Friday, June 23, 2006

Driven to post some Disney before I drive




The Performers at Disney/MGM Studios stunt show live fast....but play it safe
Walt Disney World Resort is aptly named - truly a "world" unto itself. The hotels, theme parks, and surroundings employ thousands of people both in front of and behind the scenes. Those jobs may involve operating rides, planning menus, tending gardens ... or perhaps falling from high buildings, driving on two wheels, or getting set on fire. EDITOR'S NOTE: WOW. THIS SOUNDS JUST LIKE HOW IT FELT WORKING AT THE EVIL AD AGENCY!

Those last few are all part of a day's work for the crew of the Lights! Motor! Action! Extreme Stunt Show at Disney/MGM Studios park.

It's a thrill a minute in Lights! Motor! Action!

For three shows a day, every day of the week, the performers trot out their motorcycles, stunt cars, and jet-skis for a pulse-pounding adventure that leaves audiences gasping and cheering.

We spoke to some of the performers who make the show spectacular, to find out what "just another day at the office" is like when your office is a stunt arena.

Kurt Hockenberry and Alan D'Antoni are both precision drivers and stunt assists in the show - they trade off the roles of "hero," "reverse hero" (for which they drive special "backwards cars," in which the driver sits facing the rear and drives in reverse), and "bad guy no. 3."

Kurt describes a typical day on the job: "We start off the day by doing a warm-up for all vehicles - that includes cars, motorcyles, and jet-skis. Safety is number one, and we can't have a vehicle out there that's not performing properly. We do jumps, we drive cars on two wheels, and motorcycle jumps as well, so we have to make sure that they're properly maintained.

Mechanics are there in the garage making sure that everything is working correctly. We warm up and then we prepare for the show. Then we take a break and the technicians come out to prepare. They set up the fire extinguishers and they have their own choreography with the pyrotechnics and fire and propane. We do three shows. The first two shows have the same drivers in the same roles, and then in the third show we switch roles."

The show includes jaw-dropping stunts, all of them performed before a live audience with no room for error.

"We do five-forties, we have a burning man, we do a high-fall ..." Alan tells us.

Huh, what? The stunt world has a language of its own, we discover.

Translated, that means the cars do controlled spins that involve one-and-a-half rotations, for 540 degrees; a "burning man" is a performer in a special flame suit who slides through a wall of fire and emerges engulfed in flames;EDITOR'S NOTE: IN THE AD BIZ, WE CALL THIS PERSON A 'MEDIA BUYER'. EXCEPT, IN ADVERTISING, THEY DON'T USUALLY GET THE PROTECTIVE SUIT. and a high-fall is what it sounds like - someone plunges from a 35-foot drop to land on an inflatable mattress below.

This is all in addition to the ramp jumps, two-wheel driving, and swerves that bring swerving cars within six inches of each other.

From the audience, it looks incredible. It also looks - well, extremely dangerous.

However, Alan says, safety is the first concern. "Disney has just taken every precaution that they can, they're very good about that. But we took six months before we even opened the show, preparing. Part of that was just getting to learn the cars and the stunt choreography and get a feel for it. The cars are set up with safety features, from a roll cage to fire suppression to even the clothing we wear, which is designed as much as possible to be foolproof.

He adds, "One thing that puts it in perspective for people is that we have to perform the show three times a day, 365 days a year without fail."

The stunt show also looks like a lot of just plain thrilling fun - and that, Kurt says, is no illusion.

Alan tells us "It's just so much fun to get in there. You're given the freedom to get into this $100-plus thousand car, it's amazing equipped to do these tricks and just go out and have fun. And it's legal!"

"We've had racecar drivers come to our set - Michael Schumacher, one of the Andrettis, and some others," adds Kurt. "And they've come up to us after the show and said ‘You guys have the best job. We're riding around a racetrack at 200 miles an hour, but we always want to do what you're doing! How lucky are you?' That's kind of cool."

However, Kurt says, the best part of his job comes after the show - "the opportunity to go out and see the little kids and sign autographs. I remember when I was little I used to go to air shows and watch the Blue Angels, and I was just star-struck when I saw them standing next to their planes in their flight suits. It's sort of the same thing for these little kids. You come up to them after the show, and their eyes are so big. It really warms you up!"

And it's that enthusiasm for seeing a Guest smile that sets Disney castmembers apart - whether they're vending balloons, manning the desk at a Disney hotel, or, in this case, leaping through a wall of flames on a custom motorcycle. EDITOR'S NOTE: GOSH, YOU HARDLY NEED TO DRINK THE COOLAID TO BECOME A BELIEVER, HUH? (YEAH...IT'S A PR FLUFF PIECE, BUT STILL INTERESTING).


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