What I love about working in a theme park is that it’s a great place to discover yourself. Maybe you have several interests that you’d like to dabble in, but nothing in particular strikes your fancy. The experience provides dozens, if not hundreds of opportunities for you to develop and find something you are passionate about. No matter what you decide to pursue, working in a theme park, even for just a summer, will change your life.
Take my buddy Elliot Hansen, who is a perfect example. Elliot started his journey on the Walt Disney College Program as a Cast Member at the now defunct Fantasyland Skyway. While he liked working in attractions, he was lukewarm at best having to physically stop those buckets from flying into the station. With a little hesitation, he decided to extend his program and asked for a spieling attraction and ended up at The World Famous Jungle Cruise.
If you’ve never done it before, there is something exhilarating and terrifying about having to deliver a 10-minute spiel to a boatload of tourists every 10 minutes. For better or worse, you are the star of the show, and after a while you get the patter down and learn how to time your jokes just right so that they can seem actually seem funny. Over a period of several months of doing this over and over, you develop your own style, you take on a new persona and most importantly, gain some self confidence that you never knew you had. All Walt Disney World College Programmers go through a graduation ceremony of sorts, and while Elliot was attending his, he became fascinated with the DJ who had been hired to take care of the music for the event. After watching the DJ for a few hours and asking a few questions, he knew what the next step was that he wanted to take in his life.
Strangely enough, he dabbled in this field while he was in college. Elliot was a projectionist at a local movie theater near the college he attended in Texas. While doing the gig, he became known as the guy with dozens of movie soundtracks and other random geeky music in his collection and he was asked to DJ at an annual field day. While he was working the event, an intern for Clear Channel Communications saw him behind the turntables and asked if he would be interested in interning for the company as a radio DJ. He quickly discovered that the corporate world of radio disc jockeying was not for him. It included way too much red tape and not enough freedom to do what you wanted. However, when he saw DJ Scooter DJing a WDW College Program event, things instantly changed. He was not working directly for Disney, so he had control of the set list and he could develop his own material. So he started asking around to see if he could get a DJ gig at Walt Disney World. While some people wouldn’t give him the time of day, others became somewhat of a mentor for him, seeing that he was dedicated to the cause.
A few months later, Elliot got his first gig at The Boardwalk’s Atlantic Dance Hall. Technically, it took place outside the Dance Hall. Many years ago, before the doors opened for the adults to go inside, Disney’s Boardwalk hosted a children’s dance party in front of the club to try and draw attention to the Dance Hall. Don’t remember it? Me neither. It didn’t last very long, but it got Elliot the most important thing you can get in this business: Experience and getting your foot in the door.
Years later, DJ Elliot is now in high demand in Central Florida. You can find him behind the laptop at many weddings, corporate events, on Disney Cruise Line and even character dance parties at Walt Disney World. The guy is all over the place, from the Playhouse Disney Dance Party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to the Waterside Stage at Downtown Disney to special events like Disney’s Unleash the Villains event last year at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Without question, what I love most about the theme parks is no matter who you talk to that has been in the business a while, they all have some wonderful stories about working in the trenches that are bizarre, fascinating or hilarious – often all three. Since Elliot has been working in Orlando theme parks for over 15 years now, the guy has definitely got some doozies.
Take, for example, the year that the Liberty Belle Riverboat was turned into a party cruise for one of Disney’s last Grad Night celebrations. During the day, the boat is a leisurely trip through the Rivers of America and usually has anywhere from 50 to 150 guests on board for each 20-minute trip. However, for Grad Nights on this particular year, the boat was decked out with special lighting, fog and DJ Elliot cranking up top 40’s tunes from the bow of the ship. It’s also worth mentioning that these party cruises literally made the Riverboat the most popular attraction in the park, with waits over two hours for most of the night.
Every single cruise was completely packed with over 400 high school seniors using the Liberty Belle as one giant night club on the water. During one cruise in particular, Elliot looked out into the water and notices the boat isn’t moving and seems to be stuck. He glances over and sees the paddlewheel spinning feverishly in the rear of the ship, but the boat has stopped completely. After doing a double take, he realized that nearly every senior was at the front of the boat. This made the bow of the ship sink further down and literally lifted the paddlewheel out of the water! Being the professional that he was, he asked the seniors to spread the party out a little, evening the load, and the Liberty Belle eventually made it back to dock. However, that was a first for an attraction that is hardly ever filled to capacity and will probably never happen again!
Then there was the time where he was the DJ at the Waterfront Stage at Downtown Disney. A rather large that doubles as space for Disney’s Magic Music Days where school band or chorus groups can play during the day. However for one guy and a laptop, it’s extremely roomy. One night, a woman in her thirties, by herself, decides to hop up on stage and starts dancing. Oddly enough, there is a protocol for this sort of thing and DJ Elliot does exactly what he was trained to do. First, he politely thanks her for showing everyone that she’s a swell dancer and tries to get her to leave via a round of applause. She doesn’t budge. He then gets the kids involved who are at the foot of the stage to convince her to come down and dance with them. No dice. He then tells this dancing fool that for her own safety, she needs to leave the stage and plays a pre-recorded message to help reinforce that in the most “Disney” way possible.
Not only does she stay put, she tells Elliot that until he can produce the “deed” to The Waterfront Stage, then he has no right to tell her to do anything. With no deed available for “proof,” he shuts off the music and has the tech in the booth call security. Roughly 15 minutes later, a proud member of the “Disney Blue” arrives and they physically escort the woman from the stage. After hearing about the debacle, Elliot’s boss printed up a bogus copy of the “deed” to the Downtown Disney Waterside Stage. Just in case you’ve ever walked past that stage and wondered, “I wondered who actually owns that?” well, now you know!
Finally, there was Elliot’s first encounter with George Lucas. Over the years, he has become known as Disney’s go-to-DJ for Star Wars weekends for his unique Star Wars movie soundtrack mixes that fans gobble up. For Star Wars Celebration 5, it was a huge year. Jon Stewart was going to interview George Lucas live onstage at the Orange County Convention Center. To pump up the crowd while they were waiting/being seated, DJ Elliot played some tunes while Mark Daniel did his warm up comedy routine for the crowd in the Chapin Theater. After they wrap up, Elliot feeling the adrenaline in the room, runs off stage and right into George Lucas at full speed. He literally almost knocked the guy over. George, being the cool guy he is, laughed about it and commended Elliot on the job he did and then went on stage and the rest is history.
Make no mistake about it; Elliot Hansen is a geek just like pretty much anyone else who reads Theme Park University. However this “nerd,” thanks to his unique soundtrack mixes, now gets flown around the world to DJ Star Wars fan events. He has rubbed elbows with just about every Star Wars celebrity there is and even has hung out with hosts of the events like Seth Green and Warwick Davis. Suck on that, nerds!
DJ Elliot continues to do his thing all around Walt Disney World and beyond. He will be at Star Wars Weekends yet again this year. So the next time you see “DJ Lobot,” now you’ll know a little more about how that bald geek behind those turntables. To book Elliot Hansen for your next event, or just to see what he’s up to visit his webpage at www.DJElliot.com!