Special Events Manager: Jaclyn Fowler and Wendy Abraham from Planning and Development, Walt Disney World Entertainment

Below is the results of an interview between Stephanie Dunn, an Entertainment Management student at Missouri State University and Jaclyn Fowler and Wendy Abraham, both Special Events Managers for Walt Disney Company. The interview was conducted in the spring of 2001.

S.D.: What is the day/week in the life of a Special Events Manager (Entertainment Intern) like?

J.F.: My day at Disney starts at 8:30 a.m. usually, and last until around 5:30 p.m. One of the first things I do in the morning is check my voice mail for our Research Information Hotline. I am responsible for maintaining the hotline and fulfilling information request. Usually I have a certain project that I am working on, if not then I work in the Resource Center, where there is ALWAYS something to do. The majority of my day is spent in front of the computer doing Internet research. Most of the projects to which I am assigned require detailed information, and that information can usually be found on the Internet. If I am unsuccessful there, then I will look at other resources, or retrieve information by telephone.

I try to split my time between researching activities and working in our Resource Center (the Entertainment Library). When working in the Resource Center, I am usually working on database entry. My main objective is to inventory and organize our original artwork. When I am in the library, I also assist fellow cast members who are looking for certain pieces of information, such as videotape, artwork, or character references. Our library is accessible to all cast members and we have a huge selection of videos, books, magazines, and other files for them to check out for work or personal use.

My day may also include a variety of other information requests, but the majority of my time is spent researching.

S.D.: What are some of your responsibilities?

J.F.: My main responsibilities include those I just mentioned. However, I basically float between Cid, our Research Specialist, and Karen, the Resource Center Coordinator. I fill in for them when either one is away. If Cid is away, then I am also in charge of doing The Daily Report. This publication includes articles that contain pertinent information concerning Disney, other theme parks, entertainment news, box office reviews/top tens, and awards. I’ll attach a copy so you can get a better understanding of what it is.

I am also in charge of our department hallway. We have bulletin boards, a chalkboard, and a couple of huge note pads that I decorate. I may display information concerning local entertainment venues and news articles about Disney. Most of the time, I try to find amusing, clean “food for thought” kind of things for the boards. We want people to take a break from work and have a moment where they can laugh. For instance, my most recent board includes a list of “How to Keep a Healthy Level of Insanity While Driving Everyone Else Insane.” Of course, for the holiday, the hallway will be themed, and have a place for everyone to place their ultimate Christmas wish list.

S.D.: What are NOT some of your responsibilities?

J.F.: Well, I am not working in any of our parks on a regular basis. I do work overtime in the parks, but that is separate from my internship. I do not have a hands-on job where I am actually working on our shows, or drawing up ideas for new entertainment. As an intern, I am in a “backstage” type of role. My department is Walt Disney World Entertainment Planning and Development. We basically are considered to be where everything begins. Our department is in charge of holding the Creative Idea Forum, where people come to us with their ideas for a new show or other form of entertainment. From there, they must present their ideas at other meetings for approval. If approved, that when all of the other departments join forces to make the show come alive. Walt Disney Entertainment houses Creative Costuming, Talent Casting, Stage Technology, Show Direction and Production, Art Design, and several other aspects. So basically, I’m not sewing costumes, casting dancers, running the light and sound, drawing stage designs, or directing the cast. We leave that to the other departments. However, if any of those people have a question about how a show was done in the past, what are the traditional Chinese dances, or what characters have been in which parade; they call Cid or myself, and we are hopefully able to provide them with the information they need.

S.D.: What are some employment opportunities in your field?

J.F.: When I think of “my field”, I think in terms of live-show entertainment here at Disney World. Career choices can range from finance and computer systems analysts to singers and dancers and anything in-between! I personally feel that it is a wonderful field to be a part of because there are so many opportunities. Many people begin in performance and move into the business sector after a while.

S.D.: What makes this career so attractive? Why do people stick with this position as a career?

J.F.: I think in answer to both of those questions, it is a very versatile field. People move around to a lot of different positions after a while, and that makes it very attractive to me. I am the kind of person that likes to know how everything works, and I would like to have experience in each area. I am very interested in learning more about theater technology — lighting, sound, design, and pyrotechnics. It is a field that I really didn’t think about getting into until I started working here.

S.D.: What kind of education/training do you recommend for someone who would like to be a Special Events Manager?

J.F.: Well, as far as my internship is concerned, I think it is very important to have a well-rounded education. The person needs to be very familiar with the Internet, have great communication skills (both verbal and written), have a vast knowledge of the entertainment industry (movies, theater, theme parks, etc.), must work well as a team player, and most of all an eagerness to learn. I was not very skilled at Internet research, and now, I feel that is one of my stronger attributes. I wish I had a better knowledge of theater production, but I am learning. I plan on taking more theater classes after graduation.

S.D.: What are the key skills that a person should have if they would like to be a successful Special Events Manager?

J.F.: In order to be successful, he/she needs to have a well-rounded knowledge of entertainment, an ability to handle multiple tasks, an ability to meet deadlines, and great communication and leadership skills to keep the team thriving.

S.D.: Where are the jobs in terms of regions and companies?

J.F.: A job in Special Events can be found in any region. Speaking outside of Disney, I would say you could find this type of position in any other theme park, sports complex , large performance venues (amphitheaters / concerts / festivals), and any sized city (for anniversary or holiday celebrations). There are many different opportunities for a position such as this.

S.D.: How did you get where you are?

J.F.: I participated in the Walt Disney World College Program in the Spring of 1997. Once that program is completed, alumni are eligible to apply for advanced internships that are more specific to academic majors. I actually interviewed for the College Recruiting internship, and did not get it. I was then offered a position in Ticket Services (distribution, orders, ticket research). Because I had kept close contact as a campus representative for the program, several of the recruiters were aware that my major was Entertainment Management. When the Wendy contacted the College Recruiting office about getting an intern, the recruiting season was over. However, Dan Davidson, on of the recruiters I had worked with in the past, called me and asked if I would be interested in the position. Of course, I was very flattered that they thought of me, and I am very grateful because it has been the best learning experience of my life.

S.D.: What are the pros and cons about working your field?

J.F.:
Pros:
Working for one of the most highly-respected entertainment companies in the world Being a part of and working with some of the most delightful people I have ever met. Networking that has allowed me to shadow other managers and participate in learning seminars. Attending fun events — Millennium Press Event; Very Merry Christmas Parade tapings with N Sync, 98 Degrees, and Harry Connick, Jr.; participating in the Cast Candlelight Choir. Everyday is a new learning experience; I love the challenges of my job because I have learned so much about the industry.

Cons:
Sometimes how far you get in the field depends on who you know, but that’s the case in almost any field.

S.D.: What are some key professional affiliations within your field? For example: magazines, web sites, journals, etc. ?

J.F.: Disney as a company does not officially belong to any professional affiliations. However, Walt Disney Imagineering does belong to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) and the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). Because of their affiliations, we can say that we are members as well.

As far as magazines, these are some that we keep in our library: American Theater, Amusement Business, Architectural Lighting, Entertainment Design, Funworld, Lighting and Sound, Lighting Dimensions, and Special Events Magazine. We do receive several journals including American Demographics Forecast, Orlando Resource Report, TEA’s The Network, and other research reports.

*** Next 6 Questions answered by Wendy Abraham, WDW Entertainment Planning and Development Manager, Planning***

S.D.: What kind of personality should a Special Events (Planning) Manager possess?

W.A..: Optimistic, flexible, logical, ability to handle multiple tasks, cool under pressure, level headed, energetic, fun spirited, and willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

S.D.: What kind of experience or qualifications should a person possess if they would like to be a Special Events (Planning) Manager?

W.A.: Involvement in Special Events in some capacity and a knowledge and understanding of the various elements of a special event

S.D.: How has your position changed in the last few years?

W.A.: My position has gone from planning and executing events to mainly planning events.

S.D.: What is your hiring process?

W.A.: Once we have an opening, we post it in the WDW Jobs system and spread the word through internal and external contacts as well. Once we review resumes, we decide who to interview and then interviews begin with several members of our team. Once the team has had a chance to talk and share their observations and comments, an offer is made to who we deem as the most qualified person with the most promise for our area.

S.D.: What is the first thing you look at in an applicant?

W.A.: Attitude, passion for the role, poise, self-confidence and experience.

S.D.: What are some of the most creative ways people have gotten your attention?

W.A.: Resume sent in a mini hourglass saying “I hope you find the TIME to give me an interview”. Another was a resume sent on a beautiful marbled paper stock. But more than any gimmick, what gets my attention is attitude and approach and ease of dealing with people.

INDIVIDUALS AND COMPANIES INTERVIEWED

Wendy Abraham
Manager, Planning
Walt Disney World Entertainment
3010 Maingate Ln.
Kissimmee, FL 34747

Jaclyn Fowler
Entertainment Intern
Walt Disney World Entertainment
3010 Maingate Ln.
Kissimmee, FL 34747
(407) 397-6663
Jaclyn.A.Fowler@disney.com

Rob Long
Special Events Intern
Silver Dollar City
2752 S Meadowbrook E104
Springfield, MO 65807
(417) 890-1233

BIBLIOGRAPHY
1. Daily Report, The, WDWE Planning and Development Publication, September 2, 1999.
2. Jobs.com, http://www.jobs.com/
3. Monsterboard, http://www.monsterboard.com/
4. Northernlight, http://www.northernlight.com/
5. Showbiz Jobs, http://www.showbizjobs.com/

Credits:
This document was written by Stephanie Dunn, a December 1999 graduate of the Entertainment Management Program at Southwest Missouri State University.