I'm super excited to share this interview with you, featuring my cousin Cindy about her experience as a former Disneyland cast member.
Cindy performed in various parades throughout 1985-1987: as a dancer in the 30 Year Anniversary Parade, as Alice in the Fantasy on Parade and in the Totally Minnie Parade where she played drums.
Can you explain the audition experience ?
I first auditioned for a Disneyland parade in 1985. It all began when our high school band was invited to perform at Disneyland. Dirk, the supervisor in charge of showing us around, told us about an upcoming parade audition and asked if anyone was interested. So, I thought, why not, and went to the audition. There were so many guys and girls there and I wasn’t sure I’d be chosen. It was a little scary since I went alone...I didn’t know a single person there.
They first taught everyone a dance routine then broke us into smaller groups. Eventually they narrowed it down once they had chosen their “cast”, then they gave each of us a card assignment, as either a character or dancer, along with what days we would be working. It was Disneyland's 30th birthday parade and I was assigned as one of the ribbon dancers for the summer. I was excited!
How long were rehearsals after you were cast in a Disneyland parade?
For each parade, you have several weeks of rehearsal for several hours each day, with breaks of course. It’s great because you get to meet new people, of all ages, from all over!
I became really close with two girls, Teri and Kim. We were the three blonde musketeers and all three of us were “ribbon dancers” in the summer parade. We worked most days together, which was so fun! I was just newly 17 and it was definitely one of the best summers of my life! I got to experience and learn a lot of new things and really became a more confident person.
Back then, I drove the old green “Colt” my grandparents gave to my older brother, but once he got his new car, I inherited it! I was super excited and grateful even though there was NO power steering! ( I didn’t realize I was lacking upper body strength). We would park in a designated parking area off of Ball Road, which no longer exists, then punch in with our time card and walk around the gate to the back area behind Disneyland considered, the “backstage“ area. I lived in Downey and of course you could always count on there being traffic on the 5 freeway to Anaheim.
Did you audition for Alice or were you assigned a character?
I auditioned for the Christmas Fantasy on Parade and again they narrowed it down, but this time I was chosen to play “Alice in Wonderland” on the float. I was super excited about this! Me, an actual Disney character...how cool!
Were you responsible for your own wig styling and makeup?
Once we arrived “backstage”, we gave our name, then would go into the costume area to get our clean costume for the day. We would take it to the locker area where we each had our own locker assigned. Once changed into our costume, we would go straight to the make-up/hair area to put on any make up and/or wigs required for our role as needed. We were given guidelines so that our makeup was always fresh and natural, even the nail polish (unless our character required something specific) and we were always to be in complete costume. There was no adding extra items or jewelry unless it was part of the costume.
When I was Alice in Wonderland in December, I was given a white scarf and white gloves to keep warm BEFORE THE PARADE. I remember trying to wear them while performing on the float, but was quickly reminded that they were NOT part of the “Alice” wardrobe.
Once everyone was ready for the first parade of the day, we would meet out front of the costume/make-up area and were transported on a tram to the first start location. The first parade of the day, began at the Small World gates, near the back of the park. We would end in Town Square, near the front entrance of the park.
The second parade of the day, would begin at the Town Square gate working it's way back to It’s A Small World. We were told that this was strategically orchestrated to help draw guests into the park as they would follow the parade down Main Street towards Fantasyland. There were always three or four supervisors dressed in suits who would walk along the parade route. Others were atop the Main Street buildings, keeping an eye on performers, making sure everyone was doing their part with energy and happy friendly faces.
Is it true that cast members have to smile all of the time?
As we were supervised, we were always encouraged to smile and be VERY friendly towards all of the guests. For me, this was the best part... especially interacting with the excited, happy children. Unfortunately at one point, I got the chicken pox! Apparently I shook the wrong child’s hand and was off of work for a little while.
Do cast members eat in food cafeterias?
Usually, we would have around 4-5 hours inbetween the two scheduled parades each day. Some cast members stayed behind Town Square and ate at the cafeteria to relax or they took the tram back and hung out in our “backstage” area until the next parade. A lot of the time, Teri, Kim and I would drive to lunch and/or a mall. My favorite was to drive across the street to the Disneyland Hotel and lay out by the pool until it was time to go back to work. No one would check if we were actual hotel guests back then and we met a lot of people at the hotel poolside.
Were cast members permitted behind the scenes, (i.e. underground tunnels systems) during or after shifts?
Other times, we would go into the park and ride rides and hang out with our friends who operated the rides (we didn’t have to wait in lines ether!). The three of us also made friends with one of the male singing groups that played the (underground) Tomorrowland Stage. We were able to go backstage (underground) and hang out with them a few times.
We would also go to one of the dancer’s house, who lived close by, just to hang out before we had to get back. After the last parade, we loved getting dressed up, and meet up with people to hang out in the park till late at night. No matter what, it was always a really fun time!
There were other auditions for other parades. The following year, I was a peasant dancer, a patriotic tap dancer and a drummer in Minnie’s all girl band float for the “Totally Minnie Parade”.
At one audition, I was chosen as an understudy where I had to learn several different parts for different dancers. That way in a particular parade, my job was to fill in for whoever called in sick for that day.
I was also assigned as an atmosphere characters and filled in for one of the chipmunks, as well as one of the Jungle Cruise characters and believe me, those are tough! The costumes can be hot, smelly and make you feel a little claustrophobic. You really have to accentuate your movements in those suits, but the best part is that the kids know exactly who you are and they LOVE you!
You can see Cindy playing drums 6:25 minute mark.
Having made some new, older friends definitely had its advantages too. The cast member who played Sleeping Beauty in the Christmas Fantasy on Parade (where I was Alice), was super sweet. She was 21 years old and would let me borrow her ID to go to the “over 21” places because we looked very similar. Fast forward two years later, at 19 years old, I invited her to my wedding the summer of 1987. She gave me her ID as a wedding gift! So funny...little Alice borrowing Sleeping Beauty's ID... only at Disneyland.
Over the years, I made a lot of friends from the parades and had a lot of friends who worked in the park. There was always a party or event to go to. I dated a few guys that operated the rides like Its a Small World, the Matterhorn and the People Mover. I dated some dancers, Peter Pan and even a Prince or two!
I had such a great experience working at Disneyland from 1985 - 1987....after all, it is “The happiest place on earth” and I feel so lucky to have spent a couple of my best teenage years working there!!!
Thank you Cindy for sharing your awesome memories as a Disneyland cast member!
Growing up in Los Angeles in the 70s/80s we visited Disneyland on a regular basis and often after school, before "Annual Passes".