How can youth performing art groups get on stage at Disney?

October 16, 2017, 10:58 AM · Ever see a group of kids performing on a stage when walking through the Disneyland or Walt Disney World Resort? Or see a school marching band on Main Street before a parade? Ever wonder how those kids got the opportunity to perform at Disney?

Yesterday at Disney California Adventure, my wife's violin student group performed on the Hollywood Backlot Stage, as part of Disneyland's Community Arts Showcase. The Community Arts Showcase provides one of several ways that youth music groups can get the opportunity to perform at the Disneyland or Walt Disney World Resorts.

My wife's group, Suzuki Talent Education of Pasadena, applied for the opportunity last spring, during the narrow, one-month window each year that Disneyland accepts applications for the Community Arts Showcase. The group had to submit a video audition as well as a written application. Disney accepts these applications only from "education and community-based" performing arts groups with 15-50 performers age 7 and older in Southern California.

Disney schedules performances on the Hollywood Backlot Stage in the fall and winter. Performers each get a complimentary one-day ticket to Disney California Adventure to enjoy on the day of their performance. Up to two directors and one chaperone for each 10 youth performers get a free ticket, as well.

My wife's group were young violinists, so of course they all had to bring their violins into the park, not to mention a change of clothes from their concert dress. That meant that two parents with vans were given backstage passes to drive their instruments and backpacks to the staging area behind the Studio Catering Co. in Hollywood Land. The kids and their parents all went through the front gate and met Disney officials in Hollywood Land, who escorted the kids and the directors backstage to retrieve their instruments, change, tune and rehearse before the show.

After the show, it's everything in reverse. Go backstage, change back, put away the instruments, and then parents drive the cases and backpacks either back home or out to one of the public parking lots, where they can leave them in the vans for the rest of the families' day in the park.

Parents and siblings of the performers can buy discounted tickets at a group rate to see the kids perform in the park. (Those were $103 — a $7 discount from the $110 gate and online price for their performance date.)

It's on those parent and sibling tickets that Disney makes some of its money back on supporting these performances, as groups typically bring dozens of spectators and supporters to their show. Then there's the parking fees, food, drinks and merchandise that everyone spends money on when they visit, too.

But this isn't just ticket scheme. The kids love the opportunity to perform at Disney, and the day is the highlight of the year for many in the group. The opportunity also challenges kids to get on top of their game.

Disney has a high standard for groups to get into the program. It demands a polished performance, and appearance, from participating groups. But Disney can be the carrot that inspires kids to welcome the extra rehearsals that lead to better performing and mastery of their instruments.

You could see the results of that hard work in the performance yesterday. The kids marched onto the stage with confidence and played through their songs with precision and an obvious sense of enjoyment... and pride. Their parents loved it, and you could tell that the kids did, too.

A post shared by Suzuki Talent Ed of Pasadena (@suzukieducation) on

The Community Arts Showcase isn't the only way for performers to get on stage at Disney. Disneyland also welcomes local choirs to perform at its annual Candlelight Processional, which will play on the weekend of December 2-3 this year. That opportunity is open to advanced mixed ensembles of at least 15 vocalists age 14 and older. Applications for Candlelight Processional are open from late August through early October.

But the largest avenue for young performers to get on stage at Disney is through the Disney Performing Arts program. The Disney Performing Arts program offers performance opportunities for instrumental, vocal, dance performers at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, as well as instructional workshops for youth groups. However, unlike the Community Arts Showcase at Disneyland, there aren't any free tickets available here. These are literal "pay to play" arrangements, with prices per performer listed on the Disney Performing Arts website. Performance opportunities include in-park parades and on-stage performances in the park and at Disney Springs.

Have you ever participated in a guest performance at a Disney theme park? Please share your experiences (and advice) in the comments.

Replies (9)

October 16, 2017 at 11:11 AM · Back in 1998 our marching band (Go Fountain Valley High School Barons!) was invited to perform on the parade route. We had a blast, and relished the opportunity to pass through a "Cast Members Only" gate. Of course, some lost their innocence when we say Goofy, sans head, smoking a cigarette backstage. Oh how times have changed!
October 16, 2017 at 11:32 AM · What are options to audition for groups that are out of state?
October 16, 2017 at 7:02 PM · Expensive way to have a recital.
October 16, 2017 at 10:02 PM · When I was in high school, I performed annually at Disneyland with the Aliso Niguel High School orchestra. Of the half dozen or so annual concerts, this was always one of the highlights. Back then, the performance was held at the Carnation Plaza Garden stage (now taken over by Fantasy Faire), and our group of around 120 performers was among the largest they would admit. We usually requested a morning performance time, so we'd arrive at the park via the backstage area behind Toontown, then walk all the way to the stage and back. I loved getting a chance to see the backside of Disney, even though it isn't particularly remarkable to the non-enthusiast. Hanging out in the park afterward was always a blast as well, both because it was a school day with (relatively) low crowds, and because it was a chance to visit the park with friends who I wouldn't visit with otherwise.
October 17, 2017 at 3:49 AM · In 1988, I performed at WDW with Littlestown High School's "Fantasy and the Shining Stars" show choir (think Glee). It was part of "Disney's Magic Music Days" and truly was an unforgettable experience. We performed in the Tomorrowland Theater and Downtown Disney. For our 3rd performance, we were hosted at SeaWorld.

We parked our bus behind Pirates (which is quite a bland experience to see the concrete, square show building.) We were threatened about taking backstage photos so who was going to risk that? While on the bus, we saw the cast of the Cosby show walking by on their way to film a commercial that day in the park.

We changed into uniform in a cast member rehearsal hall and while we were there, people were auditioning for dance roles in one of Disney's stage shows. We were permitted to watch the process. Later on, we were also taken to Disney's casting building to see it and told if we ever wanted a job, "this is where you will go." The great thing was that our Disney guide was a previous graduate of our high school so we got a few a extra perks! :)

On our last day, we had a morning performance at SeaWorld and then the remainder of the day to spend in that park. We met up as a group at lunch and BEGGED the director to take us back to Disney...not one person wanted to stay at SeaWorld (it was a different park in 1988). He hailed the bus and we returned to Magic Kingdom! ^_^

There may not have been anything remarkable about "backstage" areas, but Disney's was STILL more impressive than anything we saw at SeaWorld.

It was the chance of a lifetime for us and it transformed my appreciation for themed entertainment getting to see so much "behind the scenes". I think it's great the park still offers kids the chance to experience it because it really does stick with you the rest of your life.

October 17, 2017 at 8:27 AM · I performed with my middle school and high school bands at Disneyland four years in a row as a part of Magic Music Days. The first trip with a band in 7th grade was my first Disneyland experience. It's fair to say that they've got me hooked.
October 17, 2017 at 9:35 AM · I have a different experience to share on this subject. For a couple of years I was the coordinator for these kinds of performances at Six Flags over Georgia in the early 1990’s.
When I was given the responsibility the program was simply called “Comp Entertainment” because the park let in local performance groups for free and they would do a show and then enjoy the park for the day. The Entertainment department manager wanted to raise the quality of what we provided to the groups and quality of performance we got in return so he challenged me to rework how we operated.
I started off by changing the name of the program to “Guest Stars” because that’s what they were; park Guests who were given a starring role. Next we began charging $10 for each performer and support person to come into the park. In exchange for the new admission price we would for the first time provide a park theater tech to run sound for the group on park provided audio equipment. Until that time bands and choirs performed with no amplification and dance groups had to bring their own sound system – usually a large boom box. We also had signs printed by the park’s in house sign shop with the name of the group that was posted at the stage. Family and friends of the group would get half price tickets to come in and watch the show. Lots of them took us up on that offer as before when the groups performed for free we charged full price for friends and family.
It proved to be very successful. The performance groups – mostly choirs, cloggers and school bands immediately recognized the improvement in the experience even though most had balked at initiation of an entry fee. It was great fun working with these groups as we made arrangements for their visit. I’ll never forget the difficulty I had convincing many of them to come dressed for the unseasonably cold weather during the park’s first season of The Holiday in the Park event. The Dance Moms who wanted their kids to look perfect did not like the idea of their dancers wearing weather appropriate attire rather than their cute outfits. That first year was one of the coldest Decembers in Georgia history and only a couple of groups came without warm gear. The rest abandoned style for warmth.
I remember another particular high light of my time running this program. There as a park wide blackout one day in ’90 I believe. Everything was down. No rides were open. No retail was running because none of the registers were on. The park was at a standstill for hours. The only entertainment offered were my three groups that day. We had two small generators in the department that were not in use for anything so I had the techs hook up the sound systems at the two stages. Those two clogging groups and a church choir had the biggest most enthusiastic and appreciative audiences in Guest Stars history. Good times.
October 18, 2017 at 3:49 AM · That's awesome Rob!!
October 19, 2017 at 7:45 PM · In 1992, my high school band from Colorado did a tour that involved Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, Universal Studios, Sea World, the Tournament of Roses Parade, and a Broncos Playoff game halftime show.

When we were in Disneyland, we had been practicing for the 6.5 mile Tournament of Roses parade and moved with purpose through our parade routes. We kicked off the parade through Disneyland at a sharp clip and made it all of the way up to the firehouse in what I can only imagine was record time, because when we looked back, there was no one there.
About halfway through the park, we outdistanced the workers stringing the ropes for the parade. We waited in the backstage area off of Main Street for about ten minutes, and still nothing. At least the other parks had us park in a single location and play a bunch of songs instead of trying to trample the guests under our marching shoes.

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