Walt Disney World has gutted their entertainment offerings and laid off a huge number of talented cast members. The dust is still settling on all of the layoffs, but it’s being reported that the cast of Festival of the Lion King, Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, Monsters, Inc Laugh Floor, Finding Nemo The Musical, and many more have been let go.
The cast members who have lost their jobs include performers, technicians, stage managers and just about anyone who brought these shows and experiences to life. These layoffs have stripped Walt Disney World’s entertainment to the bone.
Why did Disney cut their entertainment?
Simply, Disney believes that some shows will not be returning in the near future and decided to part with the associated cast members. They will likely point to COVID-19 and capacity restrictions as the driving force behind the layoffs.
Unfortunately, that’s only part of the story. Disney has a history of slicing and dicing entertainment offerings when there’s even a hint of a financial issue. COVID-19 has undoubtedly caused a big hiccup financially, but some of these decisions are rumored to have been in the works well before the pandemic hit.
Disney is continually trying to maximize profits. Equity performers carry a decent cost that may not generate a direct profit in Disney’s eyes. It’s easy to see the return on investment of a restaurant or store. It’s a bit more difficult to prove the value of Festival of the Lion King to an accountant.
Why is this a big deal?
This is devastating news. Seeing so many equity performers laid off is an enormous blow for the guest experience at Walt Disney World. It’s also tremendously sad as these individuals have made so many happy memories for guests over the years and decades.
Perhaps the most ugly aspect of this story is that Disney executives reinstated their full salaries in August 2020. Then, they have made a series of layoffs to some beloved areas of Walt Disney World. It’s not a good look for a company that prides itself in warm and fuzzy memories.
A growing belief about Disney executives is they don’t fully understand why so many people return to their theme parks year after year. They’ve become so focused on the dollars and cents that they are gradually shifting Walt Disney World into a bad value proposition. They’re turning away their most loyal customers.
What are the long-term effects?
It’s easy to assume these layoffs are temporary and the shows will resume as soon as Disney believes the time is right. Realistically, many could return in one form or another. However, Disney has a track record of scaling back entertainment only to later return fewer options. Some of these offerings may be gone for good if the ROI isn’t there.
Take the Citizens of Hollywood. They provided great atmosphere in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but due to budget cuts, their numbers were gradually scaled back over the years. Now they’re gone. This is an easy group to remove permanently because they’re not connected to a show or an attraction. The same can be seen in Epcot where a variety of performers have been let go over the years without a replacement. Larger shows like Festival of the Lion King will probably return. Others sadly may not.
Then there’s the topic of talent. Most of these cast members won’t sit around and wait. Even with recall rights, they’ll pursue new opportunities both out of need and a desire to find a place that values their contributions. This is an exodus of years of experience and knowledge. If some of these shows return, they’ll be starting almost completely from scratch. Some of the folks who have been let go simply can not be replaced.
What happens next?
Not much, unfortunately. Guests have kept streaming into Disney parks over the years even as prices have gone up and more experiences have been removed. Disney’s current management team has made it clear they’re willing to sacrifice guest experiences, iconic attractions and even basic design principles to reach their objectives.
Walt Disney World’s future is murky. Much of the original legacy and identity of the theme parks has been chipped away through budget cuts, integrations of intellectual property and upcharges. While many passionate Disney fans have voiced their displeasure, true change won’t come until Disney is pushed by their competition or when guests start reacting with their wallets.