I was at Disney World over the weekend, on a familiarization trip with the tour company we use when my band travels. They are great, and I encourage you to give them a try: Educational Tours, from Holt, Michigan. (We were there when the mercury hit 26 degrees – the lowest temperature ever in Orlando. How’s that global warming working out for you?)
Anyway, I’ve taken groups to perform in Orlando since 1990, every two or three years. We’ve worked with Disney Magic Music Days a lot. The folks there are top-notch, and we’ve felt that the educational programs they do have been consistently worthwhile.
My concerns however are with the venues used now for performances. If you take a group to do one of the parades, you’re going to do fine – they still do those as they always have. For concert groups the choice of performance locations is very limited. Several of the old performance venues have been removed over the years. If you have a small group – less than 20 – you might be assigned to the “Cosmic Ray’s” stage in the Magic Kingdom.
The stage is underneath the lounge-piano-playing alien. It’s kind of cool to have your group come up from the floor while they are playing or singing. And – you get to use the tunnel system under the Magic Kingdom to get there, which is very interesting.
Otherwise, most groups are going to be on what used to be called the Dock Stage, now improved with a cover and lighting and renamed the Waterside Stage. It’s across from the big Disney Store at the Disney Marketplace.
I think there’s a disconnect between the WDW corporate entity and Magic Music Days. MMD works hard to provide a quality experience for the kids – and it’s been my experience that they do that.
Unfortunately, due to economic conditions, Disney has done several things that make the experience for kids not as high-quality as it once was. Post-9/11 most of the small performing groups from the parks were eliminated in cost-cutting. The Tuba Quartet, the Barbershop Quartet, the Dixieland group, Future Corps, even the Disney Marching Band in the Magic Kingdom – all were eliminated. “Temporary” stages were removed as well – one tucked back on the southwest corner of Innoventions West, one in Tomorrowland. The old stage back by the Pinocchio restaurant was removed to make room for “Ariel’s Grotto.” The removal of the stages was supposedly somehow related to property tax issues – I don’t know any more about that. The venues were removed, and the performers who used to work with the kids were let go.
The other Disney performance opportunities – the Jazz Festival, the Disney Honors, etc. – are generally set up with performances that don’t take place in the parks at all, and are adjudicated by outside personnel, not Disney performers.
They’ve done a nice job with the stage in the Marketplace. Still, it’s not in a park, and it makes me sad that all those groups, which spend tens of thousands of dollars to go to Disney to perform, can’t perform inside a park any more. I wish something could be done about that.
They are still the best game in town. Universal Studios puts groups out in the CityWalk area, where almost no one will stop and watch them. I don’t know of any way to perform at Sea World or in any of the other attractions in the Orlando area.
As an educator I still recommend the Disney experience. I just have so much respect for what they do that I wish they could make it work so more kids could perform in the parks.