avatar

I would imagine that Disney pays ASCAP/BMI fees for public performance. I mean, they have bands in various places around the property doing covers all of the time, so I don't see how they wouldn't.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Music: The Modern Gen-X - Video

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Friday, October 30, 2020 1:11 PM
kpjb's avatar

It is the responsibility of the venue, not the performer, to pay the royalties. For an amusement park (where you're paying admission, but the shows are included) and not a normal live venue (where you're paying specifically for the show) the cost is based on an annual attendance figure, so I'd imagine that they would have a blanket contract with BMI, ASCAP, & SESAC regardless of how many shows or who is performing them.

The Disney Springs venues, since they are not covered by an admission fee like the parks, probably need a contract for each individual venue.

Last edited by kpjb, Friday, October 30, 2020 1:11 PM

Hi

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Saturday, October 31, 2020 2:23 PM
99er's avatar

Jeff said:

That's the "fan" perspective about everything, and I don't buy it.

Brett isn't far off though. Talking with the old timers at work who have been through similar situations in the past, they are all afraid entertainment as we knew it won't return. Sure the big things like fireworks and parades will return but the small atmosphere offerings or small shows like Hoop could face long term cuts or not come back at all. The parks have been cutting entertainment for years now, mostly in favor of meet & greets or "screens", so it's not crazy to think that some of these shows might never return. Look how long it's been since a show has been in the Diamond Horseshoe at Magic Kingdom for example. That theater has been sitting empty for over 10 years now.


-Chris Remember, if you're arguing on the internet, you've already lost.
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Saturday, October 31, 2020 6:03 PM

That was exactly my line of thinking. The quality of so much of the Walt Disney World experience already wasn't what it was. I worry this will absolutely be a major setback to the WDW experience

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Sunday, November 1, 2020 12:00 PM

BrettV said:

That was exactly my line of thinking. The quality of so much of the Walt Disney World experience already wasn't what it was. I worry this will absolutely be a major setback to the WDW experience

Robert Iger is probably singing "Let It Go" as he shuts shows down.

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Sunday, November 1, 2020 2:58 PM
Jeff's avatar

To be fair, there have never been "similar situations," no matter what the old timers say.

I do not agree that the "WDW experience" isn't what it was. Let me rephrase that, it's not "less" than it was, although it's fair to say that it is different. (I'm also, for the sake of argument, not comparing Covid WDW to what it was a year ago.) Sure, they've spent years trying to figure out what Epcot is supposed to be beyond a food and beverage money printing machine, but come on... the last decade has been crazy. Magic Kingdom added a new sub-land and now the Tron ride after being relatively static for decades. Animal Kingdom added Pandora and a new night show that, unfortunately, didn't seem to catch on (I liked it). Hollywood Studios is almost three times the park it used to be. Epcot's finally getting the Future World overhaul it needed, while turning World Showcase into a near constant festival. Sure, they retired some live acts, but they were all replaced and there are three times as many concerts during the course of the year.

Will it return to "normal" overnight? Of course not, it's going to take years. It took several years after 9/11 to see meaningful theme park growth, and that was out of fear of what a few dozen terrible people did, not more than a million dead worldwide in eight months from an airborne disease. But I think the pent up demand is going to have expectations, and I don't think Disney is going to let those be missed.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Music: The Modern Gen-X - Video

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