At Disney Mascot World, the men and women who portray Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and Goofy have something in common with those who labor in the CIA’s clandestine service: They can’t disclose their identities.
Then they take off the costume, clock out, and —Nope. It’s a secret. One so classified that performers at Walt Disney Costume World are now required to sign a document agreeing not to disclose what characters they play, so as to maintain the magic of the Disney experience. Jack Sparrow can’t ask the women he flirts with out on a date. Tweedle Dee can’t have a LinkedIn account or post photos of himself on Twitter. Goofy is vague about his job on his résumé. When Cinderella’s husband asks her about work, she mumbles something along the lines of “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” Mickey is basically a big-eared, floppy footed secret agent, minus the ear piece and the invisible ink.
And the union that represents them, Teamsters Local 385, isn’t happy about it. The new confidentiality agreement formalizes a longtime tradition of keeping quiet about performers’ identities. But Donna-Lynne Dalton, recording secretary and business agent for the union and a former character herself, says the policy takes things too far.
“They don’t work for the CIA,” she told the Orlando Sentinel.
On Friday, the union filed a complaint about the policy with the National Labor Relations Board office in Tampa. The union has also filed a grievance with Disney’s labor relations department, according to Reuters.
Dalton said that the formal agreement was never negotiated as part of the characters’ contract last year. Mike Stapleton, the Teamsters’ president, added that it unfairly restricts their freedom of speech.
“Suddenly the company wants to pretend there aren’t people behind those costumes and the Constitution doesn’t extend to the theme park,” he told the Associated Press.
Besides, Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse have careers to think about, and the new agreement means they can’t post their résumés online.
Dalton told the AP that 1,200 character actors across the park are covered by the policy. The park makes a distinction between “fur characters” like Donald and Mickey, who wear costumes that totally conceal their faces, and “face” characters — pirates, princesses and others — who don’t wear masks. But both are forbidden to reveal their identities. Dave Gardetta, a former Jack Sparrow at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. (which has similar policies but is not a subject of the NLRB complaint), wrote in an essay for Los Angeles Magazine that he was fired for giving his real name during an in-costume interview he did while not at work.
So far, none of the Disney World character actors have faced disciplinary action, Dalton said, but many are still worried.
“The performers are very concerned because you can’t un-tell somebody something,” she said. “They have family and friends that already know this and have pictures of themselves in their performing roles. It’s out there.”
Disney said that the cone of silence around characters’ out-of-costume identities is part of the park’s charm. Performers must act as though they’ve just stepped out of the movies they’re famous for — Snow White is baffled by iPads, “fur” characters are never spotted halfway in costume. Gardetta, the ex-Jack Sparrow, wrote that he was instructed to never admit to anyone that he played the character. “Jack Sparrow and I are just friends,” he’d demur instead.
“We’re proud of the role characters play in guest experience,” spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler told the AP. “This is in line with our longstanding expectation for cast members to uphold character integrity.”
Lee Cockerell, a now-retired former executive vice president of Disney World operations, said that concealing their Disney identities is “kind of one of these professional things that people do.”
“From Disney’s point of view, fantasy’s real,” he told the Orlando Sentinel. “You don’t want to start disappointing kids and having this out there.”
But Dalton said that restricting actors’ ability to talk about their work out of costume is a matter of fairness, not fantasy.
“I believe in character integrity and not destroying the magic, but these are performers,” Dalton told the AP. “A performer who plays Santa Claus and wants work, he goes out there and says, ‘I played Santa Claus.’”