Honor Among Beasts
One of my favorite memories from working at Di$neyland was in between shows on Saturday night. We were just about to start the third of the five shows and one of the character leads came backstage and asked me if I’d be willing to stay in costume right after the show for a quick “Meet and Greet” (photo op/autograph signing) with a Make-A-Wish kid. Apparently, the in-park Bea$t shift had already ended, it had been a hard day for them to get there to the park, and it was this kids wish to meet the Bea$t. They were in the audience for the “Beauty and the Bea$t Live” show and would be escorted “backstage” next to Videopolis Stage.
“Sure”, I said. I was honored to be asked to be a part of a dying child’s wish. The live show was only 23 minutes long, but I knew I’d be huffing like a freight train by the end of it. I had a fight with Gaston at the end before I duck off stage during the transformation. I figured I would stand in front of a fan with the costume partially open for the last song and cool off a bit. Hopefully I wouldn’t be breathing too loud by the time we were to go meet the kid.
This probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, but we were only supposed to be in costume for 30min tops. Those fur suits are pretty hot inside, to the tune of around twenty degrees hotter than the ambient temperature, and it was the middle of summer after all. So by the time the show had ended I would have been in costume for a little over half an hour. I was technically too short for the costume, but God blessed me with a height of 6′1 and 1/2 which was literally right on the line between Goofy and Jafar. (They kept measuring me but it didn’t change. Ha!)
I was standing in front of the fan at the end of the show when show “Belle” came over to me. “You ready?” A lot of people didn’t realize that the dancers were all wearing microphones and were really singing along with a chorus track but Belle, Gaston and the Le Fue were singing solos for real... by themselves... without a backup track. So, singing and dancing for five shows in the summer was real work.
“Absolutely. Are you going too?” She nodded. ‘That’s sweet,’ I thought and she zipped my costume back up. She was an union actor and not even in the character department (which doesn’t exist BTW;) so she wasn’t under any obligation to help out. And technically she hadn’t gone through the “face character” schooling on how to interact with the park guests, so I’m sure the character lead didn’t ask her to help out.
The backstage area was actually two double wide mobile homes up on risers with wooden steps off the side to get down to the access road. Not even remotely glamorous - probably a good thing it was so dark. She led me down the stairs because there are almost no lights back there just the one bulb at the top of the wood stairs on the wardrobe side of the trailer. She made sure I didn’t catch my horns on the doorway because it’s hard to see out of some of the costumes in the light of day - let alone full dark.
We greeted the family who had just finished watching the show and Belle, still in character, immediately began chatting up the child in his reclining wheelchair, and his parents. She convinced him that it’s safe for me to hold his hand and kiss him on the head.
When the door to the trailer bangs open and here comes Cogsworth clomping down the stairs. He was followed by Lumiere, who had to be carried down the stairs by the wardrobe techs because the costume legs are too short and he didn’t want break character. The family is crying by this point and trying to take pictures. He’d only asked for the Bea$t and he’d gotten four for the price of one. Then Chip and Mrs. Potts came around the trailer as they had to traverse the ramp between the two doublewides because they didn’t fit through the trailer doors, followed by a couple of the dancing silverware, Gaston, Le Fue, and townspeople. All of them in full costume, all of them in character, and all of them wanting to hug, take pictures and hold the little boys hand. All of them giving up their rest time before the next show. It was the only time we get a chance to cool off, get a drink of water, and use the restroom.
At this point I am balling like a little girl inside of my costume. And I was not alone as many of us were sniffling, surrounded by all of these beautiful people giving love to this child that they didn’t even know. All of them taking the opportunity to be extraordinary that night. We all stayed out there until they called places for the next show.
Even now, I tear up remembering that night. My heart feels so big and full of love for my fellow humans. I wish I could have seen those pictures, something like fifty people out there - wardrobe, crew, cast and this one little boy with his family getting their wish many times over. No one else has pictures like that, no one.
We heard later on that evening that he passed away as they were on their way out of the park. But the family wanted to send their gratitude and thanks and wanted us to know how much it meant to him.
And I would say to that family, “Trust me, the honor was ours.” And maybe one day I’ll get the chance to see him again, give him a hug without all that fur in the way, and let him tell me the story of that night.
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