In this essay, we argue that the experience of being at Disney theme parks in COVID times was a waking version of what is sometimes called “The Actor’s Nightmare.” Due to safety regulations, theme parks either dropped live entertainment that structures the day as a show with a clear beginning and end (e.g. park-opening rope drop performances, and the fireworks), attempted to include references to COVID in live entertainment (like in
the Frozen Ever After singalong, which added some COVID jokes), or to ignore it (like the Festival of the Lion King). In any case, due to these measures the narrative story of a theme park visit crumbles and the often-cited difference between a “theme park” and an “amusement park” disintegrates: the dissolution of structure provokes anxiety and unease in guests, especially those with previous park experience; the silencing of audiences that had previously been scripted to participate similarly creates a form of narrative anxiety, as both park and tourist no longer knew what story they were telling, or how best to tell it. Disney’s dramaturgical choices in COVID times reveal the extent to which the narrative structure of a theme park visit, the participation of the theme park visitors, and the distinction between “theme park” and “amusement park” rely on live entertainment.
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Kokai, Jennifer A. and Robson, Tom
"Disney during COVID-19: The tourist and the actor’s nightmare,"
Journal of Themed Experience and Attractions Studies: Vol. 2:
1, Article 5.
Available at: https://stars.library.ucf.edu/jteas/vol2/iss1/5