This one is near and dear to my heart, everyone.
This past week, The Walt Disney Company announced that 28,000 Cast Members will be getting laid off due to a sustained decrease in park capacity and operations as caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the email from Chairman of Disney Parks Josh D’Amaro, Cast Members were notified that while everyone knows we all want to continue Making Magic and that TWDC is forever grateful to have such dedicated Cast Members, it cannot continue to dutifully support all of us. As a result, it will be letting go the volume of Cast Members it can no longer sustain.
This email must have been extremely hard to write.
I assure you it was difficult to read.
D’Amaro did not provide a timeline for when Cast Members would be notified about the fallout of this decision. Because of this, we are all waiting by our phones, hoping every second that we are part of the lucky group that gets to remain furloughed. (It’s crazy to think that furlough is the silver lining in this instance.)
For months, I have scrolled through social media and seen people post that they “finally got the call,” that “they’re going back home” to work. For months, I’ve been liking those posts and congratulating my co-Cast Members.
Now, I scroll through social media and I see the same words: “I got the call.” Only, this time, those words are followed by sad reactions and comforting words in the comments section. “The Call,” now, is not one of excitement for getting to return to your home park and Make Magic again. No, it’s one of dread, one that says you won’t be going back to the company for a long while.
My Disney story began the fall of my sophomore year. I had been researching the company after a Cast Member I met during my summer vacation told me she thought I would be a good fit for the Disney College Program. The DCP is an opportunity for college students to work in the Disney parks and live amongst other college-aged students who are doing the same thing.
I thought the DCP was a summer-long experience, and, deciding I could give up one summer, I applied.
And then I got accepted.
It turned out the DCP was more than just one summer in length. It was actually a whole semester plus the summer. So, in the midst of a polar vortex in January 2019, I packed up my little Pontiac Vibe and drove twenty hours down to Lake Buena Vista, FL. My temperature gauge moved from six degrees to 76 degrees over the course of that drive – that was just the first act of Magic of the trip.
Over the next seven months, Lake Buena Vista became my home. I was part of something special, getting to Make Magic every day. I met countless people (some for just a few seconds before I dispatched them on rides, others for what will eventually be lifelong friendships) who impacted me in ways I cannot fit into this single article. I pulled some of the craziest sleeping schedules of my life. I got to work in not just one, but two Disney parks.
I worked. I learned. I smiled and laughed. I had the most incredible time of my life.
And at the end, I wasn’t ready to give it up. I applied for a position as a Seasonal Cast Member, which means I would be able to work in between semesters as I continued working toward my degree. The Leader who approved my Seasonal application even told me he wanted me to become a Trainer whenever I came back.
Disney is a truly amazing company to work for. It quickly became my heart and soul. Anyone who knows me knows I can hardly manage a single conversation without somehow inserting something Disney-related into it.
The point is, days without Making Magic are hard days to get through. As crazy as it may seem, doing things for complete strangers that make them smile (even when you’re doing those things in the blistering heat and humidity of Florida) is one of the best feelings in the world. It’s an even better feeling when you’re doing it alongside some of your closest friends in the world.
I didn’t get to go back to my job this past summer. I didn’t get to try out that Trainer position. I’ve been bummed about that for months now (I really miss my tan, okay?), but now, I think I might be lucky. I’m already (somewhat) accustomed to not being in the Most Magical Place on Earth everyday of my life. It’s hard to make the transition from Disney life to normal life. It’s even worse when the transition is forced.
My heart is breaking for each of my friends whom I see post that they will no longer be working for TWDC. None of us are bad Cast Members. Some of the people being laid off are the ones you know have made at least a dozen lasting memories for families who will return home from their vacations and tell their friends about the wonderful things they experienced at Disney World. All because of one Cast Member. Some of us look forward to surprising a little kid with free ice cream or encouraging even the most scared little ones to try out the water slide they’ve been looking forward to all vacation.
We are good people who are good at what we do.
The hardest part right now is the not knowing.
For those of us who haven’t been called yet, we’re wondering when it will happen. Will it be within a week after the email is sent? Will the calls be done by the weekend? Some rumors even suspect this will be ongoing for the next month.
I love my job. I feel safe in saying I speak for all Cast Members with that sentiment. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on innumerable “not knowing” situations for everyone in the world. This is hard, guys. It’s hard to not know what will happen next. It’s hard to not know who is going to be affected by things like this.
It’s hard to not know when your phone might ring and change everything.
Check in with the people you care about on a regular basis. For me right now, that means asking my closest fellow Cast Members if they’re still safe from The Call. For you, that might mean asking about someone’s health, their grocery needs, their companionship.
I know this is the understatement of the century, but we are in scary times.
Open-ended situations such as this are detrimental to our emotional and mental health. Please, for your own sake and that of others, check in with your community of loved ones. Make all the “not knowings” as comfortable as possible by leaning on those you care about and being there for them to lean on you.
You can bet I’ll be doing that.
This article is dedicated to all Cast Members of The Walt Disney Company. I love you all. The Big Cheese loves us all. Whether you’ve gotten the call, you know you’re safe from the call, or you’re still waiting with your phone at your side, hoping for the best, know that it is never goodbye. It’s “see ya real soon.”
Rest easy knowing Walt would be proud of us all.
*Castle photo by Isaac Johnson