BWW Blog: A Theme Park Performer in a Mid-Pandemic World
In the midst of uncertainty looming over our heads thanks to one Mr.COVID-19, I had the opportunity to speak with a recently graduated performer who managed to find work doing what she loves. Juli Biagi graduated Anderson University this year with a BM in Musical Theatre, and now will be performing at Six Flags St. Louis until the end of this year. Juli is not only one of the kindest, most inspiring people I know, but also one of the most talented. Juli caught my attention first with her warmth to myself and the other freshmen two years ago, and then with her captivating performance as Violet in Violet. She has continued to amaze me with her work ethic, natural talents, drive, and professionalism. With these qualities, it is no surprise she was chosen to be a part of an exclusive group of performers at Six Flags St. Louis.
Biagi explained that she traveled to Missouri in February for the MidWest Theatre Auditions, where Six Flags St. Louis was looking for performers to hire. She accepted their offer and is the female swing for the summer shows.
"We have a primary show and a secondary show, and the primary show is a Broadway-style show called "The Joint is Jumpin'" and our secondary show is our 80s rock show. I am covering five girl tracks for both of those shows. So how it works is in the summer at Six Flags, each girl will have a day off and they are staggered, so whenever one girl is out, I'm her for the whole day, and the next day it's somebody different, and so on."
This is Juli's first experience as a swing, but is very optimistic and excited about it. It takes a special person to swing, learning numerous roles in a show and keeping track of each one to jump in when needed.
For rehearsals, she explained that her coworkers and the choreographers are incredibly accommodating toward the swings, letting them jump in whenever they feel they need to run through a track. They also take notes and record rehearsals to better remember choreography and blocking. Rehearsals began June 15th, and the shows opened June 27th, giving the performers about two weeks to learn and put the shows together.
My biggest concern with theme park performance is how hot it must get. Even in the hottest days of the summer, the performers run through their shows, typically outdoors, numerous times each day. I expressed this concern with Biagi, and she explained that the most important things to do are to stay extremely hydrated, drinking between shows as well as the small breaks off stage during shows, and pacing. She noted the importance of figuring out how to perform "all out" without actually exerting the "all out" energy.
Juli also described the precautions the Six Flags performers are taking to prevent exposure or spreading of COVID-19.
"We don't have to rehearse in our masks which is really nice, but as soon as we're not actively singing or dancing we have to wear them. Part of our uniform is the mask Six Flags provided. Even when we are dancing and in our dance clothes we still have to have our mask visibly on us so the people that are in the park know that we are abiding by the rules still. So if we're not eating, drinking, or actively performing, then we have to wear them."
She also explained that they stay six feet away from each other as much as possible in the blocking and choreography and are unable to do partner work. Despite this slight inconvenience, they are still able to have "partners" while not touching or dancing right next to each other. Juli was very grateful and impressed by the choreographer's ability to adapt almost seamlessly to the new protocol.
When asked about how her Musical Theatre education has prepared her for this job, she expressed the importance of music theory and aural composition classes, as they helped her learn vocal parts quickly and efficiently. She received the music before rehearsals started, but did not know what parts she would be singing. She continued,
"Same thing with dance, because I think being around a dance environment frequently can really help you learn how to pick up choreography and learn how to quickly understand the choreographic style of the teacher...and all of the classes about acting through song are really helpful because even if your audience is not super close to you, you still want to be able to give them a show and act out what you're singing and talking about."
Biagi went on to explain one of the most educational parts of her college experience.
"Learning little tricks of the trade from people who have been doing it for a long time and they're now teaching you the wisdom that they've gained from their experience is really helpful...little things like that more than huge things come up all the time where I can apply what I learned to my job."
In concluding our conversation, she provided advice for those interested in performing at theme parks, as well as those who may not even have theme park work on their radar.
"I don't think it's ever too early to start looking into theme park work. Especially if you want to end up in New York one day as I do, how many chances after you graduate are you going to get to work in a theme park before you try to pursue something closer to the realm of New York and live theatre? It pays really well and you get great experience and you get to make connections with people who can help boost your career in the future."
Check Juli out at Six Flags St. Louis between now and the end of December. Not only a dynamite performer, but one of the sweetest, most joy-exuding people I've met. If you can't catch her at Six Flags, I'm sure her name will be up in lights soon enough.