“IT IS UP to you to choose where the magic will take you. The possibilities are endless.” That message was intended for the rather iconic ears of Mickey Mouse — through the words of a sorcerer helping his apprentice navigate the adventures in Mickey and the Magical Map, a live show that plays several times daily for guests at California’s Disneyland Resort.

However, the lesson equally applies to the five California Thespians in attendance for the show one sunny afternoon last November. They participated in a customized behind-the-scenes experience to meet the people who make Disney magic and explore opportunities available in backstage entertainment careers.


The Thespians, all theatre technicians, were told to think of the entire park as a giant living theatre, one with both traditional and nontraditional venues. The first stop on their tour was Entertainment Control, a central hub for park operations. There, multiple video screens and camera feeds allow Disney entertainment cast members to monitor the performers, floats, background music, and lights that comprise Main Street’s popular daily parades, as well as the fireworks display that closes each night.

A few steps farther inside the park, one of Disneyland’s most unusual performing spaces hides in plain sight. By day, New Orleans Square abuts the 19th century-themed Tom Sawyer Island, where visitors can stroll along the banks of the Rivers of America, explore frontier-style caves and forts, and cruise on the old-fashioned Sailing Ship Columbia. But once the skies darken, the sidewalks open to reveal enormous light and sound towers that rise from the ground to help facilitate the massive pyrotechnics and water-screen projections in Fantasmic! That same riverboat becomes the ship from Pirates of the Caribbean, and a 45-foot tall fire-breathing dragon overtakes the once-tranquil island.

By day, the high-tech light and sound towers for Fantasmic! hide beneath the sidewalks of New Orleans Square.
By day, the high-tech light and sound towers for Fantasmic! hide beneath the sidewalks of New Orleans Square. Photo by Ashley Kruger.


On the other side of the park, Mickey and the Magical Map may perform on a proper proscenium stage in the outdoor Fantasyland Theatre, but the show’s conventional setting doesn’t diminish its complexity. Singers and dancers recreating numbers from PocahontasMulanThe Jungle BookThe Princess and the Frog, and The Little Mermaid interact with animated projections, puppets, bubbles, and confetti for a nonstop 22-minute jaunt through Disney’s catalog of characters. The visiting Thespians experienced the show twice: first as spectators, then from a vantage point few others ever see — in one of several backstage areas chosen to match their specific interests in costumes, sound, or stage management.

For Kayla Louie, a Thespian senior at Redondo Union High School, watching the show from the stage management booth was “possibly one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me.”

At school, Louie has dabbled in lighting and props, in addition to stage managing last year’s musical, Into the Woods. A senior, she plans to study technical theatre in college. “It’s just amazing to see the flip side,” Louie said. “I’ve been a stage manager for my high school production, but seeing the corporate side, seeing how large a scale they can mount and what goes into making it run seamlessly and flawlessly for the audience, was an amazing experience. It was eye-opening.”

For the second viewing of the show, Louie shadowed Disney Production Stage Manager Reinaldo Escoffery, donning a smile about a mile wide to go with her newly acquired headset. As she listened to the hundreds of automation cues and other crew communications, her piercing eyes darted back and forth between the stage and the many monitors and control panels directly in front of her, with Escoffery pointing out where to pay attention throughout the show.

“I definitely took away how much goes unsung and how much appreciation goes unsaid,” Louie noted. “You could see all the cameras, and you could hear from the cues that everything is on a timer. Everything has to be executed a certain way for it to appear a certain way to the audience. I gained a much deeper appreciation of the show watching it behind the scenes.”

In another corner of the booth, Haven Hanson, a ninth grader at Orange County School of the Arts, tracked the show’s audio systems. “There’s a lot I thought I already knew, but there were so many new things I got to take in,” Hanson said. “There’s so much more you never get to see, especially on a professional scale. It’s nice to see ways that different companies do things, especially Disney, a company I really admire. Getting to see how they put everything together with all the audio stuff was interesting because I didn’t know most of it. I couldn’t tell half the things that were going on were going on because they were working so well. It gave me a deep appreciation and ideas for the future.”

Singers and dancers recreate a number from The Jungle Book for Mickey and the Magical Map at Disneyland. Photo by Christa Skiles.


While all the Thespians learned something new, the biggest takeaway for those nearing the end of their high school journeys was an enhanced awareness of the myriad possibilities awaiting them post-graduation. Alejandra Martinez, a junior at Shadow Hills High School, is interested in pursuing theatrical lighting. For her, the day offered a “crash course of how we can get into the industry, how to get our foot in the door.” The Thespians were encouraged to take a broad perspective in their training, learning a little about all areas of theatre tech.

Most of the students had visited Disneyland before, but Emily Linden-Ross, a Thespian junior at Claremont High School, may have walked away with the most interesting view of the day. “I’ve never been to Disneyland. I haven’t seen the magical part of it,” she said. “So, it’s kind of cool to see the unmagical part before the magical part. I love to know how things work.”

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