TOGETHER: A Pixar Musical Adventure, interview with Thomas Maurion, author

Thomas knows the stage very well, having visited it first as an actor and singer and then as an author and writer. Accustomed to the productions of Disneyland® Paris, he talks to us about his participation in this summer’s show-event at Walt Disney Studios® Park.

Before you talk about your work as a writer, can you tell us about how you started out as an actor? After all, it was at Disneyland Paris.

I actually started my career as an actor and singer. It was something I’d always wanted to do, so when I finished acting school and various training courses, it was with Disneyland Paris that I signed my second professional contract  back in 2005. I was working on “Winnie the Pooh and Friends, too!”, a show first presented on the Royal Castle Stage, then on the Fantasy Festival Stage. I remember it as an extraordinary adventure. For young actors just out of school, it’s amazing to find yourself on stage like that, with everything Disneyland Paris has to offer in terms of resources, audiences, settings and stories. I was starting out my career in a big arena, doing the job I dreamed of, in a world I was really enthusiastic about. What more could I ask for?

Has that experience been useful in your current job as a writer? 

It absolutely has, because it gave me first-hand insight into what goes into making the shows at Disneyland Paris. Like many people, I’m very familiar with the world of Disney—but being at the heart of the magic is truly something else. I’ve had the chance to immerse myself in a whole new culture, learning the know-how, skills and rules of the profession. I also learned how to talk to guests and find out what they like, what makes them react and how to get them engaged and excited. It was an invaluable experience that really helps me when I write for Disneyland Paris.

How did you go from actor to writer?

It was quite a natural progression, because I’ve always enjoyed writing. I started to make myself known on social media, posting short, pithy comments. That did the trick, to the point that friends were encouraging me to take it further—although I wasn’t entirely convinced, as I was focused on being an actor. But, as I gained experience in writing, I met more and more people, including Stéphane Cohen, the press officer of the musical show Cinderella at the Mogador Theatre. He really put me on the right path towards becoming a writer. I started writing for radio artists and found that people liked my work. From there, I began to be more in demand. Writing gradually took over from my work as an actor—I’m rarely on stage any more, because I’ve found my path, but I really value the experience that acting gave me. 

Can you give us an idea of the different types of project you’ve worked on since then?

There are many! I really enjoy writing for mood and comedy—that has led me to work with artists such as Vincent Dedienne, Jeff Panacloc and Tom Villa. For several years I wrote sketches for Les Enfoirés, or for shows such as Sidaction. I was particularly fortunate to work regularly with Jean-Philippe Lemonnier, a great television producer. I worked on a number of variety shows—and still do—before turning to drama and make-believe. My work includes script doctoring, rewriting screenplays for cinema or television films, and I also write for personal projects being developed for theatre— so I cover a fairly broad spectrum. It’s an absolutely marvellous playground, which has been part of Disneyland Paris for several years.

What was your first writing project for us?

It was the Pirates and Princesses Festival in 2018. My job was focused on the characters of Betty Rose and Jimmy Ocean, a Disneyland Paris exclusive that I’m very proud of. I’d watch them every time they were performing at the Park or in shows, such as the “Annual Pass Showtime” programme.

How would you describe TOGETHER: A Pixar Musical Adventure?

For me, this is primarily a show about friendship and helping each other. I see it as a really positive, exciting adventure. It’s creating something very special, compared to everything we’ve already done at Disneyland Paris. The story also shows us that together, nothing is impossible. That message is really the heart and soul of the show, and we also felt that when making it. I was both impressed and proud to see how all our people pulled together—even when time was short, giving their utmost to produce the best possible result. A bit like the characters in Toy Storyworking together to help Charlie find his scores. 

How did you get to work with the show’s creative team?

It all started with a discussion with Arnaud Feredj and Matthieu Robin, the directors who presented the concept of the show to me. Their idea was to explore different Pixar universes around a fairly broad framework. That was the start of a series of discussions where I was able to add my personal touch by taking certain elements of the story in directions that the directors hadn’t necessarily thought of at the beginning. It was a very collaborative process in which I used all their ideas for inspiration and contributed new ones— a real exchange. I’d already worked with Arnaud Feredj and Matthieu Robin separately on other shows. Apart from the fact that I got along very well with them, it was very easy to follow their initial idea and take it to where it is now. My role was also to forge links between the different elements of the story. There was a fairly technical aspect to this job, as we had to weave two plots together, to create something new. The other interesting thing about this project was the combination of a “film” part at the start of the show and a stage part—it was a great fit for my skills, which encompass theatre and television.

How did you tackle the character of Charlie?

We knew that music was going to feature prominently in the show, so we had to associate Charlie’s dream with it. The idea that the kid should conduct the school’s orchestra the next day and that losing his musical scores might prevent him from doing so came quite naturally. It’s a fairly simple scenario but at the same time it’s a metaphor for the many things that can happen to us in life. That’s why Charlie was conceived as a character that absolutely everyone could identify with.

How did you prepare for this deep dive into the world of Pixar?

Honestly, I really love Disney Pixar productions. I know them off by heart. That said, since we had to visit several different universes, I immersed myself in the films and watched them again and again, so I could really get inside these unique stories and the emotions they convey.

What role did Pixar Studios play, in scripting the show?

I received their feedback through our directors and our creative director Dana Harrel. They’d send Pixar the different treatments of the story, then receive their comments and suggestions which would be passed on to me. I found it very rewarding. I was very proud to know that Pixar was reading my work. It was very important for me not to disappoint them. 

How did the technological innovations in the show impact your work?

Pushing the boundaries of what can be done on stage has given me greater freedom, when it comes to writing. Very often, at the start of a project, your ambitions are sky-high. Then you come down to earth, as you realise that certain ideas are not feasible. On TOGETHER*: A Pixar Musical Adventure, that didn’t happen, because the technology made the craziest ideas possible. This made the writing process easier, especially for the transitions. You really could travel from one world to another, immersing yourself in the underwater world of Findind Nemo or visiting Monstropolis. It was a real delight. 

How do the on-stage musicians fit into the story?

The orchestra is a character in its own right. From the outset, we knew when the music was supposed to elicit a certain emotion or amplify another. Having live musicians on stage is an incredible luxury, worthy of London’s West End or a Broadway musical. Music makes an essential contribution to the emotions we want to convey with the show—nothing is as effective as a real musical instrument that you can see and hear, when it comes to arousing emotion in the audience. All this is very intertwined—it’s the result of a highly collaborative process with the people in charge of the music. 

You use the word “emotion” quite a lot.

For me, this show is above all emotion and poetry. Charlie’s story and his dream of conducting the school orchestra is a metaphor for our own dreams, and the fact that together, everything is possible. You just have to decide that it is. There’s something very beautiful about this message—I think music perfectly embodies this poetic dimension. Each piano note, each vibration of the violin strings contributes to expressing emotion in this unique way. 

Did you attend the rehearsals?

Not this time. I don’t regret that, because I had the chance to see the show for the first time along with the audience at the official opening. It was an incredible moment. As the title suggests, “Together” is a shared experience. It was such an opportunity for me to share the enjoyment of the audience. We vibrated together! I’m super proud of the result, this is truly a modern production. We’ve never seen a show like this before at Disneyland Paris. Its originality comes from combining the talents of all the creatives involved: the directors, the musicians, the choreographers, costume designers, technology and production teams  all did a fantastic job.

Charlie’s story now belongs to our guests. We hope it will be told for a long time to come!

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