By Cathy Salit
Barbershop quartets sing in sweet harmony on street corners, Donald Duck and Minnie Mouse give children hugs and Tinkerbell flies in the sky from the top of the Magic Kingdom castle. Toddlers, senior citizens and everyone in between wear mouse ears as they watch performers in brightly colored costumes sing and dance with infectious glee.
I visited Disney World this February and was reminded of how surreal and fascinating the Disney experience is. We “regular” people are not just watching a performance, we’re in the middle of it, onstage with everyone else. Employees — the “official” dancers, actors and character performers, along with the waitstaff, ride managers, boat crews, security, and all the others — are called “cast members.” They don their costumes, rehearse their scripts, practice their routines and perform their roles. You don’t “work” at Disney, you perform. And from the minute we step inside one of the Disney parks, we’re performing too — waving at the parades, screaming as we plummet through a pitch-black mountain and shuddering with “fear” as we creep through the bat-filled caves of Tom Sawyer’s island.
And nobody ever says — either to the cast members or us folks with the mouse ears on our heads — “Hey! Stop fooling around! Stop pretending! There’s no such thing as Donald Duck; Tinkerbell’s on a wire and those dinosaur bones aren’t real!” We all play along! Without talking about it, we all participate in a playful ensemble performance together. That it’s totally manufactured and made up doesn’t bother any of us. In fact, that’s a big part of what makes it so much fun.
I suppose you could analyze this (and many have) and say all sorts of things about why human beings do this, how we crave the escapism of getting away from the real world and imagining a happier place (which I certainly wouldn’t argue with!) among other theories. But when you get to the bottom of it, I think the Disney phenomenon is another example of how much we human beings love to play. We need to play. To pretend. To perform. And as adults, most of us don’t get enough chances to do that.
The last time I was at Disney World was over 20 years ago. I went with some of my closest friends, and over caramel-covered popcorn and awful pink slushies, we decided to start a “secret” club called “Act Goofy.”
The “mission” of Act Goofy was to:
- Cheer people up
- Liberate people from having to be normal and appropriate all the time
- Highlight the importance of acting goofy as much as possible
We laughed ourselves silly imagining this organization, which would start out small but eventually become a social and cultural force to be reckoned with. We even wrote a theme song (also called “Act Goofy”), to the tune of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts.”
Shockingly, we never got more than a few people to join Act Goofy. (Anyone, actually.) But a few years later, we founded Performance of a Lifetime, an organization dedicated to helping business professionals shake up the status quo — for themselves, their teams and their companies — by performing in new and unusual ways. Why? To help them grow and create new possibilities. To talk, walk, act and think in new and unexpected ways. Maybe even act goofy from time to time.
Hmmm. I guess you could say there’s a bit of a thread here. Act Goofy!
Cathy Rose Salit is a performer and the founder of Performance of a Lifetime. Her book, Performance Breakthrough: A Radical Approach to Success at Work (Hachette Books) is on sale everywhere books are sold.