Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Citizens of Hollywood will be reduced from 29 actors to 10 by April 2016. I’m digesting this story and filtering out what I think this means. It could mean that guest surveys indicate that the Streetmosphere performers are not a significant part of a visit to Hollywood Studios. It might mean that labor dollars are being shuffled to cover costs in Shanghai. I’m landing on a combination of these reasons with the understanding that a company’s actions are directly related to the values being upheld at the top. I’m using this news story as evidence to delineate Disney Park leadership’s values as they relate to performance art.
Arts matter to society. It’s been shown that a culture that values the fine arts will offer higher quality of life and opportunity to the population. There is also evidence that students in arts-rich environments experience both cognitive and behavioral benefits. In 2008, the non-profit RAND Corporation published a monograph that detailed options to increase demand for the arts. The paper’s conclusion was that the skills to appreciate the arts can be learned and developed. The authors recommended that more emphasis be put on exposing children to the performing and visual arts. One way to teach these skills is to get kids to actively observe performers and visual works. It just makes sense. The next generation can’t learn to appreciate arts if they don’t see the arts.
In an episode of “Girl Meets World” (Season 2 Episode 14), Zay, Maya, and Lucas fight the school board when arts programs are cut. The Disney musical “Lemonade Mouth” (2011) also explored the concept of funding for the arts being minimized. The heroine of the story sees all extracurricular activities moved to the basement to make room for a new gymnasium. The Disney Channel writers saw this issue as relevant, apparently.
Disney Parks employ artists, therefore Disney has a positive effect on the demand for arts. Vast numbers of kids and adults are exposed to the arts at Disney. The Disney Parks have attractions like any amusement park, yes, but it’s the creative intellectual property and the legacy of the Imagineers that set Disney apart from the rest of the themed world. Performance art brings the movies to life. Face characters and costumed characters perform improvisation acting with a wide variety of guests. The visual design of Joe Rohde’s immersive environments exemplify excellence in creative design execution. We relive the creative genius of Pixar through spaces built on an impressive scale.
A kid sees a Citizen of Hollywood and imitates improv at school- to a positive response from his peers. A teenager sees Pandora and goes home to research James Cameron. An adult watches Beauty and the Beast on stage and resolves to rejoin community theatre.
There have been some reductions of live performers in other Parks that were similar to the reduction in the Citizens of Hollywood, including the end of the contract for Mulch, Sweat and Shears and the exit of Off Kilter. Any other performance acts that have been discontinued? How much of a pattern is there? Are we merely seeing the shift in Hollywood Studios from “Old Hollywood” to Star Wars Land? Will the Citizens of Hollywood be replaced by the humorously inept Storm Troopers from Star Wars weekend? We’ll have to wait and see.
Walt was an artistic entertainer. He was a creator and an animator. At first glance, the effect of these reductions in performance artists is akin to saying, “Let’s do Disney without creative people like Walt.” On deeper evaluation, the effect says, “Let’s promote performance art when it directly relates to publicity strategy for intellectual property on the current promotion circuit.” You can’t fault a company for maximizing profits, unless you remember what its founder valued. Then you have to wonder if the capacity to feed profit back into art for art’s sake still exists in the company’s values.