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Cast Member Corner: The Art of the Deal ... er ... Spiel

Cast Member Corner: The Art of the Deal ... er ... Spiel

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Well, we clearly seem to have struck a nerve with our new "Cast Member Corner" feature here at JimHillMedia.com. For Disney employees from all the globe have begun tossing e-mails my way, offering to share tales of their trials and tribulations inside the Disney theme park.

Today's story comes from Shawn Cleaves, a former WDW Jungle Skipper and Disney-MGM Studios Tour Guide (1990-1993). Cleaves was also the creator, writer, and sole proprietor of the long-since-defunct www.junglecruise.com, which was a Jungle Skipper Alumni website. But Shawn hopes to have a new, more general Cast Alumni site up on the Web sometime this year. (Be sure to give me a "heads up," Shawn once your new website has gone live. I'd be happy to let you use JHM to help promote the thing.)

Anyway ... in his JimHillMedia.com debut column, Cleaves refers back to the story that started it all. That "Cast Members at DAK's Kilimanjaro Safari don't think that WDW management is being very fair-i to them" article that ran back on this website back on February 14th.

What's Shawn's take on this whole situation? Here, read for yourself ...


As a former WDW Jungle Spieler, I can sympathize with the plight of [that] Kilimanjaro driver. As a former WDW C.A.S.T. (Cast Activities Support Team) flunky, I can sympathize with those that can't. There's been a lot of ideas tossed around here lately about types of cast members and lengths of what we called in the jungle 'Tours of Duty.' But one thing that nobody's mentioned so far is geography.

Let me explain: to a native Central Floridian who's grown up with WDW just down the street, getting a job there is like getting a job at McDonald's. To a wide-eyed farm-boy from the rural midwest (like myself), moving to Orlando to work for Disney is a big, big deal. This simple geographic fact can answer a lot of the 'who has the spirit and who doesn't' argument. That said, let me explore it another way:

There are many types of art in our world, perhaps today more than ever. New mediums take shape, and old ones are changed by technology. For example, photography is much different now than in Ansel Adams' day. Of course, not all art is visual. Music. Comedy. The Jungle Spiel.

"Wait a minute," they say in the back, "the Jungle Spiel? Art?"

Well, the skipper has his backdrop (the Jungle), his canvas (the guests) and his paints (the spiel and his personality). Just as a painter is limited by the colors on his palette and the size of his canvas (no phallic jokes, please), so is the Skipper limited by guest reaction, non-moving scenery, and the skeleton of a pun-laden, cornball, SOP spiel. The true artist can work within the medium and still create great art. So can a good Jungle Skipper - I've seen it done. And I've done it.

But this isn't really about the art of the Jungle spiel, it's about the value of art. Moreover, the cost of art. We all know that many, many notable painters and writers and artists have died in poverty. Is there a more common cliché to describe one who creates art but can't pay his bills than 'the starving artist?' So what does the 'starving artist' do? He either gets by, does what he has to, tightens his belt, and continues his art - or he quits, gets a real job making real money, and leaves part of himself behind in the growth process.

You can see by now where I'm going with this. Say all you want about magic and lost little girls and parade families and guest satisfaction and 'Disney Moments,' but it all boils down to one small, simple, bare-bones fact of life: You can't eat pixie dust, and 'Magical Moments' do not pay the rent. Period.

There comes a time in every cast member's life, young or old, 15-year-pin or 1, three-day-traditions grad or half-day dropout, when he has to decide if being poor (yes, I said it) is worth being part of the magic. If it is, that's great - you get to stay. There's no other life like it, and kudos to you! But if it's not, you leave. No part-time, (you'll only torture yourself), no seasonal (you'll need that vacation from your real job). Stop working there as a cast member and you'll soon be able to visit as a guest. If you don't want to be poor, if you don't want to struggle to pay your bills, then don't be a cast member. Very, very simple.

Now - do the Kilimanjaro drivers deserve entertainment pay? Absolutely, and so did the Jungle Skippers during my 'Tour of Duty' fifteen years ago when the EXACT SAME ARGUMENTS were taking place. Should they then audition people for the role? Of course they should. That's entertainment. We had some terrible Skippers, and I'm sure there are some terrible Kilimanjaro drivers (you know who you are). Will that extra money in the Kilimanjaro drivers' pocket save him from financial ruin? Sorry, no. It won't. See above.

My heart goes out to the Kilimanjaro drivers and the Jungle Skippers and all the other spieling attractions hosts and hostesses who know their entertainment value - but only a little, for your choice to continue in the face of the facts is your choice. I couldn't do it, and I still hate myself for it a little bit every day. But my kids and my wife need clothes and food, and work as an attractions host won't cut it, especially at Orlando prices. I wish I was right back with you guys down there, I really do.

So if you can stay, and if you want to, then -- by God -- stay and be proud. But if you can't take the wage, can't stand the heat, and you're only there because it's 'a job,' then let me direct you to the classified section of the "Orlando Sentinel" where you'll find many more 'jobs' with a lot higher pay.

And a lot less spieling.

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