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Cast Member Spotlight - Dan Pippen (Downtown Disney Operations)

Name: Dan Pippen
Hometown: Plymouth, England
Hire Status: Ex-CM ICP
Role: Operations
Location: Cirque Du Soleil, Downtown Disney

What did your training consist of?
I had 2 jobs: one was a box office host and the other was as an usher, so I had 2 separate weeks of training and 2 weeks of wearing my "Earning My Ears" ribbon! I was trained in the box office first, where my training saw me shadow my trainer for a couple of days, picking up the different aspects of the job, before being let loose myself for the final few days, and the assessment. For my usher job it was a little different. I worked alongside my trainer in the various positions that we work in, progressing through all the different pedestals and curtains (for admitting guests to the theatre). He showed me what to do in the first couple of days, then once we had worked through the different positions, it was time for me to take the lead, with my trainer there to help me if I got stuck.

What did your day to day job consist of?
With Cirque shows being in the evening, my shifts would always be around 16:00-23.30 ish, although the box office sometimes required me to come in for the mornings. If in the box office, my duties would include giving guests any information they needed on the show, helping them choose the right seats if they wanted to buy tickets, as well as providing a ticket collection service for those who had booked online. It was actually a really fun job, it sounds dull just sitting in the office all day, but we made our own fun with each other and the guests, and time would fly by, especially when it got close to show time!

As an usher, the shift was a lot more varied. We'd start by performing pre-show cleaning duties of the lobby and the theatre itself, attend a pre-show meeting to discuss the upcoming performances and if there was anything we needed to know in particular. We'd then admit the guests to the theatre and help get them get seated, and then do the show itself! This would consist of a great many things, and it all depended on which position you found yourself in. Regardless of your position though, you'd be helping to ensure the smooth running of the show, by taking care of guests and meeting your "cues": there were certain points during the show in which we would have to perform certain duties, which were normally when performers would come through the seating areas of the theatre itself, to check everything was clear and ok for the performers to come through. Disney doesn't want any little kids flattened by a bike, you know... After the show was over, we'd say good night to the guests, and then clean the theatre ready for the next show/day. It was a really fun job, which meant we got to see the show for free (which was incredible) and contribute to the success of each performance by keeping everyone safe and making sure everything was ok for the performers to carry out their job.

What did you most enjoy about your job? 
The whole Cirque atmosphere was quite incredible to be in. As an usher, you'd get to see 2 shows a night and get paid for it, which is awesome, seeing as a lot of the guests had paid more than $150 for their seat for one show. It was also incredible to get to know and hang out with the performers. The social side of Cirque was amazing. Regardless of whether you were primarily in the box office or an usher, everyone got to know each other, had a laugh at work, would hang out in the parks on days off, and meet after work on a Saturday night at the Ale House bar for a few drinks. The performers went too, and there was no snobbiness from them and they certainly didn't think they were superior to Disney staff. Everyone got on and had a lot of fun, so whilst the job itself was awesome, the best thing would have to be the people I met and the social side of Cirque.

What was the worst thing about your job?
In the box office, it could be a very long day if you were in for a 9 hour shift over the weekend when there was no show that day. People would ask about tonight's show, then disappear off when we told them the next show was either in 2 days or tomorrow, so we had little to do. Having said that, we made our own fun to make time pass. As an usher, the worst part was definitely the cleaning after a show, especially if kids had dropped their popcorn everywhere, or if their slush puppy had been spilled and had proceeded to solidify on the floor. Those things were not easy to scrape off with only a dustpan and brush...

What magical moments did you perform and what was your favourite?
At Cirque we only had one, which was for the guest during the show who got hauled up onto stage by one of the performers as part of their act. Having survived nearly being run over by a BMX guy accelerating towards him at the speed of light and screeching to a halt mere inches away from his/her head (trust me on this, there was basically no space at all between where the bike stopped and the guests' head, as I was hauled up myself on my last night!), the guest would return to his/her seat, and be provided with a special memento at the end for their part in the show.

What is your best guest memory? 
It's hard to pinpoint an individual moment, as there were several. The best ones were generally when I got to help a guest find their perfect seat in the box office: they often expected me to charge them for the most expensive seat when they asked for a good one, but I was often able to find them a really good seat without breaking the bank, which they were grateful for.

Sometimes guests would show up on a different day for the tickets that they had actually bought...if they were too early it was sometimes a problem if they were flying home the next day, whilst obviously if they were late, they had missed the show altogether. We were allowed to move their tickets to that day's show, so that they could still go. This was amazing, as they were so gutted when they realised they had wasted their money and wouldn't be able to see the show, but this misery soon changed to joy when I was able to sort it for them, which was lovely, as they were so grateful and happy. I loved doing that, and comments like "thank you so so much, you've saved our vacation!" were just the best.

What is your best memory overall?
There are so, so many. I don't even know how to begin with this. There were just so many incredible, hilarious, fun-filled moments with my house and work mates, I honestly don't know if I can pick one...but one that springs to mind was my last day in the States, where I went to see the
show one last time. My work mates had arranged my tickets and put me in the front row (and without my knowledge) asked the performers to choose me to be the guy that gets hauled up on stage. As soon as I found out what seat I was in, I knew what was coming of course...but that didn't prepare me for it! I still sat there dreading it! The moment came, and I really enjoyed it. Cast members aren't allowed to even touch the stage, so to be able to go up on it and actually be a part of a show was just awesome. Not many people can say they've been in a Cirque du Soleil performance, and I was really touched and honoured that my friends and the performers took the time and effort to sort that out for me, and give me an experience I'll never forget!

What have you learned whilst working on the program? 
So much! I've learned infinite amounts about the American people and America in general, some of it good, some not quite so! I've learned what it's like to live abroad, so far away from home and everything that is familiar. It's scary, but so awesome. I've taken a lot from the training Disney provide and the general way they run a business: they really take care of their staff and they definitely showed up my employers from home! Their standards are so high so it's tough to constantly meet them, but at the same time these expectations push you to be the best you can every day. It sounds cliched, but it's true. I learned a lot about myself, other people, America, other cultures and just generally how to live!!

What was the hardest thing about the program?
I guess it took a little bit of time to adjust to a new culture and a new climate, but on the whole the experience wasn't as tough as I expected. I thought that being away from home and friends/family would be really tough and that I'd get homesick, but I was so busy having fun that it didn't impact me too much. I still missed everyone of course, but the fact that I was always with my friends or at work didn't give me a chance to dwell on it at all. I think the program length helped with that too - 3 months flies by. If I was there for a year, it may have been a different story. So on the whole, while the new culture/country, missing home and living with other people was a challenge, I was never depressed or upset, and just had an amazing time.

What was the best thing about the program?
I don't know where to begin with this one. There are just so many things I enjoyed and ways I benefited from my time with Disney. On the work side, I had an amazing job which blew anything I had ever done at home out of the water, got some great training and work skills which I know will help me forge a future career. On the social side, I made some of the best friends you could have, both from the people I lived and hung out with and from work. We'd play in the parks, go out for dinner, have the occasional night out and do all sorts of stuff. It was just a blast.

Is there anything you wish you knew before you started the Disney College Program?
Whilst the accommodation was ok, I was taken off guard a little bit by the basic-ness of the apartment I lived in. I think I was expecting something a little grander, perhaps having been swayed by the Disney videos which glam it all up a bit and gloss over the clunky drawers and the disgusting bathroom. It was fine in the end, but I think knowing that it was going to be very basic and not all shiny and new would have made arriving and settling in a little easier.

Would you do the program again?
Yes, without a doubt, at least on first thoughts...but on second thoughts, no. Don't get me wrong, I had an absolutely incredible time and it was without a doubt the best summer of my life, and it's precisely for that reason that I wouldn't go back. Sounds a bit strange, but it's true. I considered re-applying, and of course it would have been amazing to spend another summer in Florida. Yet at the same time, I had such a good time, and everything was so perfect, I think going back a second time would detract from the first a little.

I had some of the best friends you could ever have, a perfect job and had so, so much fun. It would be impossible for a second program to live up to those standards, I think. Whilst I'm sure it would still be awesome, I just feel that I would be unable to help compare the second program to the first, and without meaning to, think "this isn't as good as last time", which might detract from the experience of being there again. So I'd like to leave my time on the program as a special time in my life, that cannot be lessened by anything. I can't get bored of Florida this way, and the program will stay as a unique once in a lifetime event.

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