When you ask, sometimes you really do receive. After putting out another call to my fellow university staffers, I found my next interview via her brother-in-law. I met Rosemary Milsap, and her delightful son, at a local coffee shop one brisk but gorgeous day last year. She spent almost 2 hours with me discussing her time with Disney. I learned that we lived in Southern California at same time, living through some earthquakes and the 1992 riots.
Rosemary teaches drama at a local high school (she taught Broadway actor Tituss Burgess!). She shared stories and photos from when she was one of the performers in the first version of Fantasmic back in 1992 at Disneyland in California, plus some great insight into being a Disney performer and what goes in to the audition process. As always, I can’t thank her enough for her time. Enjoy.
Tell is about yourself:
I’m Rosemary Milsap, 41, from Augusta, GA. I’ve been in Athens since 1993. I graduated from the University of Georgia in 1991 with a degree in Art History. I since gotten my Masters in social science education. In high school, I decided I wanted to be on Broadway and I’ve always loved the theater.
Let’s talk Disney, tell us some of your favorite things about the parks:
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is my favorite park and Space Mountain for a ride. I loved “Snow White” as a child and “The Lion King” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” now.
Do you have a favorite Disney souvenir?
My Seven Dwarfs figurines. My son has a stuffed Mickey that I love, and I regularly wore a baseball cap I got there for many years. I still have it.
And finally, a favorite Disney food/treat?
This sounds a little strange maybe, but the gluten-free chicken fingers I got at the Columbia Harbour House in the Magic Kingdom. During our first trip to Walt Disney World, I discovered that if you ask, many of the Disney chefs can and will accommodate a variety of food allergies.(Ed’s Note: During my last trip to WDW, I watched a chef at the Rose and Crown discuss cooking options with a family whose child had more than a few food allergies, including preparing the meal with separate cookware. He never batted an eye at the request.)
Did you ever see a celebrity in the parks?
I don’t recall seeing any, but there were always rumors that a celeb was watching the show (We couldn’t tell as each audience was up to 3,000 people). We performed for a couple of media events when we first opened the show, and we were told we might perform for Micheal Jackson’s birthday. Sometimes, he would rent the park for the night. Memory evades me, but I believe it never happened, if it did he was not present.
How long did you work at Disney?
1992 (almost the whole year)
What did you do?
I was a performer in the original cast of the outdoor show Fantasmic at Disneyland; I played a flower petal in the Jungle Book section, a pirate in the Peter Pan section and Doc in the finale section, all within a 1/2 hour show. It was a rush, three times a night. After I saw Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios, I know that some of the lineup has since changed–now it’s Lion King instead of Jungle Book and Pocahontas instead of Peter Pan.
How did you get the part(s)?
My husband and I were living in North Hollywood in Los Angeles and I needed a job. I saw an ad in the paper for a casting call and it looked like fun. At the time, I thought it was a parade audition. During many of our visits to Disneyland, I’d watch the parade and think, “I can do that.” So, I did.
There were hundreds of people auditioning in a giant sound stage in Orange County, we were there for over 6 hours. Another girl and I were two of the last people to audition. When they called us, we had learned a short dance piece, we both froze in place. They allowed us to start over, which seemed strange considering how fast they were eliminating people. I’ve always thought that if one of us hadn’t froze, they would have asked the other to leave, but as we both did, they started again. They wanted to see how we moved, and grouped us by height. Nothing happened that night, then I got call-back, went in and did more movement. Again nothing. Then, I got a third call, and I was getting a little annoyed, but a girlfriend encouraged me to go down and do it. I did and I was one of the last ones to get a part.
The characters were based on height, and I’m around 5’6”, and Doc is the tallest dwarf, so I was aiming for that. But 5’5” was the cut-off, so when it came to me, I got as short as I could.
We all signed six-month performer contracts. We got to pick our schedule, and I only worked on the weekends since I had a day-job up in Pasadena.
After my six months were up, I signed another contract. But about two months in, my husband and I decided to move back to Georgia, and Disney was very gracious to allow to get out of the contract. I was there around eight months.
Tell us your favorite memory of working there?
Spending nights in the park during the months of rehearsal leading up to the show. In the beginning, we rehearsed on a sound stage, then we moved to park. They were rewriting and adjusting the show as we went based on how the performers moved and how fast they could get around during costume changes. The were VERY concerned about the dragon fire, [pyrotechnics and lifts] and making sure we were all safe. The Mickey at the end that rises to strike the final blow shoots up out of the ground like a rocket. These were all untested gags, and we worked very hard to get it right. We found out that so much gas was used for the fire gags that the gas level in Anaheim actually lowered all at once during a show. I was always worried about the ducks in the river.
Once we moved to the park, we worked from midnight until 8 a.m. We had to camp on Tom Sayer Island, which I found amazing. Here we were in this large city, sleeping outside and were perfectly safe. I had a great time. We brought sleeping bags and backpacks. Most performers weren’t allowed to have anything personal inside the park, but since we were there all night and couldn’t leave, we were allowed. I think most people brought books and cards. I played a lot of cards on that island.
Our costumes included a wet suit, sweat suit and t-shirt. We had to wear the sweats and t-shirt on the river crossing to the paddle-boat where we got in costume. The costumes were at the whim of the wind, that’s when my flower petal suit became a strapped-on 7’ sail. It could literally pick you up if you didn’t hang on or lean the right way. The huge water fountains in which they projected video clips would spray you on a windy evening and you would be quite wet (thus the wet suits we all wore). When we were done with one part of the show, we would have to literally run to the next location to get ready for the next section. It was always interesting (but usually fun) running in the dark on and off boats and across the obstacles of Tom Sawyer island! We got pretty good at it after a few good spills and pile ups.
Tell us about a challenging day or event you encountered and what happened:
The LA riots. The whole city was on curfew and it was unclear whether I was expected to report to work or not, but I was scared to drive past dark as that would be breaking curfew for LA county. Finally, I found out they had to cancel the show. I can’t remember how many days we had curfew, but those going to work were allowed to venture out after a day or two.
What was the most interesting event while you were on the clock?
We would have long waits when we were still in rehearsals before the show opened. Often it would be a couple of hours before you were needed again. Since it was the middle of the night, we would sleep in our sleeping bags, or play cards, or talk, but a few times we made up ridiculous games that involved silly charades just to pass the time. All very juvenile. The whole cast was very friendly and fun. A group of us had a sleep over a couple of times. We just enjoyed hanging out, but we all came from different directions up to 2 hours away, so hanging out beyond work wasn’t really feasible.
Tell us something no one knows about Disney:
I always felt a bit like Disney was ‘big brother.” They dictated hair styles for men and women with specifics for every ethnicity and hair type. Of course talent didn’t wear any jewelry, but sales persons were given specific instructions on where and what type of jewelry one can have on (rings, earrings, necklaces). It makes sense from an image standpoint, but it always seemed intrusive. One of the stunt guys for the “Peter Pan section wore a wig so well, that none of us knew he had long hair underneath until they got mad at him and he yelled that he quit and pulled off his wig!
Would you go back?
For a season or two, sure!
Did it help your future career?
I teach theatre, there must be some connection there…..
What, if anything, did you learn from Disney?
Walt Disney was a GENIUS! He really was a visionary.
Are you still in contact with Disney co-workers?
No; I should look them up on Facebook!
What advice would you give to a guest visiting the parks from the perspective of a cast member?
See the shows, they really are good. It’s also fun to imagine what the person underneath the costume looks like and what gender they are (adults only, don’t spoil the magic for the kids)
If you could change anything about Disney, what would it be?
How many guests they will allow in the park at one time. Too many on holidays.
Are you glad you worked there?
Thanks again to Rosemary, and to you dear readers for continuing to follow these interviews.