Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Disney Dream Wedding

A wedding at Walt Disney World? Who wouldn't want that?!

Disney's Fairy Tale Weddings offers couples the ability to tie the knot at many magical locations around Walt Disney World resort. The Wedding Pavilion at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort is a popular choice, with a gorgeous view of Cinderella Castle across the Seven Seas Lagoon. Other ceremony locations include World Showcase countries in Epcot, Disney's Wilderness Lodge, the Polynesian Resort, the BoardWalk Resort, the Yacht Club Resort.

You can also have your ceremony in the Magic Kingdom in front of Cinderella Castle! Now that would be a magical ceremony!

Well back in my sociology class in high school, I had to design and plan a wedding. The only requirement was that we did not exceed a budget of $40,000. So, being the Disney fan I am, I planned a Disney Fairy Tale Wedding at Walt Disney World!

Here's what my "dream wedding" would look like:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Imagineering at the Movies

Walt Disney Imagineering, or WDI, is the “master planning, creative development, design, engineering, production, and project management subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, responsible for the creation of the Disney theme parks and their expansion” [4]. Founded in 1952 as WED Enterprises, Walt Disney Imagineering was created by Walt Disney to help design and build his dream, Disneyland. Looking for a team of people to help build his dream, Walt looked to the most talented and creative people he knew: the artists, directors and designers from his movie studio. The first Imagineers were “a select handful of [Walt’s] studio people” [3], who had a wealth of knowledge of making magic on film. 

With such close ties between his movie studio and the design process of Disneyland, Walt used this link to promote the studio’s films in the park. Though the use of branding and promotion was not as prominent in Disneyland’s early days as it is today, opening-day guests experienced a number of attractions inspired by Disney film projects when Disneyland “opened its doors to a curious and eager public on July 17, 1955” [5]. One such attraction at Disneyland (and Walt Disney World) is the Jungle Cruise. This ride-through attraction was built to tie in with Disney’s True-Life Adventures series of documentaries, specifically the 1955 release of The African Lion. Walt Disney’s True-Life Adventure films also inspired the Mine Train through Nature’s Wonderland attraction. 

In finding source material for Disneyland’s original attractions, Walt Disney and the Imagineers looked into Disney’s history of animated features. Joining the Jungle Cruise, other opening-day attractions inspired by Disney films included Peter Pan Flight, Snow White’s Adventures, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (based on Disney’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad,) as well as Mad Tea Party (inspired by Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.) Throughout the history of both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, countless attractions have been inspired by Disney film productions. 

There are indeed myriad attractions in Disney Parks worldwide that do not include a tie-in to a Walt Disney Pictures production. Walt Disney World’s Epcot, for example, is known for its cultural and educational attractions. With its two sections, Future World and World Showcase, Epcot features rides and shows “focusing on the major issues of science and technology, communication and the arts, and community” [4]. As Kurtti also explains, there were no costumed Disney characters at Epcot on opening day, nor were there Disney character merchandise in the stores. In essence, Epcot “was treated as its own organic, self-contained culture, with no relationship to the Magic Kingdom” [4]

Yet though the years, many of Epcot’s original attractions and pavilions have changed to incorporate content from Disney films. One striking example is The Living Seas pavilion. The Living Seas opened in 1986, and included a multimedia presentation about ocean research, a ride through a Caribbean coral reef, as well as a visitor information center dedicated to undersea research. In late 2006, the attraction underwent a major overhaul, now featuring characters from Disney•Pixar’s Finding Nemo. The added characterization to certain attractions, such as Epcot’s Mexico pavilion, has been seen as unnecessary by park purists [12]. Yet Wilson also points out that The Living Seas pavilion had seen a steady decrease in attendance in the years leading up to the inclusion of Nemo and friends. 

It is evident that the collaboration between Disney Imagineering and the Walt Disney Studios is becoming stronger, given the popularity of movie-related attractions in Disney Parks. With such a successful strategy on their hands, Disney decided to take a chance at turning one of its popular attractions into a feature film. In fact, numerous attractions have received the big-screen treatment. Yet not all film adaptations have been as successful as the attraction that inspired them. In examining the relationships between the films and attractions, numerous differences can be found. The inclusion of human characters in the attraction’s storyline is the primary factor in the film adaptation’s success.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


“The power of thinking without thinking” – the subtitle says it all. Blink is a book about the kind of thinking that occurs in the blink of an eye – within our unconscious. Through a series of short stories and real-life examples, Malcolm Gladwell shows us how we can all become better decision makers by using less information. From meeting someone for the first time to reading the first few sentences of a book, Gladwell explains the difference between good decision making and bad, and how to use this in our lives. After reading Blink, it is clear that Gladwell’s message is that it is not enough simply to know how and why our mind works; it is our responsibility to use this knowledge to better our lives.

The book begins with a short narrative about an art dealer that acquired an ancient Greek sculpture. Gladwell delves into the how and why of the scientists that believed it was real after lengthy research, while viewers believed it was a fake at mere glance. He introduces us to the process of “thin-slicing,” which is “the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience." Gladwell gives us more examples of how thin-slicing works in the next few chapters, such as World War II code breaking, successful car dealers, why directors knew Tom Hanks was a good actor, why speed-dating works, medical malpractice, and what you can learn about someone by looking around their bedroom.

Malcolm Gladwell is quite good at explaining such a complex topic in an easy-to-understand manner. Most of the book is based on actual research in the fields of neuroscience and psychology, which sounds rather confusing and off-putting for the average reader. Yet Blink offers a different perspective, a “layman’s terms” approach. After reading the book, I can actually say that I genuinely understood what he was talking about. There were so many little life lessons that we can put to use in our daily lives, and actually change the way we act and make decisions.

One quote that really stuck out is “when making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves." This message was spread throughout a number of fascinating accounts of real-life situations in which better decisions were made from the unconscious.

As a matter of fact, I was talking to my aunt recently about why she knew – in an instant – which color paint she wanted for her kitchen. She was saying that she saw the paint splotch and knew right then and there that that was the color she wanted, and she didn’t want to waste time comparing other colors. I was able to explain to her why her decision was probably the right choice, because better decisions usually come from the unconscious. Now although her decision in a new paint color was not a vital matter such as a career, it was something that she would have to live with and look at each day.

When it comes to reading a book, I do tend to judge a book by its cover, though it’s always said you’re not supposed to. But Malcolm Gladwell explains that I might not be in the wrong, for my mind took about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions when I saw this book, and these conclusions were based on prior knowledge and experiences. And in the end, I did thoroughly enjoy reading this book. I tend to like watching documentaries and how-to videos, and this book is quite like a documentary or how-to video. It’s funny, it’s thought provoking, and it makes sense.

I believe this type of thinking can be used to change many things in the world, like the way wars are fought, the way police officers are trained, the way couples are counseled, or the way job interviews are held. All of these seemingly small changes can really add up to a different – but better – world. And that, I believe, was the author’s intent in writing Blink. The power of thinking without thinking is a powerful tool and it is our responsibility to make use of it for the better.

You Can't Take it With You -- Or Can I?

What an interesting freshman year, to say the least. I served as assistant stage manager for Palmer Park, stage manager for Freshman Showcase, stage manager for Speech & Debate, and then an actor in You Can’t Take it With You. I feel so lucky to have been able to be involved in such a wonderful production. And I didn’t even have to audition to be in it! When one of the assistant stage managers had to drop out, I told the stage manager that I would be more than happy to fill in. Then one of the actors also dropped out, and I was offered a small role in the play. With nothing to fill up my evenings, I jumped at the offer and I am so happy that I did so.

Yes, my role was quite small; I only had two lines. However, I do not regret becoming involved, despite the long nights at the theatre and time spent sitting backstage before my entrance. The cast made both the onstage and backstage experience simply wonderful, and the director made the entire process worthwhile. John Lepard has a great attitude and made the rehearsal process very smooth and positive. Having worked with many directors in my theatrical career thus far, I feel quite lucky to have been given the opportunity to work with John. 

The show itself proves entertaining and enjoyable. With a cast of wonderfully talented actors, there is never a dull moment onstage. From the crazy Ed and Essie to the more “grounded” Tony and Alice, the range of character types and emotions blend delightfully together. All of these actors perform their roles with sincerity and truth, despite the wacky personalities and over-the-top characteristics.

Leslie Hull as Penny delivered all of her lines with perfect comedic timing. Her gestures, facial expressions and overall joyous attitude made some of the less-interesting scenes worth watching. Andrew Harvey as Ed was also hard to look away from. His non-stop fidgeting and eccentric style add to the humor, and when he and Essie get together, the fun doubles. Michelle Meredith as Essie blended brilliantly into the action, without being too outrageous.

The use of the Arena Theatre can prove difficult for many productions, but John Lepard beautifully directed all of the action in a way suitable for all to see and enjoy. In this theatre-in-the-round setting, the need for the performers to use their space wisely was especially important, and John made sure of this in his blocking of the scenes. The scenic design also added whimsy and character to the show; there were myriad details that create a warm, comforting environment that accurately reflect the lighthearted tone of the show.

From rehearsals to performances, You Can’t Take it With You has been a great experience both onstage and off. Though performance may not be my primary involvement with theatre here at State, I feel lucky to have been given the opportunity to perform in this show. With a lovely cast and crew, I have thoroughly enjoyed my first performance experience here at Michigan State, and I look forward to working with these actors in the future.

Finding Nemo: The Musical

One of the things I am really looking forward to doing at Walt Disney World is seeing all of the live shows, especially Finding Nemo the Musical! I've seen it twice, and it is simply amazing. It's like The Lion King -- with all of the stunning costumes and puppets -- but under the sea! 

Here are some photos of the production from my recent trip to WDW on spring break:

The whole production is simply stunning. The show opened in 2007 at Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park at Walt Disney World. It runs only 45 minutes, so it's a great way to spend some time off your feet at the park. Plus, the music is great (it was written by the same composer of the Tony Award-winning show Avenue Q.) 

I'm hoping to network with some of the production staff of the show while I'm on my Disney College Program. It would be great to meet the stage manager or production manager and talk about the process of putting on four or five performances each day. 

In the meantime, I'll treat myself to the cast recording of the show, which includes Broadway actress Stephanie D'Abruzzo, who starred in the original Broadway cast of Avenue Q

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Cause everything is RENT!"

What an interesting experience working on Rent has been. As assistant stage manager, I have been with the production from the beginning, and have seen the show through the entire rehearsal, tech and production process. From the start I knew this would be a great experience, given the director was a personal friend of playwright Jonathan Larson. It was interesting to hear Scott, the director, talk about his days living in New York with Jon and actually being there during the time Jon was writing Rent. He had many funny and charming stories to share with the cast and crew about his days in New York, struggling as an actor, and how so much of Jon’s life was incorporated into his work.

As many people know, the rights for Rent are extremely well guarded by the Larson estate and the publisher. There are a number of rules that come along with this show that most productions don’t have to deal with. Yet Scott had ideas for this production – ideas that most other productions would get in trouble for attempting. He wanted to rearrange the order of the second act, because he felt the voice mails interrupted the dramatic action and made Angel’s death seem less significant.

But the Department of Theatre warned Scott about attempting to do such a thing, especially with their issues regarding the production of Tommy last year. Scott said not to worry, because he would get it cleared with Jon’s parents and would show the publisher that he had the right to do it. Well I’m not quite sure exactly what happened, but he never ended up getting it cleared with the Larson family. I think he felt bad for pestering them about it, and just decided to make do with what he had. He did end up cutting almost all of the song “Contact,” but don’t tell anyone!

This production was also special to me because it was a chance to work with a few actors with whom I’ve previously shared the stage. I performed in Seussical the Musical and The Wiz with actors Kellyn Uhl and Michelle Meredith in a community theatre back in high school. So it was fun to be able to work with them again in a college setting. Plus, both of them – as well as the entire cast – are extremely talented, which made the experience just so much more enjoyable.

Another element of this production that I appreciated was the director’s statement that “this is not the Rent from Broadway. This is not Rent the movie.” He told the cast not to listen to the soundtrack or watch the movie (or filmed version of the final Broadway performance.) He wanted to start from scratch, and take a fresh look at the material, instead of giving audiences the “standard” Rent that most would expect. No, Mark would not be wearing his famous striped scarf. No, Angel would not be wearing the famous Santa jacket. This was not to be a recreation of the Broadway production.

He wanted it to be a period piece, so the designers examined the script and pinpointed a year – 1994/1995. A central theme to the design concept was the idea that even when you’re not in focus, your life continues. Scott wanted a beehive-like community. For costumes, the designer wanted authentic clothing; she wanted it to look how the characters would have found and dressed themselves using what was in their closets.

Yet another interesting element of this production was the incorporation of video and projections. It was a great concept, and was wonderfully executed by the designer and film team. It was neat to be able to experience the filming at the Com Arts studio in front of a green screen, and see how it transferred so well onstage. All in all, Rent has been a truly wonderful experience from start to end, and I feel quite fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such talented actors and designers.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Disney College Program!

It's official: I'm participating in the Disney College Program for the Fall 2010 Season. I got my famous "purple folder" in the mail on Sunday, and am now signed up to work as a Quick-Service Food and Beverage Cast Member!

Though food and beverage really isn't related to my field of study, I think it will be a great learning opportunity and I will gain plenty of marketable skills. Plus, Disney will be on my résumé, and participating the College Program is a huge foot in the door for a career with the Disney Company.

I'm sure my work schedule will be hectic, but I'm really looking forward to the learning opportunities offered by the program. One course in particular is the Entertainment Show Production Professional Development Study, a series of eight sessions giving students an opportunity to see how Walt Disney World develops and maintains its productions. 

I'm also excited because my friend Hilary, whom I've known since kindergarten, will be working as a lifeguard while I'm there! Plus my friend Alex, who is currently working at the Grand Floridian, is applying for an extension for the next semester! Plus I'm excited to meet a bunch of new people who all share my love for Disney World!

I can't wait to start LIVING, LEARNING AND EARNING at Walt Disney World! 


Monday, April 12, 2010

List #6

This is a list of movies I watched in my writing class this semester. The class is titled WRA 150: The Evolution of American Thought - American Values and Perspectives in the World of Disney. 

It's a pretty interesting writing class. Basically, we watch Disney movies and analyze them by writing film reviews and analytical papers. 

Here's from the class syllabus: "Though a main focus of the course is on writing, we will focus our readings and writings on the themes, characters, and cultural issues found in Disney features (mostly animated), an institution within American culture. We will look at the concepts of gender, ethnicity, disability, (and class and sexuality which is often embedded within the film) found in the films. The Disney brand is both an American institution and a global empire, and in looking at the films with a critical eye, we will reflect on how the values in the films have helped define what an American is."

And now the list of movies we watched: 
  1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  2. Pretty Woman
  3. Peter Pan
  4. Song of the South
  5. The Jungle Book
  6. The Three Caballeros
  7. Beauty and the Beast
  8. Bolt
  9. Up
  10. Enchanted

Sunday, April 4, 2010

List #5: My Disney Book Collection

1. A Pictorial Souvenir of Walt Disney World (1975)

2. Walt Disney World: The First Decade (1982)

3. Walt Disney World: A Pictorial Souvenir (1985)
4. Walt Disney World: 15th Anniversary (1986)
5. Walt Disney World and EPCOT Center (1987)
6. Walt Disney World: 20 Magical Years (1991)
7. Walt Disney World: A Pictorial Souvenir (1993)
8. Walt Disney World: Twenty-Five Years (1996)
9. Walt Disney World Resort: A Souvenir for the Millennium (1999)
10. Walt Disney World: Then, Now, and Forever
by Jeff Kurtti and Bruce Gordon (2008)
11. Secrets of Disney's Glorious Gardens
by Kevin Markey
12. Designing Disney
by John Hench
13. Tarzan: The Broadway Adventure
by Michael Lassell

14. Windows on Main Street
by Chuck Snyder

15. Encyclopedia of Walt Disney's Animated Characters
by John Grant

16. The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies
by Jason Surrell
17. The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak
by Jason Surrell
18. Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies
by Jason Surrell
19. Since the World Began: Walt Disney World - The First 25 Years
by Jeff Kurtti
20. The Little Big Book of Disney
by Monique Peterson
21. Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real 
by The Imagineers

22. Walt Disney's EPCOT Center: Creating the World of Tomorrow
by Richard Beard
23. The Making of Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park
by Melody Malmberg

24. From Mouse to Mermaid: The Politics of Film, Gender and Culture
by Elizabeth Bell, Lynda Haas, and Laura Sells

25. Good Girls & Wicked Witches: Women in Disney's Feature Animation
by Amy M. Davis

26. Birnbaum's Walt Disney World 2009

27. Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World
by David Koenig

28. Cast Member Confidential: A Disneyfied Memoir 
by Chris Mitchell

29. Walt Disney World Resort: Celebrating 100 Years of Magic

30. Disneyland: The First Quarter Century (1979)

31. Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real (2010)
by The Imagineers