I was a character performer in Disney parks for years, and many things surprised me about the job.
The casting rules for performers are strict, but I’ve seen some exceptions.
I was constantly scared I would get fired because I looked old or had a “silhouette issue.”
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As soon as I turned 18, I began auditioning nonstop for a job at Disney where I’d get paid to imitate a famous character.
In March 2012, after my 13th audition and being told by casting staff that I “didn’t have the right look,” I landed the role of Drizella Tremaine, one of Cinderella’s stepsisters at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. I later worked at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, from June 2014 until December, when I was let go because of the pandemic.
No matter how much I tried to research what it’d be like to work at a Disney park, there were a lot of things I wouldn’t understand until I had the job.
While things might have changed since I worked there, here are some of the things that surprised me most:
Even after getting hired, I worried I could lose my job at any moment
Unfortunately, it felt like the role of my dreams could be snatched away as quickly as it was given at any moment if I became “disapproved” in my character.
In my experience, you could get “disapproved” in a number of ways, with the most well known being that you “aged out” of your character because you no longer looked like a 16-year-old cartoon princess.
The most common fear for cast members was getting called into a meeting for a “silhouette issue,” meaning someone at Disney had a problem with your weight (or, perhaps more accurately, how they perceived it).
It also wasn’t uncommon to hear that a manager had seen photos of a character actor in Ariel’s Grotto (where many characters wear mermaid tails and bikini tops), turned her into casting because they felt she looked too chubby, and tried to get her “temporarily disapproved” from playing a mermaid until casting decided she looked thinner.
I was “disapproved” in a number of fur characters – ones that are fully covered up, like Pluto – because of the shape of my shoulders.
And I was nervous because I didn’t fit into my parade dress – I had to be sewn into it.
I tried to keep it on the down low because it was implied to me by casting that if I “didn’t look right” in something, I could just be removed from the role. That made me feel pretty awful, considering adjusting a button would have solved the issue altogether.
I couldn’t rely on consistent work hours, but I always needed to be as available as possible
When I started working for Disneyland in California, I was cast as my character for a temporary special event.
One of the main reasons I wanted to work at Walt Disney World instead was that my characters had multiple shifts every day. I figured this would give me a better chance at becoming full time, instead of part time or seasonal. I was wrong.
After two years of working at Disney World, I was still categorized as a seasonal employee who had no benefits and sometimes worked six days a week. I made barely more than minimum wage.
Sometimes, I wouldn’t be scheduled to work any hours, so I’d have to rely on other girls to give me their shifts or, worse, hope they’d call out sick.
I felt guilty, but this was my only job because if I picked up another one outside Disney, I felt like I wouldn’t have a chance at becoming full time or being offered other roles. It was a Catch-22.
But some people had it worse than I did. Some girls I knew uprooted their entire lives for a full-time offer only to learn they’d be working the minimum of 30 hours a week because their character was overstaffed.
The rules for getting hired are strict – unless casting likes you
Disney typically has strict height requirements for its characters, but I’ve seen these rules be ignored if hiring staff really likes someone’s look.
It helped me realize that character-performer roles aren’t always earned. Face characters like myself are chosen primarily for how we look.
In my opinion, the audition process isn’t very rigorous if you can make it past the first round, which is just standing still and smiling. As long as you looked good in costume, Disney could teach you acting skills.
Unfortunately, this often fostered feelings of jealousy when it seemed the casting team liked another performer more than you. I’d often think things like, “Why does she get to play more characters than me?” or, “Why did she get picked for the parade when I worked here longer?”
Still, character performers work really hard and take their jobs seriously. We care so much about what we do that it hurt when it felt like it all went unnoticed by casting and management.
There wasn’t a single day that I didn’t want to do my job – I loved the guests and playing my characters.
But the reality was that Disney magic didn’t pay my bills, and I knew I had to leave when I realized my job didn’t love me back.
Insider agreed to withhold Melanie’s last name for privacy reasons. We have verified her employment and identity.
Representatives for Disney did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
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