The Casual Reporter: It's the End of the Show as We Know It

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It's the End of the Show as We Know It

I got to work last night at 4:30 pm and was handed a full page of new text to learn for the final performance of the original version of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show (La Legende de Buffalo Bill), Disney Village, Disneyland Paris France. I'm not sure who wrote the text but I'm going to hazard a guess he or she doesn't make a living as a writer. The intentions were good but it just didn't work. So I re-wrote the speech and during the final revue of the second show delivered it, with some improvisation of course. Because I am blessed with a short memory, I paused slightly in places for my brain to catch up, which had the affect of adding drama and emotion to the speech. You'll have to imagine that part as you read. Here's how the show's run, in it's original form, ended:

(Old text) Folks, we hope you have enjoyed yourselves, and we hope you will all come back and return with us again to the legendary world of the pioneer days on the great American plains.
(New speech)
Although if you do, your experience will be very different than it was here tonight. Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show first played under this roof 17 years ago, back in 1992. Some of the original cast are still with us here tonight. I want to thank them for their dedication and spirit (audience and cast applaud) and I want to thank all of our esteemed guests who have patronized our show over the years. But now, after more than 11,000 shows in front of more than 11 million people, tonight's performance marks the last of it's kind. Starting next week our show will feature Mickey Mouse and Friends (unsolicited hoot of laughter from the audience) That's the reaction I often get when I talk about this. Mickey and his Friends will add a new flavor of fun and magic to our show, while retaining all the excitement of the original. We hope you all come back and see our new show. But now, to mark the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, some of my Native American friends have asked to perform for you an inter-tribal song.
As Auguste Durand Rouel (Didier) translates, Kave, Wiley, and Petit Loup bring a drum onstage. Sitting Bull (Shawn) joins them as they perform a very moving Native American Indian song. The audience and cast explode in applause that lasts almost until the drum is carried off stage. Their last few steps are taken in heavy silence before I start my final text:
Just remember - wherever there's a sunset, there's a West. But there was only one... BUFFALO BILL'S WILD WEST !!

We all exchanged compliments and condolensces afterwards, and posed for a last-minute improvised group photo (thankfully our biggest fan, photographer, and all-around good guy Marc Veillard was there with his camera or even that would not likely have happened).
Now it's the next day and in two hours I'll be attending the dress rehearsal for the Mickey-fication of what had become a 17-year old institution, tradition, and legend in its own right. I still hold on to a shred of optimism, or maybe I should say I have the audacity to hope, that all this pomp and ceremony of a "final show" will fuel the version of Murphy's law that causes things to go the opposite of planned, and we will one day revert back again to a re-energized production of the original show. Until then, a big, fat, gritted-teeth, vein-popping, bone-crushing hug to our newest cast member..

M I C ... see you real soon!
K E Y ... why? Because we LIKE you!
M O U S E !!


  1. R.I.P the real Wild West Show

  2. The original Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show was Disney's longest-running, live, revenue-producing show IN THE WORLD--unique in its conception and execution.

    It was such a great show that it was director-proof. Witness its continued success for nearly half of its 17-year life despite having no full-time professional artistic director.

    It has not proven to be producer-proof, however. To whit:
    There have been no open auditions for professional-performer replacements for the show's principal roles in for more than nine years. We now have a very nice man, God bless him, regularly playing the title role who couldn't get the understudy role in an internal audition run by his best friend. There was a remarkable reluctance for many years to recruiting cowboys and Indians in North America where cowboys and Indians actually are. Starting salaries have not been increased since the original contracts, housing-expense payments for non-European performers have not been raised since the beginning, while inauthentic (sometimes unqualified) temporary performers have been hired at a lower status than the people they replace.
    The show has essentially never been advertised or promoted on its own, despite being Disney's longest-running show ever. Even internal promotions (with the exception of the Summer parades) were stopped several years ago. The food budget has been cut, and prices have been repeatedly raised.
    ...And guest-satisfaction ratings have skidded from 98 percent ten years ago to the low 80s now.

    So, what's the fix? Hire authentic, professional, qualified performers and pay them what they're worth? Spend some money on the menu? Honor the show and respect the audience by spending some of the hundreds of thousands of euros being spent to convert the show to just another Disneyland show to, instead, return "to those thrilling days of yesteryear" when the show featured quality, authenticity and consistency and earned its nearly-perfect satisfaction levels and celebrate, market and advertise our unique success? Apparently not.

    Please, Direction, find a middle-ground on this. Stop just listening to each other or to people whose jobs are only justifiable when shows need to be replaced. Start listening to the audience which laughed at the idea when it was announced to them at the last of the traditional performances. Listen to our public who laugh or stand open-mouthed in disbelief when they first hear about the idea.

    Please, it is possible to bring Disney characters TO the Wild West Show in accord with the resort-wide promotion, to increase guest/character interaction and to boost satisfaction levels at the show without putting Mickey & Minnie, et al, INTO it. It is not only possible, but preferable.

  3. Yee Haw Jeffalo!!!! I could't have said better. You should have your own column. Speaking for some of the cast who stil have their balls, looking forward to having you back in the show. Brock

  4. I had no knowledge of the show being changed and the disney characers being brought in. I can only imagine how the show has changed since I left in 03. It was such a change in the quality and ambience from the show to the cast in the years I was there. From 98' to 03' the show changed dramatically. I can only imagine now.

    The sad thing is the fact that the show will probably continue to spiral until Disney rips the last remaining breath from it. Whenever I worked in the show the management was a complete and total disgrace and from what I gather off of the few blog entries I've read it seams to continue. It is sad and hard to stomach for so many of the previous and current cast to watch. It's like watching a favorite sports team that at one time enjoyed such success be run into the ground by an incompetent coaching staff. Or another example would be to watch your favorite athlete who was outstanding come to an age where he is a has been.

    That is kinda the way I feel about the wild west show. Though there are still some great performers that work there from Sonna, Jeffrey, Kevin Kramer, Trent, Ritchey, Kave and I could go on and on. There is just no leadership or management. It is again like watching a favorite sports team that still has great players but the management and coaching staff are incompetent and driven by personal gain rather than the success of the team or in the B.B.W.W.S. case the "show".

    Whenever I left the B.B.W.W.S. there was no dialogue or respect between cast and management. This is the most destructive factor I believe. Whenever the show was strong and a "good" show we had a good lead. Mike Fontes had a good relationship with management and held the respect of management. After Mike, Val was solid as well. When the cast lost strong leadership it lost a lot. No telling who Disney has appointed as leads on the indian side and cowboy side now.

    I wish that I could share any kind of advice that I may have but when it comes to the wild west show I believe the only thing that could save it is a complete regime change. For a private investor to buy the show and rescue it from the blood sucking vampire that Disney has become.

    Just before I left the B.B.W.W.S. the mis-management was more than I could bear. When the blatant theft is taken place and you have to ride a crippled horse because the money that should be used to replace old and wore out horses is being stolen was more than I could stomach. If only a fraction of the money generated by the show was kept inside the show there would be great horses, great costumes, great techniques, great food and even a better cast. But again, the wooden stake has to be driven through the heart of the vampire. That vampire is Disney. Pretty crazy huh?

    Well I didn't mean to ramble but just had to get that bit off my chest. I know there are still some awesome players on the team there at the B.B.W.W.S. and Lord willing one day you'll get a coach that will put you back on top. Until then I guess you have to put up with (I can't even believe it) Mickey and Minnie and the rest of the crew.

    Don't be fainthearted though and keep pressing forward. The world still has a huge love for the American West and mark my words, One day there'll be a show that'll overshadow anything Buffalo Bill ever put together and it will travel all over the world.

    I just hope I'm a part of it and I hope that you are too.

    God Bless,


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