• Jeanne Marie

Walt Disney World’s Equity Entertainment Gutted as 92% of Performers are Laid-off

Another mass lay-off took place last week at Walt Disney World as performers who were part of the Actors Equity Association were notified that they had been let go on Tuesday, October 27. Only 60 equity performers remain of the 780 employed at Walt Disney World, according to the associations’ press release, leaving even more performers facing, not only a newly founded financial struggle but also a physical and emotional impact from not being able to constantly participate in their art forms.

This news follows an announcement made on September 29 by Josh D’Amaro, the chairman of Disney’s Parks, Experiences, and Products, that the company had made the decision to lay off about 28,000 of its cast members.

Masked & face-shielded Cast Member, Katelyn, poses with Mickey Mouse bubble wand in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom on October 28, 2020.

In the following weeks' individuals from across Walt Disney World property, including many entertainment cast members who were not part of the Actors Equity Association, such as parade performers, character performers, and band performers, were notified that they were being let go or transferred into other lines of business within the company.

This most recent wave of entertainment layoffs focused on those performers that brought to life shows and characters such as Finding Nemo The Musical and the Citizens of Hollywood, leaving many of Walt Disney World’s well-loved shows, along with the future of its’ live entertainment hanging in limbo since Disney has not yet announced any permanent show closures.

According to the Actors’ Equity Association statement, equity performers will be able to be recalled to Disney until 2021. However, it is unknown what may be required of these performers when recalled, such as re-auditioning, if some of these performers may lose their equity contracts if not able to pay dues from being laid off, or when these shows may return to Disney parks property.

Informative sign placed just inside the entrance to Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

Bettina Buckley, the Vice President of Walt Disney World Resort’s live entertainment wrote in a statement on Disney Parks Blog that the decision of when and what shows could return would rely on “guidance of health officials and government agencies”.

With so many factors outside of laid-off individuals’ control, many performers face both the effects of general job loss as well as the effects of not participating in their art forms.

According to a report created for Psychiatric Quarterly, unemployment can increase individuals’ feelings of “distress and depression” as they attempt to cope with their job loss.

On top of this natural distress, these performers are losing a position that allows them to consistently participate in activities that keep them both physically and mentally in shape.

A study published in Palestrica of the Third Millennium Civilization & Sport, tells that moderate physical activity done regularly has a positive effect on mental health.

The same concept holds true for participating in an art form. A study called Art for mental health’s sake shows that after 6 months of participating in an art form, individuals had significant increases in feelings of empowerment, general life well-being scored by the Clinical Outcomes in Routine Evaluation measure, and social inclusion.

Losing a performing arts job puts individuals in jeopardy of losing their financial security, benefits of consistent physical activity, and mental health benefits of participating in an art form.

However, performers are not alone in facing these effects. Studies determining factors that can help individuals cope with job loss in healthy ways and individuals have put together resources for laid-off cast members can help them cope with the life change they're experiencing.

A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that “Active Coping, Planning, Emotional Support, Social Support, Re-evaluation, Acceptance and Self-distraction” allow individuals to take control of a situation that feels uncontrollable and create “active coping strategies” in order to help change their employment status.

Cast Member Pantry, Disney Cast Members Pay it Forward, and Unite Here’s Response to COVID-19’s resource page, and are just a few examples of how communities are hoping to help and support every cast member feeling the effects of these layoffs.

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