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Katy Harris talks about all the hard work that went into creating Disneyland Paris' new holiday offerings

Katy Harris talks about all the hard work that went into creating Disneyland Paris' new holiday offerings

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After beginning her theatrical career dancing in London's West End and then traveling the world, Katy Harris found herself at what was then known as EuroDisney working as a dancer at that theme park's "Beauty and the Beast" stage show. From there, Harris quickly rose through the ranks and help produce Walt Disney Studios seasonal events such as Kids Carnival and DLP's 15th anniversary "Once Upon a Dream Parade."

Over the past few years, Katy has worked hand-in-hand with Walt Disney Imagineering on the creation of Disneyland Paris' 20th nighttime spectacular, "Disney DREAMS" and this year's "Disney DREAMS Fete Noel / Disney DREAMS of Christmas" show as well as DLP's new tree lighting ceremony, "Magical Christmas Wishes."

Let's look into how Harris and her team creates magic at the Disneyland Paris Resort.

Katy Harris & Andrea Monti at the "Disney DREAMS Fete
Noel / Disney DREAM of Christmas" press event

AM: Yours is a classic Disney success story; rising up through the ranks to then becoming show director. How does it feel to look back?

KH: How does it feel? It feels like I am living a dream. I started dancing on a stage in 1993 on the "Beauty and the Beast" show & at the Lucky Nugget and then -- over time -- moved on to direct shows both small and big, parades and nighttime spectaculars. When I meet people I used to dance with or used to know years ago, it always strikes me how much has happened and how fast it all happened.

AM: What do you consider your highlights?

EuroDisneyland's Lucky Nugget Revue (1992 - 1993)

KH: It would be easy to say the latest shows our team (And I say 'team' because projects like these always involve teamwork and I have been lucky  to work with amazing teams) has worked on. I'm especially proud of the new Christmas tree ceremony "Magical Christmas Wishes" and believe that  the new "Disney DREAMS Of Christmas" nighttime show is a really wonderful way for our guests to celebrate the holiday season in the park.

Of course, if I was to look back, I could not forget how wonderful it was to work on the 15th anniversary parade, "Disney's Once Upon a Dream Parade" in 2007, the months that I spent in Hong Kong Disneyland back in 2008 were great fun and different from my Paris agenda and -- of course --  there is that  time I created the "Celebrate the Magic" show on the Magic Kingdom's Cinderella Castle in Orlando.

The first night I started rehearsing with my team at 2 a.m. in the Orlando projecting on Cinderella Castle was a moment I won't easily forget. Nearly alone in the Magic Kingdom playing projections on that iconic castle. Wow, a  dream come true!

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

AM: What would you like everyone, Disney fans, theme park geeks and first time guests to see in your works?

KH: Heart. Putting layers of emotions and content that will be interpreted differently by each guest. Sometimes there's this preconception about theme park shows, that they're all about spectacle and shallow. My team and I try to create layers of elements and story that everyone can relate to. I like to add emotional, heartwarming moments and make everyone smile. My goal is to create something that our guests will want to come back and see again and share with their friends and family. That was especially what we were going for in the new "Christmas Wishes" tree lighting ceremony.

AM: You have also worked in Hong Kong for the Olympic year, creating a kinetic show in the castle forecourt. That was certainly a change of pace. What did you bring back to Paris from that experience?

Acrobats performing in front of Sleeping Beauty
Castle at Hong Kong Disneyland

KH: My time in Hong Kong allowed me to discover a different cast and a different audience, also multilingual (English, Mandarin & Cantonese), very different but still very, very eager for all things Disney. I worked on the 2008 show which played 5 times a day in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. It was a fun-filled energetic acrobatic extravaganza with dancers and the characters holding their own Olympic sporting events. Goofy was a weight lifter, Minnie was a gymnast and Chip & Dale played volleyball. Children were invited to participate in all of the fun too. We even gave engraved limited-edition gold medals to the children of the different games we did. Those medals today have become a collectible as they have the inscription if not only HKDL but also the date of the 2008 Olympics.

AM: Did it help later in the energy-driven "High School Musical" street show?

KH: "High School Musical " became an instant hit in the Walt Disney Studios theme park. We were lucky enough to go to California to learn all the dance moves. Guests might not have realized it but we were able to incorporate most of the dance moves from the Disney Channel film into the Walt Disney Studios show. And -- yes -- our Paris cast was as energetic as the Disney Channel cast.

The "High School Musical" rolling stage at Wat Disney Studios theme park.

AM: You went from big parades in 2007 for Disneyland Paris' 15th anniversary to smaller events in 2008 & 2009 and then back again to huge DREAMS. And the size of the audiences for each of these presentations varied from 30,000 people watching a parade to 2000 people enjoying something relatively intimate like a "High School Musical" street show to 70,000 people watching a show like "Disney DREAMS." When you works on shows that have such different scales as these, how do you keep the level of heart?

KH: By staying true to that little English girl inside of me who -- when she was small back home --  always, always, always wanted to dance for Mickey I guess (Laughter). Jokes aside, I'm glad that people recognize the heart which goes into these shows. Most of our rehearsals are done at night. For example, "Disney DREAMS Fete Noel" had 7 weeks of night-only rehearsals. You simply cannot get into all that work if you don't believe in it with passion and know what you want from it. And what I want, what I wish, is for the guests to leave from the show smiling and feeling as though they have shared a uniquely wonderful journey.

An audience equipped with "Glow with the Show" ears watches "Disney DREAMS"

AM: I therefore need to ask you: What does Katy Harris smile more at?

  • Seeing the full audience of "DREAMS" lighting up with their "Glow with the Show" ears hats on?

  • Seeing a 4 year-old girl dressed as Snow White cry when her princess bows and knees down at her in the Princess pavilion?
  • Mickey posing with a family?

  • Or the simple wave of hand and blowing a kiss back of a Princess from a float to a girl?

KH: I look at the eyes of the guests. The eyes often tell more than the smile. Looking around when a show is on, I tend to look at where people focus their attention. How they react, what they prefer and how they see everything. Especially for repeat guests, it's nice to know what they like about the show that makes them come back.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

AM: After "DREAMS" you took charge with a small & energetic team and then transformed the Magic Kingdom's previous castle projection show, "The Magic, The Memories and You" to "Celebrate the Magic." Can we expect to see more of your work in Orlando?

KH: "Celebrate the Magic" came straight after "DREAMS." It was conceived from the start as a retooling of the previous show, "The Magic, the Memories, and You." But that project soon took on its own spirit & energy. I was especially pleased to slip a few vintage Disney tributes into that show, such as Walt hand-drawing Mickey and Mickey in his red shorts coming out (something we rarely use in Paris). The show was deliberately conceived so that new segments could easily be added to "Celebrate the Magic." Which is why -- to date -- we've added Summer scenes, Halloween scenes, Christmas scenes and now even a scene from Disney "Frozen" which will be based on that animated film's amazingly powerful new song, "Let It Go." Which we just used here in Paris as part of our "Disney DREAMS of Christmas" shows. That new scene is opening as part of Walt Disney World's castle projection show on November 18th. And I'm flying to Orlando tomorrow morning (Sunday, November 10th) right after we debut all of DLP's new holiday offerings late tonight.

Photo by Andrea Monti

AM: Speaking of which: DLP has a tradition of creating many new seasonal events, second only to Tokyo Disneyland. Paris has always considered Christmas to be one of a high point of its year. What does your new take on Xmas-at-DLP bring to this tradition?

KH: This year, we are debuting a brand-new Christmas tree at the Park (The previous tree was the original one from the 1992 park opening Xmas season) and we have an amazing new LED light system to go with it. Technology, though, is never enough at Disney. And as much as our team developed a state-of-the-art, unique-to-Disneyland-Paris light system, we wrap it all around STORY. Here the story is about sharing the wishes of children under the Christmas tree, a subtle and intimate message that will hopefully play into the hearts of everyone whatever their age is.

With our team, we decided to make a show which, unlike previous versions of the Christmas tree lighting ceremony for Disneyland Paris, could be seen from all around Town Square and even down Main Street through to Central Plaza. A show without floats and characters but driven by the narrating voices of Jiminy Cricket (in English) and Pinocchio (in French). Which would then help children-of-all-ages remember the joy of gathering with their families around a lit-up Christmas tree and all the warmth & joy that the holiday season brings.

Photo by Andrea Monti

Hopefully this "Magical Christmas Wishes" tree lighting ceremony will become an Xmas classic just like the "Believe in Holiday Magic" fireworks show at  Disneyland or how the Osborne Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios have become holiday traditions in the States. We tried to make something for all and placed a lot of love in all those nights developing the tree and its story. I look forward to seeing the faces of our guests when it begins to snow on them. Now onto "Disney DREAMS Of Christmas"

AM: When this new holiday show was first announced, everyone believed that it would just be a tag, a new holiday-themed scenes that would then be added to the existing "DREAMS." Instead DLP wound up with a whole new show. How long did it take to create this from start to finish?

KH: Steve Davison back in California has created this concept which would be shared by World of Color and our Castle. Both shows were developed and the music is shared. But due to the different venues & guest expectations, we very quickly started to create two very different versions of the same show. The message & the spirit of both shows would remain identical, though.

I worked for five weeks in California this past Summer on the animation and testing of the show on models of the castle. Then I came back to Paris in September to start a full seven weeks of night-time rehearsals. I acted as Steven's show director in Paris. Meaning I followed everything on the Paris show, making it unique as I directed the show. Guests will see something very different between the Paris and California shows. We shared a lot of technology and concepts but then Europeanized it. Creating specific elements for the architecture of our incredible castle. We also have fireworks in the Paris show.

AM: This show has Olaf the Snowman from Disney's upcoming "Frozen" acting as narrator, in a role somewhat similar to Peter Pan's shadow in the original "DREAMS." But for the first time ever, Mickey and Minnie are in this castle projection show. There's also that classic piece of animation from "Bambi " where Thumper teaches the Young Prince to slide on the ice. And the Green Army Men from "Toy Story " perform a wonderful funny tribute to Disney's "Fantasia ." Compared to the original version of "DREAMS," this castle projection show has more of a classic feel with more retro material from the Disney vaults. Was this a deliberate choice?

KH: Christmas & Winter are a Disney staple. We all knew in our hearts that those first images of little Prince Bambi learning to slide on the ice or the Dalmatians making their escape across the ice had to be part of the holiday version of "DREAMS." Likewise those scenes from "Lady and the Tramp " which featured Christmas trees. And getting some vintage Mickey and Minnie up on the castle is a great reminder of al the wonderful short films that Walt Disney Animation Studios has produced over the years.

AM: The original version of "DREAMS"  received two new scenes -- "Lion King " and "Brave " replacing "Mary Poppins " and "The Jungle Book ." Can we expect more new scenes to be folded into this castle projection show in the coming years?

KH: That's the beauty of these castle projection shows. They can be changed and improved all the time. A little bit like what Walt used to say about Disneyland, that  it can never be completed as long as there is still imagination -- and projection space, I might add --  left in the world and on the castle (Laughter).

AM: And now for the question that has always been on the DLP fan forums. Is there any chance of a Halloween version of "DREAMS" ? The Disney Villains try to take over the castle every night for 3 minutes and 42 seconds. Might they someday get a whole 22 minute-long show for themselves?

KH: Peter Pan and his shadow do manage to keep the Disney Villains at bay every night. But that is a very interesting series of characters to explore.

AM: "Disney DREAMS Fete Noel / Disney DREAMS of Christmas" is a sister show to Disney California Adventure's "World of Color -- Winter Dreams." How different are these two night-time shows?

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

KH: They share the same concept, heart and spirit. And they do have some scenes -- like the "Toy Story Nutcracker" in common. But the sing-along finale is exclusive to Paris.

AM: Do you anything else that you might like to add to this interview?

KH: Have fun and enjoy DLP's new holiday offerings with all your heart.

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