DISNEY STARS ON PARADE: Interview with the Show Producer, Astrid Gomez

We’ve been looking forward to it for almost two years now. Disney Stars on Parade is finally back at Disneyland Paris! Astrid Gomez, producer of this iconic show at Disneyland Park, tells us more about this major event.

Before talking about its comeback, can you remind us of the history of Disney Stars on Parade?

It was created in 2017, for our 25th anniversary, the theme of which was “stars in their eyes”, so, in other words, the stars that you can see shining in the eyes of someone you love when they are happy or amazed. These are truly magical moments. That is why we wanted to celebrate the most cherished, starry moments of life in our own way with this parade, which brings together Walt Disney’s great classics, so Peter Pan, The Lion King and Toy Story, [AL1]  and also more recent masterpieces like Frozen. And, of course, Mickey and his friends will also be onboard an incredible float straight from the Steampunk world, with a spyglass aiming towards the stars, in keeping with our main theme.

At that time, you were working on this parade as Production Manager. What did you like about this project?

What I liked was the idea of a journey through all these stories that have been adapted in line with Steampunk style, which recalls the spirit of discovery and elegance of Discoveryland – that is something that has never been seen before and which gives this journey a completely new vibe. Take the Peter Pan “Discover the Imagination” float for instance, which is an invitation to have fun. And a few floats later, the mood suddenly grows sombre with the entrance of the terrifying dragon in its heroic fight against Prince Philip. It’s truly amazing, particularly as practically all of our floats are connected and have a lot of details onboard.

And then there is the soundtrack. It was Mark Hammond who wrote these very original arrangements, which combine music and sound effects specific to each float against a background motif they all share. A real work of art.

What has been your role in the return of this parade?

As Show Producer, my role is like that of the conductor of the orchestra, who implements all the different aspects of this project in collaboration with all the departments involved, be they operational or artistic. In 2016, I had the opportunity to join the production team responsible for creating this parade, who had been working on it since 2015. Because we were starting from scratch we had to create everything. It was a great adventure, shared by a team of over one hundred people, and a great collaboration with our partners in the US.

When this production was resumed, it was an honour and a real pleasure to return this time as Show Producer. To be able to bring it back, almost two years after it was stopped, is like reliving what we experienced when it was launched. It also means passing the experience gained from its initial launch on to the new team that helped me set up this project, and being able to make some improvements.

Yes indeed, what changes have been made?

Some changes are the result of an artistic desire while others are due to the current restrictions. When you start a project again, you look back over it to see what worked well and what could be improved. In this case, due to the health situation, we had to take certain practical aspects into account, for instance distancing between the performers along the entire route. We had to take a second look at some of the choreographies while ensuring they were in line with the story on each float. As for the characters, we felt that that Geppetto should join Pinocchio on the opening float as that made more sense. We also discussed the problem of three Princess carriages and came up with the idea of having the well-known “Dreams of Love” float instead. This meant they were at a height where they are easier to see for everyone. And it also meant we were able to have other Princesses join in, such as Tiana and Merida, who were not part of the parade previously.

Some changes are still being made. For the “Discover a New World” float with Crush, there will be performers on the ground, which gives an even more dramatic effect, and we are working on improvements for this float with a little surprise in store in early March. And that’s all I’m telling you for now!

The return of the parade would not be possible if it were not for the work carried out and innovations made by Disneyland Paris, which has adapted over the last two years to the health requirements we are all familiar with.

Absolutely. Our priority is the well-being of our Cast Members and guests. That is why we are committed to implementing all the solutions we have been given by our Prevention Department to operate under the best conditions, be that in rest areas, preparation areas or in the Park. We have also tried out many new things. For example, our guests loved our selfie spots with Disney Characters.

And when it comes to the parade, we know from experience that it is a highlight of the day at Disneyland Paris. So bringing it back was, at the same time, a concern and a challenge. It took a lot of preparation to make sure that everyone can enjoy it under the best conditions. The success of Mickey’s Dazzling Christmas Parade showed that it was possible and that the magic could indeed go on while complying with the preventative measures. So we used the same principles for Disney Stars on Parade.

How was the comeback prepared?

We started working on it before the summer, but rehearsals began in December. We had a very strong base of in-house performers who had already taken part in the first showing of our parade, who were very fond of it and couldn’t wait to be able to resume their role. Additional performers were recruited just after the summer for Mickey’s Dazzling Christmas Parade and were able, at the same time, to join in the Disney Stars on Parade rehearsals to perform other roles. The challenge was making these two projects work together, particularly in terms of schedule. But in the end, everything worked out well. The performers and creators were over the moon to start working again for this great occasion.

When you started at Disneyland Paris, you took part in the parade as a performer. How has this experience helped you today in your new role?

Many great memories come to mind when I attend rehearsals. I really admire parade performers.[AL2] It is a demanding but exciting job and I have a lot of respect for what they do. Having been in their shoes one day gives me a better understanding of what they undergo on a daily basis: the importance of having a costume that keeps you warm in the winter and lets you breathe in summer, good shoes that hold your ankle well for dancing and even having accessories of the right weight. As a producer, these are points that are of particular interest to me. For example, we have started testing shoes. We ask the dance captains to use them and wear them out to make sure they are comfortable over a long period of time. And we do the same with costumes. There is always something to improve. And as for logistics and organisation, thanks to having been Team Leader and Parade 1, I am lucky to be very familiar with the challenges of preparing a group of more than one hundred performers. This allows me to better understand their needs, particularly at a time when distancing is essential, both in the Park and backstage. This means finding solutions with them so that preparations run smoothly, whether in terms of ventilating the premises or the schedule.

How many performers are there in a production like Disney Stars on Parade in total?

There are about 102 performers every time the parade makes it appearance, representing a group of more than 300 performers, some with just one role and others with two. That’s a big group which involves a lot of logistics. And in parallel, we have more than 150 people working daily behind the scenes so that this show can take place – dressers, make-up artists, technicians, sound operators and guides, among others.

You also found yourself with Emanuel Lenormand again, who is resuming his role as Director of the parade.

Emanuel was actually alongside Françoise Baffioni, the Director of the parade at the start. We have already had the pleasure of working together several times, on Mickey and the Christmas Big Band and A Merry Stitchmas, and when we started to put forward creative ideas for the Christmas parade, I asked to work with him again because we are very compatible. Sometimes we just have to look at each other to understand each other and make sure we are moving in the same direction. We often have the same vision artistically. When it comes to all the features of the parade, be it the music, costumes, arrangement of the floats or the choice of characters, we always put ourselves in a child’s shoes to be sure that the magic works. I really like that side of Emanuel because I can relate to it. We are both big kids. It is always a pleasure to work with him and I hope to have the opportunity to do so again in the future.

What was the atmosphere like during rehearsals?

We were all very excited and it was even more heart-warming to read on social media the comments from people who were looking forward to the return of this parade.

When you start working in the studio with the performers and you play the music, you know that you are on the home straight and that the Big Day is fast approaching. It was moving for everyone, particularly as we hadn’t heard this music or rehearsed the choreography for nearly two years, and we missed it all terribly.

What memories do you have of the parade coming out for the first time on 10 January past?

We have a little ritual. So, on the day of the premiere, everyone from creation and production meets. We go to the studios to wish all the performers a good parade and give some final recommendations. Then we go to the parade gates in Fantasyland and together watch the start of the premiere. On 10 January, when the doors opened and the first float moved forward and the first notes of the music played, we all started crying. We were overwhelmed with emotion. We felt a mix of pride and satisfaction to see how amazingly it was received by guests and to say, “we did it, and now we’re off!” in the hope it won’t be stopped again.  We then accompanied the parade along the entire route, and we were able to see the enthusiasm of the performers, as flawless as on the first day, and the reactions that this generated among guests. We felt that this return was important, a sign of renewal and hope. When we experience this it makes us think how lucky we are to do this job, and that is just great!

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