Ok people, here it is. What you’ve all been waiting for, my first interview! Well, I’ve been waiting for it, but I like to make a big deal. Below is an interview with former Disney cast member, Pam Dunseth. She worked in the parks many years ago. We went to high school together. She’s pretty much awesome and has gorgeous kids. Enjoy.
Where are you currently working:
I’m a stay-at-home mom (living the other dream)
How many years did you work at Disney:
I worked 2 “seasons” during one Summer. I was a CT (Ed’s note: CT is personnel lingo Disney uses for employees. CT = Casual Temporary or Seasonal, CR = Casual Rotating/Returning or Part time, FT = full time, CP = College Program, PI = Professional Intern, TA = Temporary Assignment), full-time seasonal for Memorial Day through Labor Day, and then just before Thanksgiving through New Years. Because I worked a few days in 1991, my status became 2 years. When I was there, we carried around credit card size badges that were color-coded according to our status. Full-time had blue, CT had yellow and CP had orange. The people who made the schedules had to use a mix of all of statuses. We were paid hourly, and got over-time the minute we worked over 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week. If you were over 8/40, then you really got paid!! I got paid for 24 hours a day for 3 days during 4th of July because of middle-of-the-night rehearsals and sound checks. And yes, we worked! I had to catch cat naps when I could on the floor of the tunnels. (Ed’s note: You do know what the “tunnels” are don’t you?)
Tell us about your job at Disney:
I’ve long forgotten the official language, but I always told people that I worked in the Entertainment Department (Ed’s note: shows and parades). If pressed, then I would say the 3 o’clock parade, pushed further I would divulge (proudly) that I was a character for character breakfasts and a handful of character dinners. Pushed further, I would give the names of the characters.
(Ed’s Note: I pushed further) Chip & Dale were the main ones. They were playful and played with each other. The White Rabbit was my second main one. He had to act kind of nervous and rush like he was in a hurry. Suzy & Perla, Cinderella’s mice, acted demure and princess-like. For 6 of the 7 Dwarfs (Dopey is usually played by a smaller person) well, you just act like the dwarf’s name. The most fun was to be Grumpy because he got the most laughs. My favorite during a parade was Sleepy because he just laid on the back of the float and yawned once in a while, you could hear people say “Look! There’s Sleepy” as the float passed. Some days it was too hot to dance full out in those heavy costumes and to be assigned to Sleepy was a welcome relief, still hot though. King Louie (Jungle Book) was one of the more difficult costumes. The costume was skin tight…
Gideon, from Pinocchio, was tough because you had to remember to get SO many extra costume pieces, 6-piece gloves, a three-part costume not including shoes. For him you just acted clumsy and silly. His head was hollow and it was fun to stick his cane through the head through the ears. I was Gideon when I played with the Harlem Globetrotters at the Contemporary Resort at dinner. One of them threw me in the air and I though my head was going to fall off–which means immediate firing. I got a short stint as Snow White and Ariel.
Which park did you work in:
I worked in the Magic Kingdom. My character breakfasts were at the Polynesian, Floridian and Contemporary Resorts. A few times I got to go to the “Give Kids the World” Village, where the “Make-A-Wish” kids get to stay. There were a few off-site “specials,” where people can hire the characters to come to their kids birthday parties.
Why did you begin working at Disney:
The why is not that interesting. Let’s just say that it was a dare and I followed through. But like all kids who see a Disney parade, I wanted to be a part of that since I was little. I never lost that sense of AWE every time we queued up at our floats before the parade. I always felt lucky to be there. I still feel lucky that I got to be a part of it.
Do you have a favorite memory:
Oh, I don’t have just one!!! My main characters were Chip & Dale and they were very popular that year because of the Disney Afternoon cartoon “Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers.” Kids would run up to me and hug me and tell me that they love me or sing the theme song to the show or ask for an autograph. It was SO MUCH FUN BEING A CELEBRITY!!!
Next–The last day of auditions when they separated us into two groups. I will never forget when I was told, “Congratulations, we want you to be a character at Disney!”
Next–A “special” (Specials are side jobs that you sign up for extra work, major extra pay–can be anything from filming a commercial, meeting VIP guests, etc) that I was doing as Ariel for a group of VIPs. The costume was still in development, improvements were being made all the time, and at the time it was a strapless bra with two purple shells on the front. A little girl got through, came up to me, and grabbed my shells and asked me if they were real. Of course, she meant the shells, but I’m not sure everyone else knew that. It was embarrassing, but a good story.
Next– I was working in Mickey’s Dressing Room, where you get one-on-one time with Mickey. I was wearing a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse cheerleader costume. Ambassadors came in and shut down my room because VIPs were coming in to eat lunch. The VIPs ended up being George Lucas and Robin Williams and their families. I had forgotten my name badge that day (I didn’t normally work there) and had the choice of Mo or Zelda and darn it, I picked Mo. Robin’s daughter is named Zelda. Robin made fun of my name and kept asking me if my name was really Mo. I was so star struck that I assured him that it was. He was walking around with his home video camera, so I’m sure I’m in his home movies. Zelda choked on her hot dog and no one knew what to do, I was about to jump in and turn her on her head (she WAS breathing) but out popped the hot dog. One of the kids had a temper tantrum, and it was the first time I had ever seen a child do this, until my own kid threw one!
Ever have a really bad day at Disney:
For me, a rainy day or any day over 95 degrees.
Where did you live while working there:
I worked there before they had apartments for the workers. I shared an apartment in Kissimmee.
Would you go back to work there:
In a heartbeat.
Tell us what you learned from Disney while working:
Indescribable. It was first time I’d ever worked with such a diverse group of people. Although I only socialized with my coworkers occasionally, we all liked working together. As far as I am concerned, there were no catty people, everyone was an open book, and everyone was mutually supportive.
Are you still in contact with anyone:
No. I hardly knew anyone’s last names! I would like to find Mike Myers–but its a darn common name!
How did you share the Disney Magic:
I think mine is obvious. Sometimes though, I know some people were disappointed because we had to leave. I would stay until my lead would yank me back-stage. We were supposed to work 30 minutes and be off for 30 minutes The costumes and heat are pretty tough on your body.
Would you change anything about Disney:
They have it well thought out. There is a bank, medical facility, cafeteria (good food), gift shop–all for employees right off Mainstreet. I had a dream job, so I guess I have a unique perspective. If I wore a polyester suit, panty hose and sensible shoes all day in public, I might have a different view for sure.
Are you glad you worked there:
Heck yes!!!! I wouldn’t change my experience for anything. I love Disney more now than I did before I worked there. Even though I know the secrets, I find them all magical!!
Anything else you’d like to add:
You would have to accompany me to the Magic Kingdom—now THAT would give you an interview!!! If you’ve ever thought about working in the parks, I would suggest going through the casting process. You just walk in and they see/interview you! The Casting Building is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen—sorry Taj Mahal!!
Character training takes a week. You are given a notebook with all your characters and you take on their quirks. You are taught how to sign autographs, they all should sign like Walt Disney signed his name. You are taught how to wave and talk like a Princess or talking character, i.e Snow White or Alice.
You take on the persona of the person in your book–i.e. you are as “old as the book.” Kids love to ask how old you are, so the characters’ ages are based on when the story was first public, the movie was first released, or if the character’s age was discussed in the films. It makes them giggle to think that you could be 100 years old because they know that’s absurd. You act surprised that the kids can’t talk to animals (makes kids giggle!), and you give your “tag line” which are the phrases that people associate with the character. Ariel would throw around “part of your world” and “snarfblat” like she had never seen the world outside of the ocean. Snow White would ask the dad’s, “Are you my prince?”