Nothing can keep a Disney cast member down for long, including the gut-punch of furloughs and lay-offs during a global pandemic. Instead, they’re creating businesses of their own.
More than 15,500 Walt Disney World Resort cast members have been laid off or furloughed as the pandemic continues. As part of an exclusive Attractions Magazine series, we’ll shine the spotlight on two more former cast member businesses this week.
Painting on the Glitz
Jan’s son was one of the dueling piano players at Jellyrolls at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort, and as she and her husband visited him over the years they developed a love for Disney that led them to making the move to Florida and becoming cast members themselves.
Her first role, nearly seven years ago, was on the In-Room Celebration (IRC) team at Disney Floral and Gifts. Guests would order a themed package—from princesses and pirates to birthday celebrations, engagements, anniversaries, Halloween, Christmas, and more—and Jan and her teammates would make the magic happen while the guests were out making memories in the parks.
“It was always a surprise for the little Mouseketeers when they returned to their hotel rooms at night,” Jan says. “So many times I wished I could be a fly on the wall to see the children’s faces when they opened the door.”
As she did her job, often with views from guest room windows looking out at Cinderella Castle, Jan became familiar with another branch of Disney Floral and Gifts: the “Basketeers” who assembled themed baskets. After two-and-a-half years with IRC, she transferred to gift baskets and worked her way up to a Designer 2 Basketeer position.
Then, April 2020 arrived, and so did Jan’s furlough. She began painting to keep herself busy. “I painted my dresser, headboard, curio cabinet, and some wooden jewelry boxes. When I ran out of things of my own to paint, I started buying other pieces of furniture to update, [until] I ran out of room for all this furniture. I sold some pieces and people seemed to like my work, so I kept going.” she says.
What began as a distraction soon became a business, and Painting on the Glitz was born. Jan adds “glitz” to pieces of furniture to give them new life, and, as she’s tweaked her techniques along the way, there have been times when the results delighted her so much she couldn’t part with them.
The quality she brings to her work is immediately evident. Each design is one-of-a-kind, from her fairytale-style child’s wardrobe to intricate buffets, dressers, wine racks, jewelry boxes and unique anime or character-themed tables. She also carries jewelry, watches, home goods, purses, bags, and bath and body products on her website.
Her time at Disney taught Jan to “go the extra step, sprinkle some pixie dust, and make the ‘magic,’” and like all cast members starting their own companies, she brings that “special something” to her work that truly does make it magical.
Jan plans to continue to paint when she returns to her role at Walt Disney World. To view her gallery, or to commission or purchase a piece, visit PaintingOnTheGlitz.com, and follow Painting On The Glitz on Facebook.
Jellyrolls at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort isn’t just a fun evening of rollicking entertainment for Walt Disney World guests, it’s also a place Disney cast members flock to, and over time it became the inspiration for the interactive sing-alongs and irresistibly danceable tunes of a brand new company, Piano Party.
Katie began her career with Disney in 2003 as a Tomorrowland Operations cast member, rotating between Alien Encounter Extra TERRORestrial, The Timekeeper, Carousel of Progress, Astro Orbiter, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, and Tomorrowland Transit Authority. Three years later she became a character attendant, and then a PhotoPass Photographer, before landing a role as Casting Director at The American Idol Experience.
In 2015 she separated from the company when The American Idol Experience ended, returning in 2017 as a vocalist for the fabulous “American Music Machine” a cappella group in Epcot. When “American Music Machine” took their final curtain call in September 2017, she was in transition again.
But Katie’s eye had always been on one particular role: that of a singer in the iconic “Voices of Liberty” group at Epcot’s American Adventure pavilion. She had been auditioning every year since 2004, and finally, after her stint with “American Music Machine,” she was offered a position as a “Voices of Liberty” substitute. Her dream had come true.
Just 20 months later, the dream came to a standstill as the global pandemic forced the temporary closure of Walt Disney World Resort and all live entertainment was put on hold.
Katie’s dedication to providing musical celebrations didn’t end, though. She had assembled hundreds of songs she’d been inspired to learn during cast member nights at Jellyrolls and started her own company, Piano Party, providing high-class, high-energy performances for venues as diverse as weddings, cruise ships, conventions and corporate events, holiday parties, fundraisers, and family functions.
During times of quarantine, Piano Party can even organize performances in driveways, back yards, and other socially distanced settings, or as a streaming show.
Katie says, “It’s the greatest job in the world because I get to do what I love—make music—and unite and celebrate with people and make them smile, laugh, dance, and sing together. And I get a great workout every time, because I carry pianos with me all over the place.” (Okay, she admits, that may not be entirely true. She uses a push cart.)
Piano Party specializes in dueling pianos and all-female shows, with the current need for health, safety, and social distancing protocols as a priority, and clients who book a party can choose to bring one or more players to their event. It is also possible to add drums, guitar, or bass guitar, or add a custom song to the party’s line-up. Each performance is unique as participants make song requests from hundreds of tunes from five decades of classics to today’s hottest hits.
Online groups such as Ear For Each Other have provided networks for Central Florida’s newest entrepreneurs to support and inspire each other, but anyone who has been touched by the magic that cast members are well known for making can support them as well. Attractions Magazine will feature cast members’ businesses weekly, so be sure to check back often and seek out these talented people!