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Backstage

I used to devour all things Disney.  Sure, I like Snow White as much as the next guy, but I am referring to the company itself, the way it does – or at least did – the things that it did.  So, I would read about how things worked at the theme parks, amongst other things, what life was like for the employees, and how they made their employees amongst the most professional and the most happy workers you would likely see anywhere.

One of their major concepts was that of being onstage and offstage.  When employees were offstage, down in their utilidors and break rooms, they were allowed to eat, smoke, cuss, and otherwise behave as normal people.  When they were out in public, they were expected to behave in particular ways, dress in particular ways, and respond in particular ways.  They were now onstage, the big theatrical production of running a theme park was in full swing, and they all had their particular roles to play for the guests, the audience.

This worked very well for everyone, not the least the “cast members,” who knew that, no matter how bad or stressful things got, there was a break coming up where they could let down their hair, so to speak, and relax.  It made for better overall guest relations and all concerned had a better time.

I have noticed a trend in the last decade or so of invading the backstage.  What do I mean?  Watch a morning talk show nowadays and they cannot seem to keep themselves from pointing cameras at the back wings, even into the Green Room, showing us who will be coming out after the break.  They will often have a mobile camera follow one of the hosts off of the million dollar set, down the drab utility hallways, and through the giant metal doors onto the street.  Modern theater seems to have forgotten the concept of the curtain and, instead, we are treated to the sight of cast and crew dressing the next set in dim light, then taking their positions before the lights come back up.  In music circles, nothing seems to be held in higher regard than the backstage pass, watching the show from the wings.

Even Disney cannot seem to avoid this trend, inviting guests on backstage tours, taking them through the utilidors, showing off the costume shop, dressing rooms, cafeteria, and all the other stuff required to “put on the show.”  Why?  Because people are naturally curious how it all gets done and, more importantly, they are willing to pay to see it.  Disney is only too happy to oblige.

The downside, of course, is that the refuge of backstage is a refuge no longer.  Whether you are a Disney cast member, an entertainer, a talk show host, or one of their guests, you are now onstage the moment you enter the facility.  There is no refuge and there is no escape – keep your public persona in place at all times, every microphone is an open microphone.  I can only imagine that this factor increases the stress levels of everyone involved and, in the end, makes the show worse, not better.

My advice, to anyone involved in this, is simple: close the curtain, keep the audience firmly out front, keep your cameras pointed at your million dollar set, and let the kids smoke in peace.  We used to call this stagecraft.

 

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