The battle between Actors Equity Association and Walt Disney World has come to an end. For months, the sticking point has been that the company provide COVID-19 testing for actors and singers who are asked to perform without a mask at various Walt Disney World shows. The question is, will actors return to Walt Disney World anytime soon?
First, it’s important to note that the Walt Disney Company said that the new COVID-19 testing site is not a result of negotiations with any one union. As a matter of fact, the new drive-thru area is for not only employees, but their families, operating participants and even local residents.
Second, Disney has made a statement saying the new testing facility is to support all cast and the community, not just one union. Naturally, this is most likely referring to Actors Equity Association. Regardless, this clears the path for actors to return to Walt Disney World. The question is, when will that happen?
Actors and singers returning to work comes down to two factors: safety and business need. In terms of safety, most shows can be reworked where actors remain six feet (or more) apart. You can also rework choreography where dancers are more spread out.
However, in many of these cases, the audience is the issue, not so much the performers. For example, it becomes difficult for streetmosphere actors to spread groups apart while doing a routine on the streets of a theme park. Human nature is to watch these performances next to each other.
On the other hand, a show like Hoop De Doo over at Fort Wilderness becomes a different animal entirely. You can spread out tables to socially distance guests, but most of the show takes place in and around the audience. Can it be reworked? Of course it can, but at what cost?
Demand becomes the other, potentially bigger, issue. As we move into the fall season and schools (virtual or in person) start back up, you have to ask: why pay for extra labor when attendance will most definitely shrink? As it stands now, Disney has already reduced park hours for the fall and it’s possible more cuts will be made.
The one exception could be Disney’s Hollywood Studios entertainment. That park relies heavily on very large theaters such as Frozen Sing-A-Long, Beauty and The Beast (which already has a temporary show) and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. Opening up some of those theaters could let several thousand more people in the park per day. Those increased labor costs would be most likely offset by guests spending more on per cap spending like dining and merchandise.
In conclusion, I would expect most actors at Walt Disney World to remain on furlough for the foreseeable future. Most likely it will be a gradual ramp up, but not until attendance increases. Your thoughts?
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