BWW Interviews: Playwright and Actor Trevor Allen Talks About His One Man Show, 'Working for the Mouse'
Everyone dreams of being a prince or princess, or some Disney character. Trevor Allen lived that dream for four years as a college student playing various Disney characters at Disneyland, but he experienced a very different Disney than the one people see at the movies or in Fantasy Land. Now, years later, he gives theatre goers a behind the scenes look at Disneyland and the people who play its characters in his play "Working for the Mouse," which returns to EXIT Theatre in San Francisco this fall.
Trevor says he plays about a dozen different characters in the one-man show. It takes a lot of energy, but he gets an adrenaline rush from his audience and the stage lights. Trevor sat down with Broadway World to talk about the play, his Disney favorites, the Disney rules, his experience as a Disney character, and his book-in-progress based on the play.
Read the full interview below.
Let's start off with the fun questions. You aspired to play Peter Pan at Disneyland. So, do you still love Peter Pan?
I think I still love the idea of Peter Pan — you know, eternal youth, a boy who never has to grow up — but as far as the actual playing Peter Pan as a character in Disneyland, I think I outgrew that a long time ago. As far as just the idea of being a kid and running around having adventures, I don't think we ever outgrow that.
Who would you say is your favorite Disney character now?
At the time, it certainly was Peter Pan or Robin Hood. I think the Mad Hatter is still kind of a real soft spot in my heart.
I watched one of your clips, and I love your Mad Hatter impression.
I appreciate it. It's funny, I worked all the time on a dead-on Ed Wynn impersonation. Ed Wynn was the actor who plays the voiceover in the animated film. But the odd thing about that was, we were actually discouraged doing a full Ed Wynn in the park, because it's very difficult to understand, and honestly, it's very difficult to maintain for eight hours a day, especially if you have to project to a large audience, and oftentimes we did, storytelling or in the course of running around the park with a lot of background noise. So, finishing, it's kind of a hybrid, it's certainly closer to Ed Wynn than to, I think, even the voice of the part.
Do you have a favorite character to play or that you enjoy impersonating to friends?
It's funny. On any given day, it could change. As much as I loved being Pluto, that costume was really hot, and the way the head was worn, it would bury down on my neck and my back muscles. But that was fun because people instantly knew who you were. And they didn't ask you to talk. But because Pluto was a dog, even in the cartoon he didn't talk. That was great. But as far as some of the characters I played, I really enjoyed playing Smee — he was the pirate sidekick to Captain Hook in Peter Pan. He wore a mask, and so he didn't speak, but it was a wonderful, lightweight costume.
Essentially what you're doing is running around doing mimes all day, and the gloves that you got to wear were actual like mime gloves with five fingers, which is a big thing because a lot of the cartoons, the animated films, all had three fingers and a thumb, and depending on which costume you were in, you had to sort of bunch up your fingers in one way or the other. You got finger cramps by the end of the day.
What about a favorite Disney film?
Well, Peter Pan, but honestly, I watched some of the obscure ones growing up. Like a live action film called Black Hole came out in the early 80s, late 70s. As far as the animated films, I really like Robin Hood. It was just a strange take on who Robin Hood is, so that was always fun.
They explained to me when I got hired to be a Disney character and I found out that I was too tall to be Robin Hood. I'd never been too tall for anything in my life. And for them to say, "No, no. You have to be five foot one," it's like oh, I hadn't even thought about that. Well, OK, that makes sense, cuz standing next to Little John. And I said, OK, I can be Little John. Well, you have to be over six feet tall. Uh. OK. What about the Prince? No, you have to be about five foot nine. Well, what's left? Well, you're five, five, how bout Friar Tuck? OK. That was fun.
Favorite Disney park ride?
I haven't been back in years. At Disneyland, itself, I would have to say, as a kid I really loved the Peter Pan ride. Partly because it was one of the few dark rides and it was flying. The whole ride was, you were on a flying pirate ship, the whole ride is below you. You'd be flying over London, Neverland. As a kid, that was magical.
So, tell me a bit about your show.
[When the play came out,] it was kind of ground breaking. It really pushed a lot of buttons. Since then, I've had a lot of people who absolutely love Disney. They've come to see the show, and they've loved it.
I play about a dozen different characters, and it's really my coming of age story, working at Disneyland in the late 90s while I was in the theatre department at UCLA. It's the bitter-sweet, comic, laugh your ass off, it's irreverent, and yet it's not... just isn't bashing. It's all over the map.
There's a sad story about a Make a Wish kid who's terminally ill and comes to the park. That was the reality of it for those of us in the costume. [We] got to see the tragedy unfolding every day. We'd get a post card or a picture thanking us, and then we'd find out that the child had not lived. So that's in there. But for the most part it's an accomplishment. A surreal... it was a really surreal experience being a character at Disneyland.
When you go to work someplace and the magician takes you behind the curtain and shows you how the magic is done, it's a very different experience. We would have a mother or a father bring a child backstage, and there we were with our heads off and, you know, doing what people do on their breaks backstage when they think nobody's looking, smoking cigarettes, using foul language, you know, they weren't supposed to. And then the child would do what the child would do. I kind of put myself into the shoes of this poor child having an experience that shouldn't be altered by walking through the curtain and seeing that this is all a facade. That's essentially, you know, a microcosm of what my experience was like the four years that I worked there. I'm just realizing, it's a job like anywhere else. It's the happiest place on earth, and yet, if you're working there making minimum wage, sweating, being kicked and hit and pinched and poked — it's not the most magical place. That seems like wonderful fodder to talk about. It's a storytelling exercise, and this whole show has grown out of that.
So, it's very different behind the scenes. I know in your show you mention sex and drugs. That gives a lot of the humor to your show, but not necessarily in a kid-friendly, happiest-place-on-earth way. I'm curious how Disney has responded to your play.
Well, they haven't. It's like the silence is deafening. I've been on TV. I've been on radio. I've obviously been reviewed many times, and the show's played many different years. And people I know that have worked for Disney have come to see the show, and it's funny because they'll ask the same question: "Oh my gosh, aren't you afraid they're gonna come down and splosh you?" And the answer is, well, I want to say that it's a friendship. Since then, I've talked to an intellectual properties lawyer and found out what I can say and what I can't say. My attitude is, sorry, I'm an artist. F*** them if they can't take a joke. Honestly, my fear is not that they'll ever sue me or come after me or tell me that I can't say anything. It's that they really don't give a s*** and that they're trying to not call attention to it because they want it to go away.
I've heard that Disney has cameras, and that when you come to work there, they monitor every move employees make to be sure that you smile and are always happy and in the Disney mood. Is that true?
It's funny, my wife has pointed out to me that the show that I'm doing and, you know, all of my references, is essentially a period piece now. When I worked there, Reagan was still president. So, everything I have to say about what they were like then may or may not be true now. I suspect it hasn't changed. But for the most part, yea, you had to smile, had to be squeaky clean.
It was a little odd, because men's hairstyles, you got a lot of people that Disney hired and they had long hair, they even had mullets and basically had to cut their hair and had to look a certain way. They had to shave, they had to be clean-shaven, they... you know, it was like the Eisenhower era had been like re-inflated inside the bubble of Magic Kingdom. And the honest thing about that was, OK, I had to be shaven, even though I was in Pluto and nobody knew me. So, yea, you know, just about everything you've heard, good or bad, is true to a greater or lesser degree because there are rules there. There's a right way and a wrong way, and there's the Disney way. It was a very odd, surreal work experience. But I loved it. I really did love it.
And now you're reliving that on stage. It's a one man show. That takes a lot of energy. How do you do that day after day? And where do you get the energy from?
It's amazing what a deadline will do to you, and adrenaline. When the lights come up and the audience is waiting for you to tell a story, the energy is there. I'm older now, which is fun because when I first started doing this show I was only five or six years out of it, so I was playing a younger version of myself, which I wasn't that much different. But I'm playing a younger version of myself and I'm playing several other characters.
It's matured. I don't have that manic energy all the time. I get more tired now. I couldn't do two shows a day, every day. But for the most part, you know, it is a demanding thing. It's very difficult because a lot of it is replicating stuff I did when I was a teenager over 20 years ago. But, for the most part, it's the concentration and really just looking into what the audience is giving back, and that's just a great adrenaline rush. I lived it. So it's really fun to get up there and share that. So many people have been to the same place that I was and have seen literally the same costumes that I was in. You know, honestly, if you were there in '88, '89 I'm probably in your photo album.
Trevor is currently working on a book version of the show that will include three to four hours' worth of extra content not in the show. He said he is open to the idea of doing a longer version of the show or to taking the show on tour, as well as to the possibility of a movie version, although he hasn't received any offers.
Working for the Mouse runs November 3 to December 17 at the EXIT Theatre in San Francisco. Tickets are $20 in advance and $22 at the door, with a $15 preview performance on November 3. Visit http://workingforthemouse.com/ for more details and for tickets.