My first paying job in high school was as a life guard at a local pool. I was just sixteen, my parents paid for the Red Cross Lifesaving course; I had a vehicle to get back and forth from class. The pool was in my condominium so getting work there was almost guaranteed. I continued to work as a life guard for a few years, even working for my town at their swimming hole (which was a pond more or less, but hey it paid). I decided that I enjoyed helping people and the prospect of saving lives so I thought I might give the town volunteer fire department a try. My father was in the air national guard as a fire/crash rescue person. I mostly heard stories of how they would go for their weekend assignments and party heavily. Sounded like fun to me! It took me months to get up the courage to actually walk into the fire department and apply. I was still a senior in high school, eighteen years of age, so I had to be on the junior fire department. We went through fire fighter one training (I still have my IFSAC FF1 certificate from there) and once I graduated, I was voted on the department as a regular member.
While still in high school, my section leader from marching band asked if I would be willing to help him set up the auditorium for a school show. I was in the drum line (quints to be specific) and I was always willing to help when needed. He was in charge of the lighting for the school (he even had a set of keys to the auditorium, and that was very cool at the time). I continued to assist him, learning all he knew about theatrical lighting that I could. I even found out that we could get paid to set up and run shows for local community organizations! By the time I was a senior I was in charge of the lights, and I was doing work outside of the school making a little money for local theater groups. I would accept any paying job that I could, slowly earning a reputation and branching out to some larger cities. Those who have worked in theater know it’s all about connections. I was getting on the lists of special event companies and even the local IATSE call list (to brag a little I did get to work in Yale Reparatory Theater, which was a big deal to me). After graduation I enrolled into community college, fire science degree, and continued to work in theater. I worked a few summers at Oakdale Theater, a local concert venue, and had the opportunity to meet a few big names in the music industry. I thought this was the path, I knew what I wanted to do in life. I also landed a regular job with another university as a lighting technician. The second semester of college was less than half over; I was getting called more often and was running out of time for schooling. I went for the money, dropped out of college to pursue a career in theater.
The work kept coming, and I was living the dream or so I thought. I rented my own apartment and worked all hours that I could get. I remained active with the fire department (it was too much fun) which was not hard as our training nights were Mondays, when most theaters are dark. Eventually the theater jobs started to dwindle as budgets got tight. I struggled finding work only to relent and get a job in construction. I worked with a small company that performed basement waterproofing. This was not fun, thrilling or even exciting but it did pay the bills, when there was work. I toiled to find the path back to theater and almost got a really good job, full time with Oakdale Theater, who had just built a new venue. I knew the technical director, I thought I was in but I did not get that job. I floundered, wondering where to go from here. The university got a student worker to do my job and the other theaters stopped calling as much.
I had few choices. I had already sent out resumes to jobs in the trade journals, with no replies. I could not compete with other applicants who had degrees in lighting design. The decision was made to move to Florida. I was brazen enough to think I could get a job working for Walt Disney World. I turned in all my fire department equipment and set out for the sunshine state. I did have family that lived in central Florida and a place to stay. I worked for a photography company for a while, hit a few low points in life and took a job with the Southland Corporation, which owns Seven Eleven. Not the job I came to Florida to work, but again it paid and I needed the work. One year later and a few hair follicles less I needed change again. Two years passed since moving and I had not yet applied to Disney. This was my last chance, go or no go I was going to try, I had nothing to lose. I gathered my resume once again, went down to central casting and put in my application.
One week passed, I thought it was a lost cause. Then I got the phone call. Disney wanted me to come down and be interviewed. I think I wanted to be sick, or celebrate I couldn’t decide. I was given a verbal test of lighting equipment and basic theatrical knowledge. They told me that there were no full time spots open, but they had a part-time program through the local IATSE union. The Disney TERP (I don’t remember the full acronym but it was like PRN in the medical field, a temporary as needed employment) program. November 1998 I was officially working in the parks at Disney World. Finally back to the work I enjoyed theater.
As the Christmas season drew to a close I was working six and seven days a week. Management tried to prepare me for the end of the season, warning that there would not be many hours available. In January I learned of a couple of full time positions open at the Magic Kingdom. I applied to one, got beat out once again by a person with a degree. The manager of this area liked me so she passed my resume to the tech manager. After the interview, I was offered the job of Entertainment Technician in the Magic Kingdom. Maybe this was the place where dreams come true? I don’t know how I managed, but I had achieved what many people try, I got a job as a technician at Disney.
January 10, 1999 was my official hire date. I was now a cast member. I sat through my orientation (called traditions) in disbelief. I had the best job in the world. I couldn’t believe that they were paying me to do this job. I was shuffled around a little, which added some tarnish to the idealistic job. Looking back, getting hired was one of the best things that happened to me. I also found a local volunteer fire department to join so I could continue my favorite hobby. In 2000 I met my wife for the first time, who also worked as an entertainment technician. We wouldn’t start dating until late that year, but that’s for another story. Life was good, the normal frustrations of working for a large corporation aside, I enjoyed my job. I had opportunities to do things and see things that no one else would.