Disneyland’s unionized performers often work other gigs in film and TV or at rivals like Universal Studios

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Worked as a parade artist for three years the Disneyland Resort in Southern CaliforniaZach Elefante has always had a second or third job to support him.

Unlike the experiences of his peers at the Disney parks in Orlando, Florida, where there is a much smaller talent pool, the performers who portray Mickey Mouse, Goofy and other beloved Disney characters in the California parks do not always receive a consistent work schedule offered. Company.

It’s one reason California artists are now organizing to be represented by a union, more than four decades after their Florida counterparts did.

While Disney asks character artists to be available to work at any time, that demand isn’t always rewarded with scheduled work hours, the California artists said.

“A lot of artists are getting the feeling that if they don’t make themselves fully available, we won’t be in shows… and that will impact other jobs that we need to make ends meet in this area,” said Elefante, who lives in Santa Ana , California.

Earlier this month, California character performers and the union that organizes them, Actors’ Equity Association, said they had petitioned for recognition by the union.

It’s a different era and a different union doing the organizing this time, so the California character and parade performers will likely avoid it some of the bad blood that Disney artists in Florida have experienced with their union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

It has been a rocky marriage in Florida for forty years between the performers who put the “magic” in the Magic Kingdom and the Teamsters, a union historically formed for transportation and warehouse workers that had deep ties to the industry until the late 1980s. organized crime.

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Why now for California’s character artists, so many decades after their Florida counterparts organized? Unlike in Florida, where performing as a character is often a full-time job, many of the character performers in Southern California have multiple other gigs, often in Hollywood films and on TV.

Elefante performs at rival Universal Studios Hollywood and works as a tour guide for the film studios. In addition to performing in the “Fantasmic!” show at Disneyland, Chase Thomas works as an operations director for a theater festival and has previously held jobs as a visual effects coordinator and entertainment licensing agent.

Angela Nichols moved to California to become a TV writer and often works as a writer in addition to her job as an entertainment host at Disneyland, where she assists the character performers as they interact with guests.

“Disney is truly a cornerstone of the stories we grow up with in our culture. It’s magical to see people immersed in these stories and living them out,” said Nichols. “And if we are supported as cast members and performers, we can make that happen. We’re just not prepared for success in the way we should be right now.

When many of their Hollywood gigs dried up due to the COVID-19 pandemic and recent actor and writer strikes, the character performers wanted a more consistent schedule at Disneyland once it reopened after a yearlong, pandemic-related closure. The pandemic has also made them more alert to health and safety concerns related to things like hugging guests or wearing sanitary clothing.

Most of the more than 35,000 employees at the Disneyland Resort in Southern California were already unionized, and the parades and character department members were among the remnants.

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“A lot of cast members want to do this full-time and make it work,” Thomas said.

Unlike their counterparts in Florida, California’s character artists are organized by a union dedicated to performing artists. As such, Actors’ Equity Association officials understand the unique needs of theme park performers in a way that is difficult for other unions to grasp.

When there is a new show, the costume shoes should be tested to make sure the performers don’t trip or slip on stage. Union representatives ensure that ‘facial performers’, whose faces are visible, like Cinderella, have the correct make-up and check that parade dancers have ice packs available to care for sore knees.

Unclean costumes are an ongoing problem, and it was one of the main reasons Florida performers wanted to organize with the Teamsters in the early 1980s. The other reasons included children kicking Disney villains like Captain Hook in the shins and adults grabbing the chests of performers playing Mickey Mouse to see if there was a man or woman underneath.

Clean costumes were so important to Florida character artists that the Teamsters were successfully used more than twenty years ago a contract clause to allocate individual undergarments that the performers could take home to wash after pubic lice and scabies were shared through the garments.

There has always been a culture clash in Florida between the costumed character performers and the traditional Teamsters union leaders of truck drivers and warehouse workers. The drivers often saw the performers as living a charmed life, paid to dress up every day as if it were Halloween.

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Those tensions came to a head in the late 2010s when a new leader of the local Teamsters affiliate in Orlando began targeting the costumed character performers for harassment. The character artists pushed back and the fight went to James Hoffathen-head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who intervened.

In California, Elefante hopes the union’s representation will give performers a voice in decisions on issues such as life-size costumes, which can cause long-term injuries if poorly fitted, and the safety of performing in parades during rain.

“It’s about having a seat at the table and being part of the conversation from the artists’ perspective,” says Elefante.

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