Feature: Zackary Scot Wolfe Talks about Managing the Theatre at the Theme Park at Seaworld San Diego

"You have to be an amazing dancer or performer,  but you also have to do a next to a sea lion or you're doing it on a mile-long route during the parade.”

By: Nov. 25, 2023
Feature: Zackary Scot Wolfe Talks about Managing the Theatre at the Theme Park at Seaworld San Diego
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It is oft quoted that “all the world is a stage”, but somehow I don’t think that Shakespeare could have predicted that some of the most enduring places to see theatre would be in theme parks where your costars might be sea lions or otters.   It may not be the first place that springs to mind when you think about theatre, but children and adults alike are enjoying theatre every time they sit in a seat at a theme park, and watch the performers act, sing, and dance. Zackary Scot Wolfe, SeaWorld San Diego’s Creative, Shows and Talent Entertainment Manager tells us what it takes to put together live shows, parades, and more in a place where theatre is one of the attractions.

Zackary Scot Wolfe brings a wealth of performance experience to his role at SeaWorld, having performed on San Diego stages from The Old Globe, San Diego Musical Theatre, New Village Arts, and he won the Outstanding Lead Performance award from the San Diego Critics Circle for his role in AVENUE Q  in 2018.  He also has been a performer at Seaworld for many years, so his combination of professional theatre performance experience along with the unique performance perspective at SeaWorld makes him uniquely qualified to take on the role of Creative, Shows, and Talent Entertainment Manager.  

The position is a sort of hybrid between a typical theatre artistic director or executive producer role but also has to look at things beyond the individual hows like parades, firework schedules, and working with animals and their trainers.

“There are a lot of different show elements that we're not really used to, like a pool, a trainer, and a sea lion, involved in a show. Or even things not as intense as live animals, but also working something like Sesame Place.“

Sesame Place, a Sesame Street-themed park is running  “A Very Furry Christmas at Sesame Place” which is a family-friendly celebration with everyone’s favorite Sesame Street friends. Overseeing that workshop and studio requires a lot of specificity to make sure it’s maintaining the continuity of those characters. 

“Typically in theatre, we have a little bit more creative freedom to kind of do what we want when we're putting up a show and, you know, I want the set to look like this instead of the way they did it originally and so on and so forth.  With something like Sesame Place, that's not always the case.  Sometimes you have to contemplate, is this something that Big Bird would do?”

While summer is the highest tourist season, there are always events throughout the year.  This means that Wolfe always has the future in mind, as he plans six months to a year ahead for what's coming up next. From sets, performers, and music, all the way to fireworks and city permits, Wolfe is involved in the planning, but thanks to his team he isn’t doing it alone.

“We do fireworks every single night of summer at SeaWorld.  We have a new fireworks show, but we have to get the permits a minimum of 10 months out. So for something like that production always is pretty much going for every event all throughout the year.

I have a really big and really great team and I have some counterparts as well. So where I focus on creative and shows, I have an entertainment operations counterpart and technical counterpart and we divide and conquer all the things.

So I wouldn't apply for the permit for fireworks, but I would pick the name and make the music for the firework show and then work with the firework designers.”

This all started for Zackary when he came to SeaWorld as a performer in the Sea Lion and Otter show.  The highly comedic show involves dancing, improv, scripted segments, and of course Sea Lions and Otters.  Wolfe isn’t the only professional performer who has made the role of Biff his own, some other notable performers include Geno Carr, who was part of the original cast of COME FROM AWAY, as well as most recently Berto Fernández who just finished playing Peron in Cygnet Theatre’s EVITA.  Many San Diego performers have called the SeaWorld stage home, underscoring the commitment to bringing high-caliber performances every day.

After a couple of years away from the park, Wolfe says that returning to SeaWorld to reevaluate and revamp Biff and The Sea Lion and Otter Show, writing a new show, scheduling rehearsals, and tech was a creative challenge he couldn’t resist.

While there is not an average lifespan for the shows, they have some core shows that include the Dolphin Show, the Sea Lion and Otter Show, and others that Wolfe oversees and keeps fresh as needed.  Overseeing humans can be complicated enough, not to mention the animal and animal trainer component that he gets to incorporate. Just like any other performer, you look at what they can do and figure out how to incorporate it.

You make an animal show the same way that you would make a stunt show. When you make one of those shows, you start with the stunts and kind of work backward as opposed to starting with an idea and a storyline and then filling in your blocking and your choreography.

With an animal show, we know what behaviors these animals are doing naturally in the wild that they do all the time, and that they're trained to do, and that's kind of where we start. 

We plan around what the animals can do and their safety level and their health level and comfort abilities."

There can be as many as one hundred and ten performers, including everyone in a costume or character from the stage to the parades when all of the shows and parades are in full swing. With so much theatrical talent in San Diego, it means the talent you see in the park shows is the real deal.

“I've gotta tell you, our callbacks they're not for the faint of heart. Our audition process is pretty hard, you have got to have the stuff.

These performers are absolutely amazing because there are more elements here - so you have to be an amazing dancer or performer,  but you also have to do a next to a sea lion or you're doing it on a mile-long route during the parade.”

Wolfe doesn’t have a favorite animal that he has worked with or at least won’t admit to having one but based on his time performing with them, he says he is most comfortable with sea lions and otters.

Sea lions are funny, they're just naturally funny in the way that they walk, and the way that they bark. You know they're such beautiful, smart animals.  The otters are  little rascals for sure, but they're really sweethearts.”

This year also saw the premier of some summer shows like “Pirates Ahoy! The Battle for Mermaid Cove” which featured pirates, swashbuckling, mermaids, and explosions on a 40-foot pirate ship that sails through the bay.

They also have Rescue JR, which celebrates that SeaWorld has rescued and rehabilitated over 40,000 animals and educates and encourages kids and people of all ages to be the next generation of animal rescue heroes.

Working on these shows, and building a team to work with him on these performances is something that Zackary finds incredibly rewarding about his role. Everything leads back to highlighting the education about these animals, rescue efforts, and 

It's very fun for me personally and that I could creatively write these musicals and write the theme song for a new land or do stuff with guests and you know to write and conceptualize all those fun entertainment ideas for a guest.

But it's cool because the reason why we're doing it is for our rescue efforts.

I have a really really big team and that's something that we we talk about a lot when it's on their first day or their first week. I usually try to organize some type of animal meet up, or we're going to go and hang out with the rescue team or the veterinarians for a little bit so it really sinks in like why we're doing this.”

Wolfe incorporates some of the lessons he’s learned in San Diego theatre rehearsal rooms to ensure that his performers all feel supported in their craft outside of the park as well.

“We do a memo board in our office if anyone's in a show outside of Seaworld - put up your show information because we all want to go see it.

I've learned really great theatre lessons from positive role models in my life throughout my career that I can take what I love that they do and bring it here.”

You can see the talented cast of performers, shows, and more at SeaWorld year-round.  Currently, they have a SeaWorld San Diego’s Christmas Celebration, which features a parade, snow in San Diego, and lots of spectacle, just don’t forget to tell the otter “Happy Holidays”. 

Photo Credit: Zackary Scot Wolfe


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