New layoffs: Walt Disney World slashes entertainment, leaving big shows in limbo

 


Walt Disney World laid off entertainers from its highest-profile shows Tuesday night in what some described as a “bloodbath” as the scale of the layoffs rocked the Central Florida arts community.

The deluge of pink slips showed the theme park has no foreseeable plans to remount marquee attractions such as “Festival of the Lion King” or “Finding Nemo: The Musical,” both of which have been dark since COVID-19 shut the parks this spring.

  Even the cast of the venerable “Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue” dinner the show, which has run since 1974, wasn’t immune from the latest round of Disney dismissals.

“Clare DeLune, you were a dream come true,” wrote performer Nicolette Quintero, referring to one of the “Hoop-Dee-Doo” characters.

 “My dream role at my dream company on one of my favorite stages,” Quintero posted on Facebook. “Today is a very hard day.”

Like many other Walt Disney World shows, the "Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue" at Fort Wilderness has been closed for months.
Like many other Walt Disney World shows, the "Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue" at Fort Wilderness has been closed for months. (Courtesy of Disney Photo Imaging)

The entertainment cuts are part of the 28,000 companywide layoffs announced by Disney in late September. As more and more performers took to social media to report receiving “that email” from Disney, the mood turned grim. One commenter likened it to the Red Wedding — the notoriously horrifying massacre from “Game of Thrones.”

  Among those cut: Performers who chatted with guests on Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom and performed as the Citizens of Hollywood at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Some who lost their jobs reported that the entire cast and crew of such attractions as “Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor” at Magic Kingdom and “Beauty and the Beast — Live on Stage” and “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular,” both at Hollywood Studios, had been laid off.

Disney did not address the job cuts on Tuesday night.

Others reported the Green Army Men and the Jedi Training Academy, the interactive “Star Wars” show in which young theme-park guests are trained in the ways of The Force, also were cut.

The affected shows were listed Tuesday on Disney’s website as “temporarily unavailable” — the same description they have had for months.

The "Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular" was reportedly one of the Disney World shows affected by Tuesday's layoffs.
The "Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular" was reportedly one of the Disney World shows affected by Tuesday's layoffs. (Walt Disney World)

Some laid off had worked at Disney for decades; on the other end of the scale, at least one had signed his first contract just before the pandemic hit. Many of those affected are members of Actors' Equity Association, a union for stage managers and performers.

Disney and Actors' Equity went through highly publicized — and highly contentious — negotiations this summer about returning performers to work safely. Some are again performing in the parks, notably at Savi’s Workshop, where guests pay to build their own “Star Wars” lightsaber, and at “For the First Time in Forever” a singalong to music from the hit film “Frozen.”

When Disney employees represented by the Service Trades Council Union were laid off a few weeks ago, the union brokered a deal that gave them priority for rehiring while preserving their seniority and pay rate for the duration of its contract, which extends through October 2022.

"Festival of the Lion King" is one of the most popular shows at Walt Disney World, with a large cast of singers, dancers and acrobats.
"Festival of the Lion King" is one of the most popular shows at Walt Disney World, with a large cast of singers, dancers and acrobats. (WALT DISNEY CO.)

Disney’s contract with Actors' Equity also runs through 2022, but on Tuesday night Equity did not speak publicly on the layoffs or any provisions it might have negotiated for its members.

 In all, it appears that Disney is laying off more than 20% of its Orlando workforce, or more than 15,500 employees.

Fans of the shows and performers expressed anger Tuesday night, pointing to the reinstatement of Disney executives' full salaries after brief pay cuts this summer and lambasting the company for spending on cosmetic improvements while laying off its workers. On Monday, Disney announced it would refurbish the entry gates to Walt Disney World’s property.

For their part, performers mostly took the news gracefully, if resignedly and sadly.

“I will miss saving the galaxy. I will miss the young girls who look at me and think ‘Wow, I can do THAT.’ I will miss my Jedi family,” wrote Jennifer Bonner, who acted in the Jedi-training “Star Wars” show. “My love to everyone that had the same news today. We are magic.”