Questions for Reflection
Each episode we offer you a few prompts to think about how that day's conversation applies to you. You might pause the podcast and answer them right then and there, but if you keep a journal (Steph and Beth both do), you might find one of these PDFs useful. Choose the orientation that fits best in your journal.
Beth Demme (00:03):
Welcome to the Discovering Our Scars podcast.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:06):
Where we have honest conversations about things that make us different. I'm Steph.
Beth Demme (00:09):
And I'm Beth.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:10):
I've been in recovery for 14 years and am the author of Discovering My Scars, my memoir about my mental health struggles, experiences, and faith.
Beth Demme (00:17):
I'm a lawyer turned pastor. Who's all about self-awareness and emotional health because I know what it's like to have neither of those things,
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:24):
Beth and I have been friends for years have gone through a recovery program together. When I wanted to start a podcast, she was the only name that came to mind as cohost.
Beth Demme (00:31):
And I didn't hesitate to say yes because I've learned a lot from honest conversations with Steph over the years.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:37):
We value honest conversations and we hope you do too.
Beth Demme (00:40):
That's why we do this and why we want you to be part of what we're discussing today. on today's show, we're going to have an honest conversation about how working for Disney took 10 years off Steph's life
Stephanie Kostopoulos (00:52):
And then we will invite you to reflect on the conversation in your own life with Questions for Reflection.
Beth Demme (00:57):
And the show will close with Slice of Life. if you wonder what that is, stay tuned until the end. So Steph tell us how did it come about that you worked for the great and wonderful Oz? I mean the great and wonderful Disney,
Stephanie Kostopoulos (01:14):
Well Disneyworld resorts in Orlando, Florida. Yes.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (01:19):
When I decided to go to school at UCF in Orlando, the first thing I thought of was I gotta get an annual pass to Disney. I'm going to be right there. There's no excuse. I gotta go all the time. So I got an Annual Pass to Disney. My parents said, you know, that seems like a requirement. When you go to school there, I got to get my annual pass too. So I I'd go to Disney all the time. but I always wanted to work for Disney. I always wanted to, when I was younger, we'd go to Disney all the time. I always wanted to see behind the magic. That was my reasoning. I always wanted to be able to see you behind closed doors, you know, Mickey backstage. I was always just so curious about that.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (01:59):
That's probably why I like video. I like to see how things are made. So that was always like a big desire of mine. InApril, 2007 I just decided, I was like, you know what? I had been in school since September of that year. I just thought, you know what, I'm just going to try to get a job. So I went down to Downtown Disney, which is now Disney Springs across the street. They have a casting, it's this big building kind of looks like a castle. I just went down to casting and I brought my resume and I said, "Hey, I want a job." I had done the research and I didn't think it was going to be that easy. I thought I would only be able to get like a janitor job, which would have been fine, but I was like, there's no way, like, I'm going to get what I want.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (02:45):
But so I just went in kind of like, "Hey, I want a job." They're like, "Great. Where do you want to work? What park do you wanna work in?" I I thought about it just a little bit. I knew I didn't want to do Magic Kingdom because if there's a park that's going to stay open it's Magic Kingdom. If there's a park that's going to be busy it's Magic Kingdom. So I said, my favorite park, which at the time was called MGM studios--
Beth Demme (03:07):
It's now called?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (03:08):
Hollywood Studios. It actually changed names while I worked there. So we had to get used to changing the new spiel in our, in our talks, but I'm used to it now. So they said, okay, we'll put you at MGM studios.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (03:20):
And they said, what ride do you want? I said I want to work on the Great Movie Ride. They said, well, we can't guarantee a ride, but we can guarantee an area. So they gave me the Epic area, which encompasses Great Movie Ride, the Indiana Jones showed, Drew Carey show, Star Tours, and the Muppets Show. I could have been put at any of those rides or attractions. so I was hoping for Great Movie Ride and I get my assignment and it is ... The Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, Epic Stunt Spectacular.
Beth Demme (03:53):
What was the Great Movie Ride? Remind me.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (03:55):
It's not there anymore. Great Movie Ride is awesome. It's basically a slow moving vehicle through different movie scenes from like older movies. it was really fun. Like one of them was like Raiders of lost Ark. There was Wizard of Oz. There was Aliens, there was all these cool little movie sets and I've always been into movies and production. So that was like a really cool thing. Also the Great Movie Ride had this had cast members that were acting in these little scenes where they would pretend to rob the vehicle that you're on. it was like a little movie movie scene they'd put on. I always thought that was really cool when I was like, "Ooh, I want to do that." so that's what I wanted, but I did not get that. I got the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular show and the Drew Carey show.
Beth Demme (04:42):
So I don't remember the drew Carey show and there's nothing to remember. I ever saw it. I don't remember, but I do remember the Indiana Jones thing. I remember seeing that a few different times. What I really remember is that there was real fire.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (04:53):
Beth Demme (04:54):
That was hot.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (04:55):
There's real fire. There was an explosion.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (04:57):
Because there was an explosion every so often six months or every year, we actually had to have a hearing test done. So we would have an assignment where we'd go to this big booth and we'd have to get a hearing test. My hearing is always great. I've always had really good hearing. Cause my mom taught me well to protect my hearing. So they'd give us earplugs and it really was not, I was not exposed to it for very long because I was part time. So that meant I worked two days a week. I was part-time for one year. Then I went seasonal and seasonal means that you, at the time seasonal meant you only had to work once every six months.
Beth Demme (05:30):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (05:31):
Which was a good deal.
Beth Demme (05:32):
And then you get in the park when you weren't working?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (05:34):
Yeah. Yeah. You pretty much could get in most times. I think there might've been some blockouts, but that was a big reason I wanted to work at Disney was free tickets. Like, "Hey, this awesome! Discounts,"
Beth Demme (05:44):
No wonder they changed it. That was a really good deal!
Stephanie Kostopoulos (05:46):
It was really good deal!
Beth Demme (05:47):
So what did you do when you worked at the Indiana Jones Spectacular ...
Stephanie Kostopoulos (05:50):
Epic Stunt Spectacular.
Beth Demme (05:50):
Yeah, that one.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (05:52):
I was a hostess is what they called. basically we fill theater, so I didn't act or anything. I just was filling theater. So one of the major positions was the clicker. I don't know what they actually, I can't remember the name of the actual position, but there was a clicker position where you're at the very front, when people are coming in through the little gates and you have a clicker in your hand and you're clicking each person that comes in. Because the theater could hold so many people. I don't remember how many people, but you had to get the people as close to that number. The rest of the hosts would actually push people in so they were next to each other. You know, now with social distancing, I don't know what that number is going to be. Probably two people in that theater!
Beth Demme (06:36):
And I remember it was shaded. Like I sat in the shade and it was tiered. So it was, it was a place where people sat, we weren't all standing. I don't think.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (06:45):
Yeah. It was all set. It was a sitting theater. So our jobs were just to help people find rows and to remind them every so often to squish in and, you know, get to know your neighbor. Actually every time we tell people to squish in there'd be significant extra room left because people would have a lot of distance between them. So we would pack that theater. it was fun. I mean, it was hot because it was summertime in Florida, but we were covered most of the time unless we were in the standby line area and greeting, then we would, or doing strollers, we'd be right in the hot sun. We also had a parade that would go past us. So during parade time, we had to man (or wo-man) the gate to get out for the performers or something like an emergency we had to man that. It was fun. I really enjoyed it. Like it was exactly what I wanted. Like just a you know, a fun job. I got to see behind the magic.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (07:43):
I will tell you, it wasn't so magical.
Beth Demme (07:46):
Any job, right? Any job has probably has its ups and its downs, its positives and its negatives. But really at Disney, what we see is magical. What we see is pristine. What we see is always happy and positive. Is it that way behind the scenes?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (08:02):
Well, the first thing you do when you work get hired at Disney is you go through Traditions, which is this like eight hour class where you learn the history of Disney and you do trivia and you learn to Disney point, which is basically you point with two fingers. Because one finger is rude. So you either point with two fingers or you do a whole hand motion. Okay. Never point with one finger! If you notice, I don't even point with one finger in real life. I still do Disney point because it's not rude. And in other cultures it can be rude, too. You learn about that. Right after Traditions, the Disney Union comes in and tells you about the Union. So that was like very like, whoa, this was very strange to me.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (08:44):
I knew about, I'd heard about unions in history class. But I didn't really know much about unions and they are like legit. Like the Disney Union is fighting for the rights, the employees they're fighting for benefits for employees. basically just by being hired you're in the union, but you can also choose to put some of your paycheck behind the union. So that was the first thing that was kind of like, Hm, this is not so magical. White. Why do you have to have a union? Does that mean Disney doesn't love us all and give us the fair benefits? This is interesting. So that was kind of interesting to me. Then my first trainer was a Shop Steward for the union. He was very big on the union and talking about it. It was totally fine. I was excited to hear about it, but they had worked for Disney for like 10, 20 years. They'd gone through it and they'd been fighting for more rights and benefits and things. I'm just me over here, I'm a college kid working two days a week. I'm not really, you know, I'm not going to hold up the banner. I'm sorry guys. I supported them. I would listen. But that was my first actual real experience with a union and realizing like, Oh, okay, maybe Disney isn't as magical as I thought.
Beth Demme (09:59):
When you worked at the, at the Indiana—what was it?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:02):
Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.
Beth Demme (10:04):
Yeah. I'm not gonna remember to say all that. The Indiana Jones thing, when you worked there, and you would go on your employee break was the break room, like Disney and magical and amazing and filled with the Mickey mouse ice cream bars. Just say yes, just say yes please.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:21):
Yes? No, our break room was actually a trailer, a legit trailer and it smelled. That was like really like--
Beth Demme (10:31):
That doesn't sound magical.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:31):
—shocking to me. Our trailer was also across the way from—actually, do you know where the Frozen show is? Okay. Well it wasn't the Frozen show then--
Beth Demme (10:43):
It's been a long time since I've been to Hollywood Studios.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (10:46):
Anyways, if anyone knows where the Frozen show is, it was actually like right behind there is where our trailer was and it was kind of a rundown trailer. There's some lockers there without locks on them in the front and you know, it just wasn't some magical. I didn't love it. It was hot and then it was hot where we were and it just kinda like, Oh, that wasn't great. But I worked there.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (11:09):
I think I worked there almost a year. I want to say maybe like seven months, maybe seven months. It wasn't a full year. I worked in that role and I was actually about to be trained over at the ride I wanted, which was the Great Movie Ride. I was about to be trained over there and they had approved it. Then the Toy Story Mania ride, which was a brand new ride that they were going to open. That was they were casting cast members for that. I went out, tried out for that and I got cast as Andy's toy, at Toy Story Mania. So I really, really wanted that because that would be part of a brand new ride. I'd be able to be part of it before we even opened. So I was really excited about that.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (11:54):
So I was part-time at Toy Story Mania. A year after we had officially opened (we officially opened May 31st, 2008) I went seasonal. So then I didn't work as often. I worked more than once every six months, but I didn't have to work every week. I will tell you working at a brand new ride was awesome. We saw the Imagineers! One of the Imagineers was a young 20-year old woman. She was like so smart and just watching her brain work was so cool. We saw they were painting the walls with all the artwork. I remember there was this whole discussion. There's a Twister game. One of the fingers on the person, it literally looks broken. If you look at it, the finger looks broken and they had this whole debate on whether we should change it and they kept it, but it's still just like, it looks like a broken hand.
Beth Demme (12:42):
So you were a cast member?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:44):
Beth Demme (12:44):
Right. You said that you got "cast" in that job or you got "cast" in that role. Did you have to, is it more of an audition than an interview? Tell me some more about the terminology.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (12:54):
Cast members—when you're interacting with me as a cast member, I'm on stage. That's how Disney creates this magic. When I'm in my breakroom,. I'm just in a sad trailer. When cross that line outside of my trailer and I'm standing "on stage" we call it, I'm on. I'm acting in a role. I'm acting as, you know, host for the Indiana Jones show or Andy's toy. They create such a cool environment that even though they're paying me, you know, a little bit more than minimum wage and you know, I'm sitting in a trailer, I want to perform, I want to create that magical experience. Because when I go to Disney, I want cast members to do that for me. So even though you aren't really treated like an individual, you still feel like you want to perform, you want to do the best you can. So they call us cast members because we're in the cast of the Disney show. That is put on every day.
Beth Demme (13:52):
And the Imagineers are the designers and engineers who create things?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (13:57):
Yeah. So the Imagineers actually design the rides and the whole experience. And any kind of attraction. They're the ones that design that. They're the ones that put it together. My job is to help continue the story, to be part of the story and to keep everybody safe. I think that's a big part of it that I just wanted to do it because I just thought it would be fun. At Indiana Jones, it was just fun. Like there was no, you know, if people didn't sit close to each other, it was fine. Nothing was going to change. But when I started working at an actual ride, the stakes were a little higher. I had never worked a ride before.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (14:36):
I was just wanting to be part of opening crew. So I think it was four months before we started having any guests we just went through the process of how everything was going to work. I don't remember how many positions. I want to say 20 or maybe 25 positions within within the ride. So I could be at any of those positions at any given time.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:01):
Disney is a really well-oiled machine. When you sign in for your shift, you get a little slip of paper that tells you exactly where to go. You give that slip of paper to the person that's in that role and the paper tells them what to do. It might tell them to go on break. It might tell them to take over for someone else so they can go on break. It was a really cool system. It all works.
Beth Demme (15:23):
But a cast member is a visible role. It's not a behind the scenes role. When I, as a guest, am coming through—the people who I'm seeing—those are cast members. Within the Toy Story ride, there would have up to 20 times when a guest would have been seeing a Disney cast member doing something? So that includes like when we're waiting in line?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (15:47):
Yeah. So when you like you interact, when you first come up to the ride, you're going to have two cast members. You would have had two cast members, one in FastPass line, one in the standby line and that's, you know, a Casper.
Beth Demme (15:59):
And if you're working, you're going to let me in that fast pass line. Even if I don't have a FastPass. Right?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (16:03):
Beth Demme (16:04):
Oh, come on!
Stephanie Kostopoulos (16:06):
If you're in my line, I'm going to ask you to have a FastPass. If you say, no, I'm going to invite you to the standby line. Then you're going to ask me how long the wait is. I'm going to point to the sign with my open hand, cause it's not rude. It's going to say 200 minutes and you're going to say "Two hours!" I'm going to say, "No, 200 minutes is longer than two hours." Then you're going to go, "Oh!" And then I am going to help someone else as you go into the line.
Beth Demme (16:28):
200 minutes is an incredibly long wait. Like you can't do anything else then for that three and half hours you are waiting.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (16:32):
But the nice thing we would remind people is that it is air conditioned inside. So our almost all our queue is air conditioned. If our line was a certain—I actually think it was two hours or longer— we had an outdoor queue that expanded into so that would be hot. But it was air conditioned and it was fully chair accessible, so you can fit any kind of wheelchair through it.
Beth Demme (16:58):
So you pay a hundred bucks or more to go to a park then you spend hours just standing in line, not getting to enjoy the ride.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (17:06):
Well, you know, ma'am, if you'd like to come back, the best time is right before park close, the line might be a little less or right when the park opens. If you get here right in the morning, you could come in here and get a fast pass, and then you wouldn't have to wait as long. There's so many great shows here...
Beth Demme (17:23):
So you've got your spiel down. Yeah.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (17:25):
Yeah, that was surprising. How many people would just be like complaining so much?! Like, "I paid blah blah blah, I'm not waiting in line." Everything is a long line. Well, it's June in Florida at Disney. Yeah. It's a long line and we're a brand new ride.
Beth Demme (17:45):
I don't remember when we went on that ride. I don't think it had been open all that long. Honestly, I think that was the last time I even had a chance to go to Hollywood Studios, but we got there and tried to go first thing, like right when the park opened. Even by the time we got there FastPasses were gone and the line was really long. So we had decided we weren't going to be able to do it. But then as we were leaving the park, we swung back by just to see if maybe, and of course it was still, you know, a wait that would have taken us beyond the closing time of the park or whatever. But a woman said—it was, it was my husband and I, and both of the kids—she said, "Hey, we have four FastPasses for this ride that we're not going to use. Do you want them?" We were like, "YES!" So that made it possible to actually do the ride. So it was nice. People were kind.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (18:30):
Well, and so if you're going to Disney recently, the whole FastPass system is completely different. It was cool because you would get a little printed ticket and you could give them to people, which was very nice. That was a cool system. FastPass was always a, you know, a love-hate relationship because we had to have them, but it slowed down our standby line so much. There's a certain ratio you have to keep. So one of the positions is the merge position. What you're doing is you're merging FastPass and the stand-by line. So you have a ratio. I think the ratio was, I want to say it was like 40:10. It was like, we let in 40 FastPass—or maybe it was 60 to 10—but you'd let in a crazy amount of FastPass then you would only let in like 10 standby. That was the ratio. You just kept doing that because FastPass had to be the fastest. But it was really tough for that merge position 'cause you'd have those standby people just staring you down. Like I have been waiting and waiting hours.
Beth Demme (19:26):
I haven't gotten to see anything else in this park because all I've been doing is waiting in line,
Stephanie Kostopoulos (19:30):
But it's air conditioned guys! It's Florida and air conditioned, enjoy it.
Beth Demme (19:35):
But to a certain extent, did you feel special when you were interacting with guests? Like, because you were a cast member?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (19:41):
I did feel like not myself. Like I did feel like a, a part of a show, like a, you know, a very small part and not a part where I'm like, you know, having to perform something, you know, crazy. But there was a lot of stuff we had to know. Every position had its own set of things we had to do. I mean, in those ratios, like I said, like having to remember the ratios, I think there was things written down places, but, you know, and you would be put in those positions for sometimes you'd be there two hours, sometimes you'd be there 20 minutes, depending on when breaks were taken and when someone took over your position. So there would be times when you just like, it's kind of like a jump rope. You're like, okay, okay, I gotta go. One of the hardest positions for me was the grouper.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (20:27):
The grouper position. It's where you have your standby. You have your, the line of people coming in. Then we also had single riders and we had to put them into the rows for the ride. Being dyslexic, that was very challenging when people would say I have seven. Any odd number was really hard for me. Because when I would be taking over that position, I wouldn't be starting with a clear line. There would be maybe five people in one or they'd be like, you know, so I think there was just, I think there was eight different rows we had to fill.
Beth Demme (21:01):
It's only two people per car.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (21:03):
Two people per car, but you could have lap-sitting with a baby. People inevitably, "how many in your party" and they are counting or they would count a baby that's not part of that. It just, you know, there was just a lot that had to happen in split seconds in each of the positions.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (21:21):
One of my favorite positions was actually Mr. Potato Head. So if you've ever been in the line—I don't even know if he's still in the new, because they've made changes to the ride now,—but there's a Potato Head where we actually controlled him from a very remote location. We have a screen where we can see everybody in front of him and we can position him to look at people. We had little sayings that said, "Hey, you little girl in the polka dot shirt."
Beth Demme (21:48):
Oh, you could press a button for each of those and that's how you controlled what he said. So it seemed like Mr. Potato Head was really watching us.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (21:53):
It was, we were controlling what he was saying. The neat thing about our ride is we are the very first ride to be built in Florida at the same time they were building it in California. That was cool, but also had a big set of challenges. The time change was different and the places they were building these rides were completely different. They were trying to build them exactly the same. Our Mr. Potato Head had a big issue with putting his ear back in. One of the gags he could do was take his ear out and put it back in because he's Mr. Potato Head. But because the specs were just a tiny bit off from the California one, he had trouble putting his ear back in and they kept trying to fix it.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (22:35):
It was trouble. We'd have these big signs, "Don't do the ear gags!" Or "He's fixed!" Even if it said he was fixed I usually wouldn't do them because if he drops his ear, he puts his hands up and then you have to walk all the way from where you are, which is not behind him. You have to go put his ear back in, then reset him and then go back to the room. No one wanted to do that. It was a lot of work and it was a safety thing that you physically had to do it because they didn't want there to be any possibility of someone else doing it and then you resetting it before that person's out of the way because he could hit the person, I guess, with his hands.
Beth Demme (23:14):
And also it rubs a little bit of the magic, off for the guests, right? To see a cast member come out and put his ear back in? Right?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:21):
Actually, we had this big curtain that we would close him, put it back in, but then it was, we did it so often that we're like, okay, that's annoying. One time I wasn't working Potato Head, but he started spewing out hydraulic fluid from his arms or eyes or something. It was traumatic.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:45):
That'd be terrible.
Beth Demme (23:46):
Pull the curtain.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (23:47):
He pulled the curtain really fast. I think his arms were up and he's just dripping this liquid. I don't remember how long it took to get him back up and running from that. But anyways, I really didn't do the ear gag because I was like, it never works. But they finally said, "Iit's working. Everything's great." So I happened to do the ear gag and guess what? It didn't work. He dropped the ear and I'm like, "Oh my goodness." Because that's a great position. You get to sit in an air conditioned, dark room by yourself. It was nice. Then I had to get up, walk over to him and my family happened to be visiting that day.
Beth Demme (24:22):
Of course. Right?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (24:24):
As luck has it, they were right there at Potato Head.
Beth Demme (24:27):
Did you know?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (24:28):
No, I hadn't seen them yet. I don't think I had seen them yet because they weren't right in front yet. But they moved by the time I got--
Beth Demme (24:36):
The line moves. Yeah.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (24:37):
They happened to be right in front of him. I walk out and they start cheering and then everyone else starts cheering because I'm here to fix Potato Head. I'm embarrassed and just trying to be normal. Like, "Stop. You don't know me. I'm just a toy. You don't know me." So I have a couple of pictures. My mom just was like, picture, picture, picture.
Beth Demme (25:00):
We gotta put those in the show notes.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (25:02):
We have me saving Mr. Potato Head. People would clap when we put his ear back in.
Beth Demme (25:09):
Definitely go to dospod.us so you can see the photos of Steph trying to reset, Mr. Potato Head. Were there other experiences that you had where—I know we're going to talk about how it took 10 years off your life and there is something we're building to, but weren't there also moments that were just incredibly meaningful or special where you felt like, "Oh, if I weren't a cast member, I would never have gotten to see this."?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (25:32):
There's two things that come to mind. Like there's no money to give you this kind of experience. One of them was I had an early morning shift and I was the sole person walking to my attraction. We walked through the park and I was walking through the park and I was the only person on the main drag going right up to the Chinese theater. I, at the time we had the Mickey hat was still there and no one was there. It was just that great morning kind of dew. It was amazing. I was like, I'm the queen of this park right now. there's no one here. There were probably people, I just couldn't see anybody. I was like, I own this park right now. This is amazing. It was like the coolest thing.
Beth Demme (26:14):
It's the experience that a guest never gets to have.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (26:15):
No, you never are there with zero people. And guests wouldn't because there would be cast members there.
Beth Demme (26:23):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (26:23):
Sometimes I'd have that feeling at night too when it was a late shift when there be really no guests left. But there would be some, you know, employees, but I just remember that like morning and I was like, "this is worth it." The other thing that comes to mind is I had to work a New Year's Eve shift. I had to work the special New Year's Eve show. My job was actually to wear a hardhat (because apparently that was gonna protect me from fireworks, a plastic hard hat) I don't know.
Beth Demme (26:51):
Stephanie Kostopoulos (26:51):
Our job was to go behind the scenes. And behind the scenes of the Chinese theater, there's a bunch of offices and things. And there's also a parking garage for like upper management and Imagineers to park in. We had to block off this one driving area. We had to tell people to stop driving during the fireworks because apparently it wasn't safe. It was safe for us to stand there, but it was not safe for people to drive. So that's what we did. It was, you know, midnight. We watched the fireworks in clear view, no one around us, just me and another cast member. They're kind of far from me because they're blocking off the other driving area. We were watching, full view the behind the scenes of the fireworks, behind the Chinese theater. Nothing better. There's nothing better. We had earplugs and stuff because you know, it was safe. But that was the coolest thing and I didn't get burned up. So it was amazing!
Beth Demme (27:46):
That's awesome. That would be really neat. I love fireworks. I love fireworks shows. I love fireworks. So that does sound like it would be pretty amazing. So you are working the ride, you have worked in a theater, but now you're working a ride. There was a lot of training involved because this is a mechanical conveyance with moving parts. Right? Nothing bad is allowed to happen at Disney. Exactly. Nothing bad does ever happen at Disney.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (28:10):
Well, people don't know about the bad things.
Beth Demme (28:12):
Let's keep it that way please. Thank you. We'll talk about this later, but I love the Carousel of Progress. So don't tell me the stories.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (28:17):
I don't know any stories about that. I love that ride too.
Beth Demme (28:20):
So was there a moment when it hit you? You're working Toy Story, you have adult responsibilities? Because you were a college student, so was there this moment where you were like, "Oh wait, I am in charge. These guests are looking to me to know what to do and where to go."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (28:34):
You know, this was over 10 years ago. The ride has also been changed because they now have Toy Story Land, which we didn't have when I worked there. So everything I'm going to say basically has been changed and been tweaked and you know, I know it's safe and everything. But one of the big things is because we were a brand new ride we had previews. Previews is when you, before you officially open, you're open to the public at different times. Sometimes all day, sometimes you close, you're just working out the kinks. And also we never had bodies. We'd never had actual guests in our rides. So we didn't know how people were going to interact with elements. We didn't know how things were going to work. And things that worked in California didn't work necessarily for us, California.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (29:19):
I actually had the chance to finally go to California last year, pre-pandemic. I finally got to do Toy Story and I was like, wow, this right is completely different than ours. I'd always heard it, but I'd never physically experienced it. So one of the things is there are different load positions. So the vehicles themselves, where the vehicles are, where guests get on the vehicle, there is Load One position and Load One is where is like the main position of the whole ride. You're the brain of the whole ride. When you're in that position you're like the captain of the ship. So everything goes through you. If there's an issue, you know about it, you're in charge. So that was a position that I would do, but I didn't love doing that position because it's a lot of responsibility.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:09):
And I didn't work that often. So I didn't have as much experience. I knew book-wise but they actual the actual, you know, hands on experience. I didn't have a lot of that.
Beth Demme (30:18):
Does Load One, have the button that can stop the ride?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:21):
So each, so there's like Load One, Load Two and Unload One, Unload Two. Four people at stations, the load positions. Then you have the main Load One. So those people have a station stop where they can stop just like the vehicles from moving within that station. But I had the E-stop. the E-stop is the emergency button. If I have to push the E-stop it shuts down the whole ride. You have to cycle everybody. You have to physically take everyone out of the ride. It's a huge deal. It stops everything instantly to the whole ride.
Beth Demme (30:53):
Is it a big red button? It should be a big red button.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (30:54):
It is a big red button. It's a big deal. We were told from the very beginning, this is a huge deal. If you push this button, it's going to set everything back. But you must push this button if someone's life is in danger. So there are these little lines on the ground. So one of the issues with our ride is we didn't have any kind of exit. We had an exit, but there was no way of keeping people from going back on the ride. If they happen to forget something and they go run back into the ride, there was no way to stop them from doing that. You would just have to say, "Hey, stay there." So we thought, the Imagineers thought, that was okay, that would be fine.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (31:36):
But we had to test it out to see if that in reality was fine. They had two little lines on the ground as visual markers for us. So if someone crossed one of those lines, we pushed the station stop which would just stop the vehicles in the station from moving. If someone crosses this other line, which was literally right at the gap where you'd fall into the track, you have to push an E-stop. So early on, this was an issue. We found that when the vehicles were moving out of the station to go into the main track of the ride, there was a time where there was an empty track. There were no vehicles in the empty track was basically maybe like four, four feet in. If you went into the track, you'd fall four feet in.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:19):
And there was this big electrical system the ride is on. I can't remember what they would always tell us. It was like the amount of volts it had. Like you'd instantly die. If you touch this you'd instantly die. There was light in there. So it even looked like, "Ooh, I want to go in there. It's bright." So it was very intriguing and like "what's in there?"
Stephanie Kostopoulos (32:40):
I was at the Load One position once I saw this little boy and his mom were walking out the exit, like you're supposed to. The vehicles move out. The track is empty. The little boy is walking away and I'm always watching because I am in that role. It is my sole responsibility. No one else is there watching. No managers are there.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:03):
That's my job. So this boy is walking away and he's probably maybe two or three he's walking away. He sees the vehicles gone. I don't know what changes in his brain, but he starts bolting. He starts running. He crosses the station, stop. We push the station stop. Then he gets right to the edge. And it's not just like slow, it's running. I had to make in a split second after he crossed the station stop, about to cross the line where he'd fall right into the track, I had to decide if I push the E-stop or not.
Beth Demme (33:34):
And e-stop would cut off the electricity--
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:36):
Beth Demme (33:36):
So that if someone were in--
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:37):
To the whole ride. The whole ride. It would stop everything. Then we'd have to take everybody off. It was a huge ordeal and it would put us behind for the whole day,
Beth Demme (33:48):
But it's totally worth it, if it's going to save a child's life.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (33:51):
I had to decide, am I ready to push that? Because if you push the button wrongly, you can have like being written up and things. If you just push it, if you accidentally push it, it's a big deal. So I have to decide in a split-second is that boy about to fall in the track? He's just running so fast. I pushed the E-stop and shut everything down. I'm about to pass out because I realize—cause the boy falls in, he falls in--
Beth Demme (34:19):
Oh, he does?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (34:19):
He falls in. The mom, runs over, is yelling at him, "Why'd you do that? Get out."
Beth Demme (34:25):
Pulls him out.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (34:25):
With no idea that he would have been dead.
Beth Demme (34:27):
No idea that if you had not pressed that button--
Stephanie Kostopoulos (34:28):
He would have died.
Beth Demme (34:28):
He would have been electrocuted.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (34:29):
Yeah. Instantly. Everything was in slow motion. In my brain I'm like, what is happening? The managers and coordinators all come out because it's a big deal. Because I'm supposed to run the whole getting everybody out of the ride, but they all come because it's a big deal. So all of them come and help me and kind of lead me through what I need to do. They're all like "good job, good job," they all know what just happened.
Beth Demme (34:55):
Right. The adrenaline of "I almost saw a child die," that had to be terrible.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (35:00):
We all almost saw a child die. All the guests, you know, they have no idea. The mom's just yelling at the kid for doing that. She had no idea that that kid almost died.
Beth Demme (35:09):
Right. And we're not going to tell her because it's not like, "Oh, by the way, moving rides are dangerous," you don't want to make that point. Yeah.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (35:15):
Yeah. But I literally, in that moment I felt like I had lost 10 years off my life. At the time, it was the most stressful life and death moment I'd ever been in.
Beth Demme (35:30):
You were the adult. You had the responsibility.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (35:30):
I had to be the adult. Exactly.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (35:33):
And so we got everybody off the ride. We did everything. We basically have to get everyone off then cycle the ride a couple of times to get everything back up and running. With an E-stop, it's everything shut down. So you have to recycle, you have to restart up. It's a big thing. I don't even remember everything that happened after, because I still was just like... they may even told me to go on break. They may even said, "You're good. Go on break." That might've been why I don't even remember the whole process. I remember seeing the cast members at the station positions looking at me, like, "what just happened!?" Like knowing what just happened, that we all almost saw someone die. If I hadn't—there was nothing they could've done—if I hadn't done that, that kid would not be there.
Beth Demme (36:23):
Right. And so that was, what did we decide? That was 12 years ago.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (36:27):
Yeah. It was. I think it was during our previews. We weren't even officially open. So that happened a few times.
Beth Demme (36:37):
I'm just thinking about that kid, he's now 12 years old or so, maybe 16, 17 now?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (36:41):
After that, they came up with a new solution where they put gates when you exit you exit out of this little gate and then it closes. So that, that couldn't happen. So that became a new protocol. That's just part of a new ride as they learn these things and they figure out what works, what doesn't. It definitely made it. I remember when I first saw those come in and I was just like, "Ooh, okay. The low one's not so bad anymore." That was probably the defining moment of me realizing like I am responsible for literally another human life. A human life I don't even know, but I take that really, really importantly. I want to make sure I protect my fellow human as best I can.
Beth Demme (37:27):
Yeah. So that was part of, there was this excitement about your opening, a new ride. Something that had never been there before, but also there was a danger element to that because there was a lot that still needed to be figured out.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (37:38):
Yeah. We knew that. I mean, we knew we were part of like some, there were some changes made. Every ride has like a general operating guide and there was changes made to that book because of things that we figured out by observing actual guests. I remember one day we were training on how to evacuate guests from the ride, like when an e-stop happened, how would we evacuate? We had to manually turn each of the vehicles so that they could hop out of the vehicle. It had to be turned in a certain way. We were like, "How will we know which way it has to be turned?" I remember our manager was like, "there's a little vinyl O," you know, the vehicles were decorated and there was this little thing that looked like an O, but it was just decoration. It was on both sides. We realized if she took that off of one side, then we would, the one with the, O, is the one would be the right one. So she figured that out and took those off all the vehicles and that became part of the guide. Turn it to the O and that's how you open up the vehicle. But stuff like that, that you only can figure out by physically doing it and thinking through, and being with other people and talking it through. For people that were in wheelchairs—we had a wheelchair accessible vehicle called the Wave vehicle and how do we get them off a vehicle? We had to call Reedy Creek, which is the fire department. We had to call them to actually get them off because they have medical training.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (39:01):
And so there's just different things, different protocols that you figure out. We had the actual, if people were too short to jump off, we had stairs behind some of the decorations in the ride. There were stairs behind there that you would grab. It was neat to be part of that and to see it all come together. I don't think you would experience that in a well-established ride. I don't think you would. I didn't experience that with Indiana Jones because it had been there years before me and it's still there now.
Beth Demme (39:31):
They had already worked out whatever the kinks were there. That's amazing.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (39:36):
But I would say overall, I really enjoyed my time at Disney. I did grow up. I did a lot of growing up. One of the things was if a child came up to you without parents and didn't know where their parents were. That happened to me twice. Once was at Indiana Jones. You're told to stay right where you are for a certain amount of time. Then if the parents never show up, you take them to Guest Relations, but you have to just say, cool. You just talk to the kid and they're kind of freaking out, but you just, "Hey, how's your day. What's going on? Oh, mom and dad will be right back. They're going to come right back here. That's why we're just waiting for them. They'll be here."
Stephanie Kostopoulos (40:13):
And you just do everything you can to keep the kid calm. So one time the parents did come back. Great experience! I was like phew because I was responsible for that kid. If they come up to you, you're responsible until you hand them off to Guest Relations. Then another time at Toy Story, the parents never came. I'm starting to freak out, but being cool because I'm like, this kid is upset. I had to walk her to Guest Relations. The whole time we're walking away from where the kid was left and I'm thinking, "Oh, please come to guest relations, please come guest relations." So I dropped her off there. I don't know what happened. I'm assuming the parents were found.
Beth Demme (40:48):
She's probably not still there.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (40:50):
But that was a lot. I mean, that's a lot of responsibility to like, stay calm and keep a kid calm. I know once they get to Guest Relations, they make it happen really quickly and they find the parents and everything.
Beth Demme (41:05):
I mean, I can just tell you a parent's first thought when a child goes missing is someone has taken my child. Right? So it's, it's terrifying, especially because you assume that they've only just gotten separated from you, so you're looking all around, but then when you don't see them, you realize what if I'm not right about how long it's been? What if I have been neglectful? Or what if I've been distracted? So it is a terrifying few moments.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (41:31):
That's why I hated walking, having to walk the kid away because it was like, I don't know where the parents are going to look for her. But that's the big thing with Disney is they're very good at having all these protocols in place. Really, if you're at Disney and anything happens, go to Guest Relations. That's where the central hub of everything is, and they can do the most for you there.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (41:52):
I would say overall, my experience was great. Being part of the opening crew is something that I'll never forget. We got a couple of little souvenirs and keepsakes from that, from our opening day. I have some FastPasses from opening. Because we could actually just print FastPasses. I mean, we would print them in case there was like a jam and give them to people. Like if it didn't work, but I would keep a couple you know. So I have them for my scrapbook and stuff. It was a different time at Disney. It was it was fun. I really enjoyed it overall.
Beth Demme (42:21):
It was a different time for you because like you said, it was a place where you grew up.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (42:24):
Exactly. Yeah, for sure.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (42:28):
And now we want to invite you to reflect on the conversation today. Beth is gonna read a couple of questions. She'll leave a pause between each, for you to pause the podcast and answer them to yourself. Or you can download a PDF on our website.
Beth Demme (42:39):
And then we'll move into our slice of life. Question number one: Think about a time when you realized you were the adult in the room, how did that responsibility feel? Number two: have you ever been in a life or death or dangerous situation? As you reflect on it, how did you feel about how you handled it? Number three: have you ever been a theme park employee or thought about what it would be like to work at a theme park? Has this conversation changed your understanding? Number four: Do you have experience being a rule keeper? Reflect on the challenges of being in a role like that? Number five: Have you ever been to Disney? What is your favorite ride? What do you love about it?
Stephanie Kostopoulos (43:30):
Well, that was a great question, actually, that last one, I am curious. I'm assuming you've been to Disney.
Beth Demme (43:35):
I have been to Disney. I've been to Disney world and to Disneyland.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (43:38):
Me too. How many times to Disneyland?
Beth Demme (43:40):
Just once to Disneyland.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (43:41):
I've been two times. To Disney World. How many times?
Beth Demme (43:45):
I don't know.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (43:46):
Yeah. I have no idea. I've been going...
Beth Demme (43:48):
Not as many as you.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (43:49):
I've been going since my mom was pregnant with me. So.
Beth Demme (43:52):
I don't know if that visit counts, but okay.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (43:53):
I think so. I think so.
Beth Demme (43:56):
Yeah. My favorite ride at Disney, well, let me say my favorite park is Magic Kingdom. Being on Main Street is incredible, especially when it's not super crowded. When it's super crowded, it's a whole different vibe, but like if you can be on Main Street and you can be looking looking down Main Street and kind of looking all the way to the castle, like that is such an amazing feeling.
Beth Demme (44:19):
And it always made me proud actually to be someone who's from Florida and we have this incredible magical place. So Magic Kingdom is my favorite park and Magic Kingdom is home to my favorite ride, which is Space Mountain. I love Space Mountain. I just love being completely in the dark, you know, and not being able to see anything and something will happen and you'll kind of get a flash of it and you'll realize, wait, this is actually like, if this were out in the daylight, this would be nothing of an experience at all. But the fact that you're in the dark and you can't see what's happening and you're just going so fast and it's so cold in there. Right. So Space Mountain, by far, my favorite.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (44:54):
That's similar to my favorite ride. So I think I've already established my favorite park is Disney's Hollywood Studios. That's why I wanted to work there. Because I like film and TV production. So that was always my fav. My favorite ride is the Rock 'N' Roller Coaster. I like the darkness of it. It's dark, but then they also have the neon signs and stuff. I love the loud music, the fast music. It just goes really well with the ride. So that is my favorite. So we both love roller coasters. Also I said that wrong. I thought about it halfway through. It wasn't called the Epic area, it was called the Icon area. Yes, that's what it was called. Epic was just the short title for Indiana Jones. It was called Icon, but Toy Story was in the back lot. That was called the back lot area and it was the back lot tour. It was Toy Story. It was Little Mermaid show. They also had this really cool animation class where you could go and they would teach you to draw. I used to do that all the time. It's so fun because I can't draw, but they would teach you and you could draw Mickey and it would be very cool.
Beth Demme (45:59):
I remember the Little Mermaid show. I remember going there when when Hannah was little and I just remember how enamored she was with the whole thing. And during the show, there's this part where they use a lot of black light and like, it looks like it's just, it was just really neat. Really neat visual effects.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (46:16):
Yeah. You would see those people walking around backstage with just all in black because they had to wear black so that their, their animals and stuff would show up. Also people that were characters usually wore like just like gray jumpsuits and they would have their costumes in a big like suitcase thing. So you couldn't really see them. I've never seen a character without their head which is what I wanted to see behind the scenes. But I did see some Star Wars characters in various dress combinations. Like Darth Vader and stormtroopers, they would come to our break room during Star Wars days. They didn't have an actual break room, so they would come to ours. So that's when we interacted. One of my coordinators, which is like a step down from manager, one of my coordinators actually played an Ewok during Star Wars days, because he was about that height. I remember once he was in his costume and I didn't know for sure it was him, but he runs up to me and gives me a big hug. Then I knew it was him, but he was very, very soft. It was funny.
Beth Demme (47:23):
Very sweet. Yes. Right. We could probably talk about Disney all day. Lots of good times. Lots of good memories. I'm sorry for those who are having to experience it during pandemic times. I don't know what it will be like as it reopens or if they'll be able to stay open since we're having so many problems with the virus in Florida.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (47:43):
We're recording this before Disney has reopened. This is, we're not even in July yet. We're in June. It's supposed to open in like July 11th. I think. So we don't know what that's gonna look like, or if it's even going to happen, but by the time this podcast comes out, I think it might be that time. So we'll see.
Beth Demme (48:06):
I hope that it goes well. It's hard to imagine social distancing in a theme park. It's hard to imagine surfaces being managed and all that. They have a huge task ahead of them, for sure.
Stephanie Kostopoulos (48:17):
If anyone can do it, it's Disney. I will tell you that. So we want to thank you for listening today, and we want to remind you that if you are in the Apple podcast app, if you scroll all the way down, you're going to see five stars there. All you have to do is click that fifth star.
Beth Demme (48:35):
Right now click it!
Stephanie Kostopoulos (48:36):
And it will give us a five star rating and let it let other people hopefully be able to find us through those ratings. So thanks for so much for joining us and we'll see you next time.
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Mental Health Advocate. Author. Podcast Host. DIYer. Greyhound Mom.
I'm a mom who laughs a lot, mainly at myself. #UMC Pastor, recent Seminary grad, public speaker, blogger, and sometimes lawyer. Learning to #LiveLoved.