For my STEP Signature Project, I chose to take a trip to Anaheim, California to experience, research, and capture the essence of The Walt Disney Company. I chose to go to Anaheim, for I have already been to Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL and Disney Theatrical in New York City; the experience was guaranteed to be daunting, exciting, and fresh. Throughout the trip, I documented my experience through photography, speaking with cast members, and making note of significant cornerstones of The Walt Disney Company that exist in Disneyland.
When I first came up with the idea of traveling to California for my STEP Project, I first saw it as a creative endeavor; I thought that I would start a blog detailing all things Disney: its history, why people find it so endearing, it’s current developments. However, in the time leading up to the trip, I started to see it as a networking opportunity. In the time between proposing my project and venturing off to California, I was in the midst of adding a major, figuring out that my passions did not quite align with the degrees I was obtaining. I decided to change the scope of my project to better fit my needs. So, with some daunting cold emails and a few finicky Google searches, I had set up meetings with two Disney executives in Research and Development and a Guest Experience Manager at Disneyland.
I thought, in the time leading up to my trip, that I would be enthralled with the details of Los Angeles’ tourism, Disneyland’s attraction, and Disney’s guest experiences. However, I found myself thinking about the history of Los Angeles and Disneyland more than anything. It was also, during this trip, that irony struck a note, for I found out while in Disneyland that I was officially going to be a dramaturg for Heathers: The Musical. The mix of me noticing my change in thinking and me receiving this news made it very evident that I needed to ultimately declare my Theatre major and start looking into Research and Development and Dramaturgy. My thinking was only solidified upon talking to the executives from Disney, for I knew I was more intrigued with both the “How?” and the “Why?” rather than with just the “How?”
Prior to this trip, I had never been West of the Mississippi River. I knew going into my STEP Project that I would have to look at California from a different perspective, for, to make it in certain sectors of the entertainment industry, I would have to consider living in Los Angeles or the surrounding areas. I don’t want to say that I was disappointed; rather, I was more underwhelmed, quickly realizing that I like the hustle and bustle environment of cities like Chicago and New York. This is not to say that I did not enjoy California, for it was genuinely beautiful, historic, and inspiring as a future member of the professional arts community. I could just sense, as cliché as it may seem, from landing at LAX to driving to Anaheim to exploring Hollywood that I did not belong. This aspect of the trip perhaps framed my experience and my transformation, as I immediately started thinking of career prospects in New York City, London, and elsewhere.
An unexpected but worthwhile segment of my trip was exploring Hollywood. While, of course, I did tourist activities such as seeing the Hollywood Sign and walking down Sunset Boulevard, I found myself more intrigued with subtle details of my “tourist” day. For example, I paid attention to the commute, despising LA’s traffic but enjoying the lack of humidity and the beautiful weather. I found myself surprised by the mountains surrounding the city, the sand and dust covering the walkways to the Hollywood sign, and the congested nature of certain areas of the city. A highlight of this day, though, was adventuring in Santa Monica, ultimately ending up at The Santa Monica Pier. A key moment of this adventure was reading up on the history of the pier at Bubba Gump’s, taking pictures of the iconic Route 66 sign, and realizing that the pier was an iconic piece of Forrest Gump.
Finally, the largest part of my trip was rooted in all things Disney. Whether speaking with executives, exploring certain attractions, talking to cast members, and experiencing traditional elements of the world of Disney, I was enamored with the history and the dedication to guest experience that the Walt Disney Company possessed. As someone who has dreamed about working for Disney her entire life, I had dreamed of the moment when I would finally walk down the original Main Stress U.S.A., and the moment did not disappoint. Whenever I spoke to a cast member, I explained that it was my first trip and that I was using it to connect with the roots of Disney to hopefully figure out which aspect of the company I was passionate about. The smiles that grew on their faces were really motivating, and many shared similar stories. If anything, these conversations, along with the conversations I had with the Disney executives I connected with, proved to me that ultimately, Disney is an experience, with roots of imagination, creativity, and positivity.
A fun part of this trip was the timing: Disney’s annual Halloween event was occurring at the same time, allowing me to experience an intensely planned Disney event. As someone who has been interested in event planning, I was thrilled to experience this event to its full capacity. I was able to witness the transition of the park from its normal day-to-day operation to its full-fledged Halloween beauty. There were many cool elements to this event. For example, Disney has an entire area devoted to La Dia de Los Muertos, full of interactive activities, flowers, memorials, and history. I loved seeing these elements in the park, for it truly showed the wide scope The Walt Disney Company has developed.
While this trip was fun and educational, it ultimately led me to really decide that I love asking questions. I love researching the roots of things, the history, the “why?” I discovered that while planning a trip is fun, it is not a career I could delve into. I learned that being an Imagineer is a career that spans many different disciplines, which was comforting for someone who took years to decide a major due to an array of interests. The trip I was able to take as a result of my STEP Project has led me down a path to a career area I’m thrilled and inspired to be a part of. I cannot wait to take the skills I have learned, the experiences I have gathered, and the passions I solidified into my grasp as I help educate about creativity and its benefits and utilize a strong informational background to develop new programs for those interested in the arts. And, hopefully, in the future, I will be standing in the feet of the many cast members and few executives I met, looking towards a bright, imaginative future that was all started by a mouse.