Another massive round of Cast Member layoffs hit entertainment at Walt Disney World, including performers and supporting Cast Members at many highly popular shows in the parks & resorts. In this post, we’ll cover details and offer commentary.
These entertainment cuts are part of the 28,000 layoffs announced for Walt Disney World and Disneyland last month. Thus far, it appears that Florida accounts for roughly 15,000 of the lost jobs. However, these have been occurring in waves as Disney negotiates with unions, and are likely not finished yet.
Before we begin, a reminder that Central Florida’s tourism industry has been devastated, with many people losing their jobs. Please see our Help Give Back to Disney Cast Members & Community post, which offers a range of ways you can assist during this time of need. Beyond that, have extra empathy and courtesy when interacting with Cast Members in the coming days, weeks, and months.
The last few weeks have been rough, and the latest round of entertainment layoffs is equally devastating. Hearing from Cast Member friends and seeing acquaintances post that they “got the call.” Opening social media and hearing from people who have received the life-altering news. It’s heartbreaking over and over again.
Some of these people are Disney lifers who have been with the company for decades. Some have opened multiple new parks. Some were truly living their dream in working for this company. Some uprooted their families and lives to move to Florida or California and be magic-makers. All were ambassadors for Disney, worthy stewards of Walt’s legacy, and vital assets for the company. We cannot fathom Disney without all of these people. They were what makes Disney, Disney.
For many of you, these entertainment layoffs are likely going to “hit harder” because these are highly-visible roles in popular shows or atmospheric acts that left indelible, lasting memories on your vacations. It’s just worth pointing out that for every one of these prominent entertainment jobs lost, there are a dozen other less visible positions that have also been eliminated.
All of them are integral in making the rides, shows, restaurants, and everything else about the Walt Disney World experience run smoothly. Whether someone works in custodial or as Cinderella, those jobs are both essential in making Walt Disney World what it is.
As for the latest round of layoffs, many of those affected are members of Actors’ Equity Association, a union for stage managers and performers. You might recall that over the summer, that union and Disney were at odds over performers returning to work safely. The standoff was highly publicized and contentious, but the union and Disney ultimately reached an “agreement” when the Maingate testing complex opened near Animal Kingdom.
Since that time, some performers have returned to Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Savi’s Workshop and the Frozen Sing-Along Celebration. All other shows have remained dark and atmospheric entertainment has not been called back.
After we published this post, that union released a statement about the layoffs. “Our hearts go out to all the cast members at Walt Disney World,” said Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity Association. “Disney has made it clear that our members would face work reductions since they announced layoffs of nearly 28,000 employees. That does not make this news any less painful.”
Prior to the closure in March, about 780 Equity Cast Members were employed at Walt Disney World, either full time, part time or seasonally. About 60 are currently working or about to return to work in the park. About 720 Equity member workers have now been laid off. According to the new MOU with Disney, these laid-off members maintain recall rights until the end of 2021.
The layoffs of these 720 performers and show support Cast Members at Walt Disney World are incredibly widespread. While Walt Disney World has not released a statement (and we wouldn’t expect one), we’ve received multiple credible reports on the shows impacted.
Outside the parks, the first big one is the entirety of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. This dinner show has been a venerable “Vacation Kingdom” staple since 1974 and should’ve had a spotlight shined on it for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.
Over at Animal Kingdom, both Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo: The Musical are among the shows that had their Cast Members laid off.
The entire cast and crew for Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, and Jedi Training Academy: Trials of the Temple at Disney’s Hollywood Studios were also let go.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios also saw Streetmosphere cuts, with the Green Army Men in Toy Story Land and Citizens of Hollywood both reportedly being eliminated.
On that front, the Citizens of Main Street in Magic Kingdom were also laid off. Over in Tomorrowland, the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor cast and crew was also let go.
Note that this is not an exhaustive list of the stage shows, atmospheric acts, and other entertainment that Walt Disney World has laid off. These are simply what we were able to independently and credibly confirm.
Our hearts go out to the performers, crew, and unsung support staff that made all of these productions possible. These are deep cuts that will leave scars on Walt Disney World for years to come, well after there’s a full recovery and things return to “normal.”
Back when it was revealed that Disney had ended the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra’s run, we offered extensive commentary. That focused largely on Walt Disney World being increasingly less concerned with delivering commensurate value for money, and more preoccupied with increasing profit margins. All of that remains true here. We’re not going to rehash all of it–you’ll undoubtedly be outraged and upset without us pouring gasoline on that proverbial bonfire.
To be abundantly clear, this bothers us. It’s painful to see, we hurt for those Cast Members, and stand by all of that prior commentary. It’s also the most evident sign yet that Walt Disney World is not going back to normal anytime soon, at a time when so many are craving normalcy. Bluntly, this means these shows and acts are not coming back this year or any time in the near future.
With that said, we want to strike a bit of an optimistic tone here, as a lot of the commentary we’ve seen on social media has been incredibly bleak. There’s talk that Disney has wanted to cut entertainment for years and finally has an excuse, that Disney is now no different from Six Flags, etc.
Some of those comments are emotional hyperbole, others are sincere. Regardless, they’re misguided or flat-out wrong, at least in the long term.
While Walt Disney World has been adept at trimming budgets and increasing attendance in the process, that simply cannot happen and to this degree for an extended period of time. Among other things, demand is a result of perceived value for money. There is not a path forward for Walt Disney World that involves unilaterally dictating high prices and reduced offerings. That is simply not a viable course of action.
We’ve already seen this with Walt Disney World post-reopening as many guests have cancelled trips due to the reduced slate of entertainment (among other reasons). Despite that, you might point to increasing attendance in the parks over the last couple of months as supposed evidence that Disney fans are “suckers” who will pay full price for half the experience.
Except that’s not true. Right now, Walt Disney World is seeing a fraction of its normal guest numbers, and even that fraction is disproportionately locals, Annual Passholders, and Disney Vacation Club members. In other words, guest types who either have pre-paid for their visits or are not booking multi-thousand dollar vacations. There are definitely some full freight tourists, but not even remotely approaching normal levels.
Look no further than low weekday occupancy numbers at the resorts, the fact that many hotels have not reopened and do not have reopening dates, and all the lucrative offerings–Club Level, Disney Dining Plan, dessert parties, etc–that remain unavailable.
As we’ve pointed out many times, Walt Disney World is a hotel (and timeshare) business that operates theme parks as a side hustle. Right now, the latter component isn’t doing so hot, but the former is doing terribly. By its own admission, Walt Disney World is treading water and losing money, just less than if the parks were still closed.
Sadly, that’s likely to remain the case for the next several months. Perhaps well into 2021, longer than any of us who are desperately craving normalcy want to admit. It’s going to be a long road to recovery, both for Walt Disney World and for the travel industry in general.
The point is that Walt Disney World’s short-term approach is unsustainable in the long-term. Whether Disney’s motivation is health safety or cost-savings at a time when added offerings are unlikely to move the needle in terms of hotel occupancy, the result is the same. It might help Disney tread water for now while in preservation mode, but it’s not viable in the ordinary course of business.
Once a general recovery does begin, Walt Disney World will have to work hard to lure guests back. During the last decade, the United States had a strong economy, the travel industry was booming, and Disney could get away with reducing the value proposition without seeing a corresponding drop in demand. Sure, guests wore “Most Expensive Day Ever” shirts, but they were visiting anyway.
The forward-looking outlook for the tourism sector is very different from that, and much less positive. It’s going to take several years for travel to fully recover—until 2025 if experts are to be believed. While there’s likely some degree of “revenge travel” and pent-up demand among fans, that’s not enough. The “new normal” here is that travel will be a value-conscious buyer’s market, and Walt Disney World will need to do more to be competitive with other destinations and entice guests to visit.
Whether that means bringing back these shows and acts or debuting new ones remains to be seen. In the short-term, we still second-guess these cuts and think they could inflict irreparable brand damage (among other things). Regardless of how we feel about that, there’s no conceivable long-term scenario in which entertainment at Walt Disney World is permanently eliminated. Some of these stage shows will be back; other new entertainment will debut. It’s painful right now, but it is temporary pain.
What do you think of these Walt Disney World entertainment cuts and additions? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about WDW restoring more stage shows and other acts in 2021 or 2022? Are you worried that it might be a while before Walt Disney World is back to normal in terms of its offerings? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!