Across Walt Disney World Resort, entertainment offerings that feature equity actors like Savi’s Workshop and “Finding Nemo – The Musical” are temporarily unavailable. Some of these actors are now speaking out against their union, expressing their desire to return to work.
The union in question is the Actors’ Equity Association, which represents about 750 performers at Walt Disney World, including those in “Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage,” “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular,” and more.
According to a statement shared by the union, Disney announced plans to bring back their equity actors for rehearsals on June 23, 2020. On June 25, Actors’ Equity made a public statement that actors must be tested for COVID-19 because they cannot practice social distancing, and Disney would not permit the actors to wear face masks. The following day, on June 26, Walt Disney World rescinded all of its recall notices for its equity actors. It is worth noting that testing for COVID-19 is not part of Walt Disney World’s reopening plan for any of their cast members.
As reported by The New York Times, a spokesperson for Disney Parks and Experiences said that the resort would “move forward with [the] phased reopening without [Equity] participation.” This statement appeared to be put into action with the debut of “Feathered Friends in Flight,” a modified version of the bird show “UP! A Great Bird Adventure” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom — without its equity actor performing the role of Troop Leader Jones. (The costumed characters for Dug and Russell were also removed from the show, but they are not represented by Actors’ Equity.)
As a result, Actors’ Equity has since filed a grievance against Disney for “retaliating against members” over the Equity’s demands. You can read the grievance on the Actors’ Equity Association website.
This change has made many of the equity performers fear for the future of their jobs, and they are now asking their union to stand down in order for them to return to work.
Mark Daniel, an equity actor at Disney’s Hollywood Studios that you might recognize from Disney Parks Blog’s “Inside Disney Parks,” as well as the Indiana Jones stunt show and more, shared his solidarity with those wanting to return to work in a public post on his personal Facebook page.
“I am very afraid of losing my job, my role, and my stage forever. Not just for me, but all of my fellow actors as well,” said Daniel. “Although these safety conditions aren’t ideal, I personally feel safe to return to work with the protocols Disney has put in place, and I also believe […] that my fellow cast members will work together to insure the safety of those of us that aren’t able to wear protective face coverings while performing.”
In an article published by The Wall Street Journal, Billy Flanigan, a performer in “Finding Nemo – The Musical,” shares these fears. “If they don’t bring my show back, I could be out of a job,” he said.
The group of Equity members who wish to return to work shared a statement with The Wall Street Journal, saying, “While we appreciate our union’s efforts on our behalf, we strongly believe that Disney has taken the necessary safety precautions for a phase one reopening, and that we deserve a voice in the assessment of these new protocols.”
We have reached out to Disney for comment on the situation, but have not received a response at this time. As of now, there are no announced plans for equity performers to return to work and resume their entertainment offerings.
“I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but at this moment I believe Walt Disney World is the safest workplace available to us right now,” said Daniel.
UPDATE: Many of the singers and actors have put together a video to show how they feel safe at Disney.
“This video represents those of us who feel safe to go back to work under the safety protocols laid out by Disney. Our original intention was to send it to Disney leadership as well as AEA to convey our personal feelings. It was not meant for the public, although the thought of sharing it as a celebration when we were finally able to go back to work was a possibility we spoke about. We are aware that not all members agree with us, and we don’t claim to speak for everyone but the public and aggressive social media action taken by AEA does not reflect all of its’ represented members and those cast members were not consulted prior to them being carried out. We now feel that we deserve to have our voices heard as well”
Here’s the video. You may recognize a few of the faces: