This was 70% pipe dream, 30% end-of-college panic. I'm a big Disney fan, so “Disney jobs” was a common Google search as my senior year drew to a close. When I found out there would be a character audition in NYC right before my graduation, it felt like a sign. After all, pretending to be a Disney princess was a lifelong pastime for me. To my 21-year-old self, terrified of reality and desperate for a change, getting paid for it seemed too good to be true. And it totally was!
The Disney princesses are a big deal. The ladies who don those costumes have a huge responsibility, and they know it. I was five when I first met Cinderella in the Magic Kingdom. I remember waiting in line, growing more and more scared because I had no clue what to say to her. What could possibly be good enough? This was Cinderella. She had a castle with her name on it; I had thick glasses and a speech impediment. All the mouse ears in the world did not qualify me to talk to Cinderella. But when my turn came, she talked to me. She asked me questions, she gave me a hug, and for that small moment, she made me feel special. Like she knew me and had been waiting for me to say hi.
That makes a BIG impression on a kid. 20 years later, I still remember how awesome it felt. The idea of being able to give that experience to others helped the idea grow from a “wouldn’t-it-be-funny” joke with my roommate to an actual goal. The fact that it didn’t go well had nothing to do with my passion for Disney. In fact, if jobs could be acquired through passion alone, I would be running the Disney Company by now.
People think that because I’m a big fan and know a lot about Disney movies, I had a good shot at getting a part. They assume (as I did) that the audition process involved answering trivia questions or reciting famous quotes. So naturally, they’re always surprised to hear I didn’t even make the first cut. Especially since, when they ask why, I say, “Too tall.”
I’m 5’7. That is just about the tallest a Disney princess can be. I’m not sure how hard and fast this rule is, because I distinctly remember hearing that 5’8 was the cut off, while a good friend of mine—who used to work for Disney—told me it was 5’6. Either way, 5’7 is pushing it. When I showed up at the audition center, I was the tallest person there. They were also casting Peter Pan that day, so this includes the boys. I felt (and probably looked) like Dorothy in Munchkinland. Luckily, a guy showed up who towered over me, so when the time came I didn’t stand out too much. (I’m pretty sure this guy was eventually cast as Goofy, because he was basically Goofy in human form).
As much as I love to blame my height, the fact of the matter is I was not that good in the audition. I was self-conscious and reserved. I never forgot there were people there judging me. This insecurity began when we were sectioned off into groups to wait until to be called. As I waited, I talked with the other girls in my group. This was absolutely my favorite part of the experience. Some of these girls looked eerily like the real deal. One girl had hair exactly like Sleeping Beauty’s. Exactly. It was actually a little scary. Sleeping Beauty has long blond hair, divided into perfect sections with perfect curls at the bottom. It’s a stylized design. It’s not supposed to exist in real life, and I never thought it could, but this girl had it. It took every ounce of will power not to touch it. Fortunately, I remembered I was no longer five-years-old. Grown-ups do not touch a stranger's hair.
Another girl was Belle. Seriously. She was tall and lithe with brown hair, appropriately worn in a ponytail, and big brown eyes. She even sounded a little like Belle. I wish I could say she treated us like furniture because that joke writes itself, but no. Like Belle, she was very sweet. And graceful. Ugh. When I was a kid, I imitated Belle’s walk (she walks with her toes out like a ballerina), and it never looked right because I was not graceful. This girl, appropriately, was a dancer so she had that nice easy calm. Belle reeks of calm. She asked me if I was hoping for Ariel because I have red hair. When I said I’d take anything, she laughed and said it doesn't matter because they plop a wig on you anyway. I laughed back like I knew what she was talking about.
During this conversation, one of the would-be Peter Pans stuck his head in to reveal some unpleasant details about the job. It’s worth noting I was not auditioning to be a character in the theme park, but on the cruise, and he wanted to make sure we knew it sucked. Maybe he was trying to talk us out of wanting the job so he’d have a better chance, but since we were all there for different roles, I don’t see the point of that. He also swore profusely and said a lot of mean things about his former co-stars (he had been Peter Pan before). I didn’t like that. This was supposed to be Disney, after all, and such behavior is supposed to be UN-Disney. The idea that Disney was like everywhere else (but pretending not to be) left a bad taste in my mouth.
For the sake of mental imagery, please remember that from the outside, this looked like Peter Pan actually talking to Belle and Sleeping Beauty. Or more appropriately, to three Belles, two Sleeping Beauties, two Cinderellas, and one really tall redhead.
It was at this point that I realized I was a lovely snowball on the express elevator to hell. Except for a handful of intrepid school plays, I didn’t have a theater background. I had never auditioned for Broadway. I couldn’t do a jump kick. I wasn’t even really an actor. I was a writer who did a good Snow White impression. Even before I was called, I knew I wasn’t getting it, and contrary to everything Disney had taught me, no amount of wishing would make it otherwise.
When the time came for the actual audition, they piled several groups into a room (the usual kind with the boarded floor and the giant mirror) and told us to “pretend to greet a family, paying special attention to the child / children and take a picture.” All in manner of seconds. We all did it at the same time and then they divided us up into groups of five and did it again. I was not good. I’m awkward at auditions. I get self-conscious and overly critical. I think if I did it now, with a ton of Improv training and experience under my belt, it would be a lot better, but back then, I was not good.
Also at this point, I really didn’t want it anymore. That sounds like a cop-out, but it’s true. Here I was surrounded by people who were trained and experienced. Maybe they were Disney fans, maybe they weren’t. I didn’t know because it didn’t matter; for them, it was a job interview like any other. They took it seriously on a whole other level, and I no longer felt like I belonged there. The longer I stayed there, the more I wished I were home writing. This is the standard of measurement by which I judge everything. “At the end of the day, would I rather be writing?” I know you don’t have to have scads of training to succeed, and surely, anyone who wants to audition for something should, but I discovered that for me, being a Disney princess is better left to the imagination.
So I did not make the first cut. Sleeping Beauty Hair didn’t either. Belle did, but that was a given. What happened to Peter Pan is anyone’s guess. If he developed a drug addiction and started rehab before the audition ended, it would not have surprised me. I moved back to New Jersey, became a telemarketer, and did a lot of writing. Life went in a different direction. I regret nothing. It was still a crazy cool experience, and now I get to play the occasional drunk princess in comedy shows.
But if anyone asks, it’s because I was too tall.