As we suddenly found ourselves faced with an increasing number of new and mounting challenges to overcome, our only realistic option was to drastically increase the number of people we were hiring. Of course, it was still a difficult experience getting journeymen stagehands to sign on given the pay issues, but the team we had was still performing spectacularly as the date of the grand opening grew closer. No matter how prepared I thought we were, though, there always seemed to be an unexpected development just around the corner. We found ourselves constantly ordering equipment as we realized we needed it, for example. Thankfully, all of the manufacturers who were coming on board were able to meet all the needs we specified. With Disney back then, as with Disney now, money wasn’t much of an issue, and no tools or equipment were beyond our reach if we could explain how it was needed to complete a job. If the technology wasn’t available, Disney’s purchasing department worked diligently with companies like Shure to develop sound systems to meet our requirements and Altman for theatrical lighting equipment. On top of that, the folks working in Disney’s shops could build you almost anything you could dream of. If you were to give them a design and a deadline, they would deliver a working product on schedule every time. They were some very intelligent, very creative people, and they were always working behind the scenes.
When I first came on board I was working with the crew and was given new projects to complete on a daily basis. This was good work and it kept me on my toes, but it also meant I had to be quick to adapt to new tasks. I didn’t have any problem with it, though, and after about three months on the crew, I was promoted to the position of lead adviser to Bill Blandon, the Superintendent of the Technical Services Department. It came with an even greater number of responsibilities, and responsibilities of greater importance, but there still wasn’t paid overtime despite the new title—just because Disney had the money didn’t mean they were quick to throw it around! Anyway, among my new job duties were producing the daily schedule and equipment logistics. I found all this incredible because at the time I didn’t know how to even turn on a sound system, or what one even looked like for that matter. It might seem crazy to think that a company so big planning a theme for corporate event so massive would lay all of that on a guy with little experience, but I guess it goes to show just how severe of a time crunch we were really working under. That, or maybe they had faith in me. Regardless, it didn’t take me long to learn the ropes as I made it my business every day to go out of my way to learn something new about not just my work but the work being done around me. I gained a lot of knowledge from those on my team who did have the experience, and they were more than happy to share it with me. I honestly believe that one of the most effective team building strategies a company of any size can do is to have employees teach each other what they know. It’s a great way to get everyone communicating, and it’s an inexpensive way to have everyone expand their skill sets. It was through little teaching moments like this that I got to further my knowledge and meet some really talented and interesting people.
One of the most important things I learned from my time in Hollywood was that if you wanted to succeed in a job, any job, you had to make yourself indispensable to your boss. To do that you need to be proactive and quick to adapt to your boss’s needs, and you should always look for ways to make his or her job easier, no matter how long it takes you. If you’re in the mailroom, volunteer to work in the box office. If you want to learn more about event staging, volunteer to work in the production department or in the shop. Learn, learn, and learn. Always be learning and you’ll always be working. You would not believe how fast you can move up the ladder when you’re willing to learn. I think that’s part of the reason why so many of our volunteers excelled beyond our expectations: they were passionate about the company and wanted to learn as much about it as they could, even if that meant how to light a stage.
I feel that my first real learning experience was when I was asked to meet with one of the Entertainment Division Executives on the Polynesian Resort beach. He wanted to discuss the installation of the opening night luau function with me. He described the function, which was to be produced for approximately six-hundred guests (it could have been more, but my memory of the event attendance fails me at the moment). He told me that there were to be over sixty luau performers on three separate stages, one of which was to be designated the main stage while the other two would serve as satellite stages. The opening of the luau was planned to feature a traditional conch shell opening as the theatrical lighting illuminated the performers on all three of the stages, casting their light out into the water and creating a striking visual. The stages were on hydraulics that allowed us to slowly move them into position to begin the show as we flooded the stages with light and sound. The seating areas were also illuminated. The show was to be spectacular with the traditional fire dance finale featuring over eight to twelve fire dancers.
The seating area for the guests featured long banquet tables elevated on blocks to bring the table height to no more than twenty-eight inches. The seating consisted of small beach chairs with Polynesian themed table cloths and napkins. The tables were also decorated with birds of paradise floral centerpieces. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like much, but you need to remember there’s more to these things than simply drawing up large corporate event ideas. You have to take into consideration the physical space as it relates to the stages, the stage lights, and the speakers. You don’t want to make the audience feel uncomfortable but at the same time the performing area needs to be clearly visible and all of the sounds heard throughout the even area.
After he described the show to me in detail, he then dropped a bombshell and told me we only had eight days to install the entire show in time for the first rehearsal. To say that this schedule would be a tremendous challenge would be a massive understatement. We first had to design the plan for trench placement and acquire the generators, cabling, lighting, and sound equipment. Fortunately, the Entertainment Division gave us the technical riders and suggested ground plans for staging and theatrical lighting placement in short order, significantly cutting down the guesswork and time we would have spent trying to work it out on our own.
We were also ahead of schedule because the beach sand had already been laid to create the beach. What my team of six stagehands and I needed to do first was get the generators into position and secure the beach area with fencing, then secure a staging area for the food and beverage department. Not exactly the glamorous side of event production, but it was vital that we do it quickly and efficiently because it would serve as the foundation for everything else.