25 August 2021

Walt Disney World 50 for 50: Stand Right Here on This Trap Door

When I was growing up, I was always fascinated by the shows that asked for volunteers from the audience. No training required, you could literally take part in one of your favorite television or movie production. Disney-MGM Studios, and even today’s version of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, excelled at this. In fact, it was home to one of two experiences that I kept hoping would be around long enough for me to take part in one day; the other role I wanted to check into was down the road at a competitor, but the attraction was slashed before I was able to secure the audience volunteer role. Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular has always held a special place in my heart, but the chance to get on that set as a marketplace extra would be a dream come true.
The moment I turned 18, I started trying to make that role mine. I’m a mild-mannered person as a general rule, but not in that amphitheater. I would jump up and down, stand on the stadium benches, holler and yell, and wave my hands wildly about. It took a while, the casting director for the show never seemed to notice me no matter what I did. However, in 2006, at the ripe young age of 25 I was able to secured a chance to stand on that stage.
That first time through was a whirlwind. In fact, I got so wrapped up in the moments that followed getting selected, from costuming, to signing the waver, and trying to internalize what I was supposed to do when on the set, that I made a minor mistake while out there. The role seems simple enough, pretend that you’re shopping, cheer on Indy as he fights off the henchmen, and keep an eye on the casting director who is in the scene with you as another extra. To say I was enthusiastic about being feet away and getting to cheer on Indy would be an understatement. So, it should come as no surprise that my boisterous encouragement of Indy, while still trying to take my cues from the casting director, led to me missing the moment when I was supposed to cover my ears when Indy fires his pistol. Just a word of advice to all of you who get chosen, when they tell you to cover your ears, they mean it. If you think that shot is loud when you’re in the audience, let me tell you it is ear ringing to say the least when you’re up close to it without covering your ears or having ear plugs!
Over the many years since, I have had several opportunities to take part in the Epic Stunt Spectacular as an extra. Probably more than my fair share. My favorite experience, however, would have to the one I had on May 1, 2009, the 20th Anniversary of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. On that day, I was given a larger role as a feature extra in a scene called “Ryan’s Death Scene.” Okay, sure, I knew it wouldn’t be a recurring role, but it was a step up from my usual marketplace character. If you haven’t seen the show, this is the extra who is clearly connecting with the cues their being given and then provided a chance to act out a death scene. I was told to use as much of the stage as possible, and to make as much noise as possible. Check and check. In fact, I took so long, and took up so much space, that the eventually had to use the machine gun to get me to stay down. The only problem with the scene? Apparently, I had way too much fun dying. You know what though? It was a milestone anniversary for the park and I got to live out a dream I’d had for a long time, that makes it a pretty special day and is a call to be happy. Even in death…

A couple of behind the scenes details for those of you who haven’t had the chance to be an extra in the show yet, or are curious but have no desire to take on the role. When they make the joke, as I did earlier, about signing the waiver, they mean it. You do have to signa waiver stating that Disney is not at fault if you were to injure yourself doing something outside the scope of what you have been tasked to do.  Say you decided you wanted to have a larger role and try to jump on the exploding truck to save Marion. Your injuries are on you at that point. The costume that you wear goes over your regular clothing, and it is extremely hot. You will sweat, and you will sweat a lot. As a reward four your service to the stunt show, you will receive two things for being an extra. One, the overwhelming joy you were able to be an extra in the Epic Stunt Spectacular. And two, all the free water you can drink from their water cooler.
The past couple of years I’ve opted to not scream, shout, and make a fool of myself in order to get on the set with Indy and Marion. This mostly has to do with the fact that I can’t move as easily as I once did. That said, maybe it’s time to come out of retirement for one last run at the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular when I’m down later this year for my 40th birthday.

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