Student relishes time at ‘most magical place on earth’

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Priscilla Olson of Jasper is currently living out one of her dreams.

Olson

The 19-year-old University of Alabama sophomore is participating in the Disney College Program, a highly competitive internship program.

More than 50,000 students apply worldwide and about 5,000 are actually accepted. Of that, about 200 make it into the entertainment sector of the program.

Priscilla is one of those students.

With the support of her family — dad Richard, mom Lauri and sister Charlotte — and friends, Priscilla is working at Magic Kingdom in Florida.

She started Aug. 6 and her time there will conclude Jan. 3.

She’s a character performer, but as part of her contract, she’s not allowed to divulge which characters she portrays, but she is allowed to share which characters she hangs out with.

Priscilla shared what the experience has been like so far.

How did you get involved with the Disney College Program?

This entire journey started back in 2015 when my dance studio, Dance Central Academy of Performing Arts, decided to take a trip to Walt Disney World to perform at Disney Springs. While I was down here in Disney as a junior in high school, I started asking several cast members questions about numerous opportunities on how I can eventually work at Disney. They told me about a program called the Disney College Program. This program is offered to college students to come down to Disney to work for a semester. Some students take off school to solely focus on the program and other students like myself take online classes through their university. This program offers students the opportunity to gain valuable academically-oriented work experience.

Why did you decide to pursue this?

Disney since a young age has always held a special place in my heart. While growing up I always loved Disney movies and have had a connection to my favorite characters. After finding out about the program in 2015, I knew the moment I was entering college that I wanted to do the program. I originally intended to apply for the program spring of 2019 but my friend insisted I apply with her because I may not get in the first time around. Most people do not get in the first time they apply because of how competitive the program is. Over 50,000 students worldwide apply and about 5,000 get in and out of that 5,000, only 200 make it into entertainment. I am very fortunate and blessed to be able to get into the program as a freshman as well as applying on my first time around.

The process of applying for this internship took several months. I first filled out an application with my resume and then got moved to complete an online question application. ... After the phone interview I waited patiently to hear back about getting accepted or not. I got accepted into a merchandise role then auditioned later in Atlanta for a character performer.

What kinds of things do you do as part of the program?

As part of the program, besides the perks, I work 30 to 40 hours a week. I was able to get into the last Disney Heritage class to learn about the traditions that Disney offers. I can also attend workshops, classes and seminars to get familiar with the Disney atmosphere. I do a variety of different things to learn about how things work within the industry of entertainment.

The perks of the program include attending housing events, visiting the parks with free admission, participating in an event called Dapper Day and attending special appearances, such as watching the filming of The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration featured on Christmas morning.

Did you have to go through any training or extensive preparation to become a character performer?

Becoming a character performer, I had to audition for this role on top of getting accepted into the program. I hang out with several characters, including Mr. Smee, Mrs. Incredible, Jessie and Doc the Dwarf.

Although this is pretty confidential, I had to go through several weeks of training until I finally had my debut day. Training was very intensive with long hours and a lot of information. My role is so much fun but it also can be physically demanding.  

Have you met other interesting people who are also in this program? Do you room with any people from other places?

I have met a lot of people from all around the United States as well as the world. I live with five other roommates from different part of the United States as well as one from a different country.

My roommates are from Mississippi, Michigan, Ohio, Georgia and New Zealand. I live in one out of the four Disney complexes that Disney offers to us. All of my roommates have truly become my best friends. We all have gotten really close by living together and going to the parks with each other on our days off. We all have very different roles so it’s nice to come home and listen to each other after a long day or [if we’re] simply [needing] advice.

Can you tell me about any fun encounters or performances you’ve had so far?

One of the best experiences I have had is when I was hanging out with Mr. Smee. I witnessed a little girl walk up to Mr. Smee in a Tinker Bell costume and whispered in his ear and said, “Mr. Smee, you are my favorite,” and then gave him a huge hug. Throughout the night the little girl dressed up as Tinker Bell would always be around Mr. Smee instead of Captain Hook. On the way down to the dock, the little girl started singing, “Yo ho yo ho a pirate’s life for smee” to Mr. Smee. The little girl and Mr. Smee were also skipping and holding hands down the dock until the little girl boarded the boat. That was the first moment I witnessed a character and a little girl both create magic for one another.

What’s the most challenging part of this job?

The most challenging part of this job is the Florida heat as well as the mental and physical toll. The heat is often very exhausting, so the intake of a lot of water is a must. The mental toll of guests trying to ruin the magic when my role is about creating and keeping the magic alive can sometimes be a challenge. I always try to find different ways to overcome these challenges within my job.

Now that you are working “behind the scenes,” what have you learned about the process that goes into making Walt Disney the most fun place on earth?

Although it is pretty confidential, working behind scenes, I have learned and witnessed a lot of exciting things that goes into Disney. Everything Disney does is intentional and anything Disney wants to make happen will happen. Even though I am a cast member and know a lot about behind scenes it still does not ruin the magic for me, it just makes me appreciate it even more.

Disney is very detail-oriented and making sure every aspect is perfect, from meeting your favorite character, watching a parade and even attending special ticket events. The amount of hard work and care the cast members have about Disney is truly inspiring.

What lessons do you think you will take away from this experience?

The lessons that I will take away from this experience are quite a lot. I have learned to always be kind to those creating the magic because there is a lot of hard work and dedication that goes on behind the scenes. Also, I have understood to always give my 100 percent in all aspects of my life. Moving to Florida has taught me to grow up faster and become a more responsible adult because of living on my own and working a full-time job. Working at Disney, they teach their cast members a variety of people skills, such as making direct eye contact and having clear communication with guests. Lastly, I have been educated on how safety begins with me and everyone else. All of these lessons will apply to my future endeavors through anything I do because of the core values Disney teaches their cast members.

Do you think you could work at Disney as a full-time job?

Absolutely, yes! I would love to become a full-time cast member after I graduate from college.

I love my job and the atmosphere of Disney. I appreciate and respect the core value that Disney offers to their cast members. ... All of my passions are here in Disney, so I will be able to push myself and find out more about myself working for the Disney Company.




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