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Theme Parks

I performed at Busch Gardens in Virginia during the summers of 1984 and 1985. In 1986, I did shows at the Union Station festival marketplace in Indianapolis. I then spent six months doing shows at Disney World in Florida in 1987. In 1989 and 1990 I was in an ice show theater at King's Island in Ohio, and Great America in San Hose. The theme park experience was a wonderful one for "cutting my teeth" into street, and stage performing; an experience that I would recommend to anyone interested in variety theater.

In many respects, theme parks are considered the bottom rung of the entertainment ladder, and typically don't pay very well, but in spite of the lack of prestige, the sweat is real and the performing situation requires careful consideration. Working outside on the sidewalk put me right into the guest's lap. Unlike the safety of the stage, on the pavement the audience had direct access to me, and I to them. It is similar to doing street performing, but with one significant difference - in the theme park, the guest has already paid.

And pay they did! A typical family paid over a thousand dollars for a theme park vacation lasting only a few days! They fun began when the family squeezed into the car for the cross country drive. The next obstacle is the challenge of the parking lot. (You has to be a master at the game Battleship to be able to find your car again. "Let's all remember, we parked in section Blue-G-7!") Then, after having taken out a second mortgage to purchase day passes, the perfect family unit would finally walk into the park. Right off the bat, the parents had a manic gleam in their eyes and the classic attitude "OK everyone! We're going to have fun today! DAMMIT!"

Into the park they came, already numb and craving the perfect vacation experience that the media hype has promised. That's when they met me...

Now, the reality of the situation is that I did six half-hour shows each day, six or seven days a week. I lost count after a thousand. It's just another show for me. But for the guests, each show experience is a significant annual event. For many parents, even the ability to take the family to a theme park represents a large portion of their yearly savings not to mention the use of precious vacation time.

The environment was harsh. It was always hot, with little shade, and noisy, so the guests are immediately on the defense. Yep, they were having so much fun they could cry. If taking the family on a theme park vacation weren't so much fun, I'd think it sucked.

I guess I enjoyed success in the face of that adversity. Audiences were big, and people would crowd together, climbing up on to benches or trash cans so that they could see my act. That environment taught me a great deal about being "on" and making the show happen each and every time. Like I said in the act, "I'm doing this show for you, I've seen it before..."

Steve

 
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