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Secrets To Conquering The Magic Kingdom

A veteran of Disney's talent development division offers insider tips on making your own music for the vacation-resort giant.
 
Gene Columbus photo
Gene Columbus, manager of Entertainment Staffing for Walt Disney Entertainment, had a 10-year performing career in film and television, but his favorite assignment was being live on stage in musical theater. In 1970, he joined Disney on Parade, then in 1977 went to work at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, as the ballet master, assistant stage manager — and Cinderella's Prince. In more than 30 years, he has managed, produced, cast and directed many Walt Disney World shows and events. Mr. Columbus is also an associate professor with the Department of Theatre at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
 
I love the stage. Halfway through my career, I had the incredible good fortune to get injured. Bored, I went back to school, and that ultimately provided me with the foundation for what I do today.
 
Performing careers come in phases. You must have a solid foundation and be able to do other things beyond just performing — a few do become big stars, but that's kind of like winning the lottery.
 
My advice: Go for it, have that career, follow that dream. Be the best you can be. Be positive and upbeat, and you will attract people. Be passionate. Finding great joy in this industry is absolutely essential, but you'll never find the joy in the performance unless you create it for yourself. Love what you are doing.
 
Here's my "laundry list" of advice for young pros looking to break into entertainment:
 
Auditions: Dress for the performance, not for dance class. Casting directors want to see not only how well you dance, but also how well you perform. Realize that you do not have a vote on whether or not you are selected for a role. Do your very best — and if you're not selected, get over it.
 
Teamwork: Make the other person look as good as they can. Help others, and you'll be surprised how much you receive in return. The greatest credit you get is in giving credit to others.
 
Patience: Art takes time. Hang in there a little longer. Your big break may be the next audition or the next interview.
 
Responsibility: You've got to be there early, ready to start. Those are the people who become successful.
 
Honesty: Nothing has a longer life than a lie. Sometimes the truth hurts — care must be given when telling the truth to an artist.
 
On listening: I learned you have to listen. If you listen closely, it could be opportunity knocking. Also, God gave us two ears and one mouth — perhaps to do twice as much listening as talking.
 
On humility: To be in the business, you must be exceptional. Always seek to be exceptional, but also humble. No matter how good you are, there is always someone better.
 
On humor: Always be able to laugh, but never at the expense of anyone.
 
On goals: Set them and write them down. They may change, but on your journey to that goal, you may discover something quite wonderful.
 
On courage: An audition may be uncomfortable, but it's a process you must go through. Prepare well, study hard, and you can go to an audition and enter with confidence, even if you're nervous.
 
On health: Really take care of your body, your mind, and your spirit. If one is out of whack, you are off balance. Keep it together.
 
On relationships: Nurture strong relationships.
 
On manners: Say "thank you" often. Remember always to say "please." If you're going into this business, celebrate the fact that you are doing what you love — there are millions who wish they could.
 
Keep a journal: I wish I had.
 

Auditioning for Disney

When you arrive for an audition, you need a great headshot and a résumé with every possible phone number and e-mail to reach you, but it's always about the audition — showing what you've learned.
 
You are expected to have two songs, and you must have your music prepared — 16 bars. Those 16 bars need not appear at the beginning of the song; pick out the best 16 bars that showcase your vocal talents.
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF WALT DISNEY WORLD RESORTS
Performers at Cinderella's castle

The performance opportunities of Disney Resorts for singers and dancers include roles in live stage shows based on animated feature films, such as The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King, and outdoor productions on the Cinderella stage (above).

If you're told to dance and you're not a great dancer, go ahead and try. The willingness to try is important. Performers in singing roles have to be able to move well even if they're not well-trained dancers.
 
When you come in, warm up and make no excuses. Do your best. Smile. Look the part. Disney is a family entertainment company. We want beautiful young women and handsome young men who can sing, dance, and act. We want diversity. We want every little boy and girl in the audience to look up at the performers on-stage and see themselves.
 
If you don't have a lot of experience, don't make it up. Generally, we take a photo at the audition callback, even if you bring a headshot. So wear something that you feel you look good in. Do your hair — no buns, though, unless it's a hard dance. You really want to look the way you would look in a performance.
 
Smile. Sell. Come in with everything you need to dance — two songs in the right key for you, shoes, and a couple of extra songs. Always be prepared.
 
Most Disney parts are for singers and dancers. But there are plenty of roles for actors and actresses, gymnasts, and even stunt performers. We're not auditioning only for Walt Disney World Resort, but also for Tokyo Disney Resort and Disney Cruise Line.
 
In the theater, you may hear "Places, everyone," but at Disney we say "Places for everyone." For every person onstage, it takes 10 backstage to make it happen.

Auditions Held Weekly

Disney® animated Character “look-alikes,” have the opportunity to fulfill the dreams of millions of people who are drawn to the magic and mystique of Disney. We are looking for smiling faces to bring to life heroes and heroines from classic Disney animated films. Strong candidates should resemble the characters in look, height and personality, have a positive attitude and a good
speaking voice.
Height ranges are 5’0” to 5’2” and 5’5” to 6’4” for males.
Height ranges are 5’0” to 6’1” for females.
 
Get Inspired. Call the Walt Disney World® Jobline at 407-828-1000 to schedule an interview. Eligible candidates will be invited to audition Click Here for Disney Careers.
 
One final piece of advice: Be positive. An audition is a state of mind.
 

Additional Showbiz Articles

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