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Working for the Mouse
by Trevor Allen
review by Chad Jones in the Oakland Tribune October 25, 2002
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The man behind the mask: Disneyland not so magic for people in the furry suits.
At age 17, young Trevor Allen of San Jose went from the minors to the majors. For three summers he was Huckleberry Hound and Captain Caveman at Great America. Then he was hired to wear a fuzzy suit at Disneyland, the "happiest place on Earth." A full-time student in the University of California, Los Angeles, theater department, Allen was a part-time Disney "cast member."
His first job was as part of what Disney calls the "Fab Five" unit. Allen would suit up as Pluto, a 6-foot-tall yellow dog, and hit the litter-free streets of the park with the rest of his all-star unit: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. Smiling on the outside and sweating on the inside, work in a costume proved to be exhausting with few rewards of either a financial or emotional variety.
Now 33 and living in San Francisco with his wife of four years, Allen takes his revenge in a terrific solo show called "Working for the Mouse," produced under the auspices of Impact Theatre at Berkeley's La Val's Subterranean Theatre (The show moves to San Francisco's EXIT Cafe from Nov. 22 through Dec. 14).
In the show, Allen discusses the three years he spent working as Pluto, then as "Peter Pan" pirate Mr. Smee and finally as the Mad Hatter from "Alice in Wonderland." "Working at Disneyland made my goal of never having to grow up seem attainable," Allen says in the show. But the job did not turn out to be fun and games.
Temperatures inside the suits could get as hot as 115 degrees, and the costumes themselves could put injurious strain on body parts, especially the back and spine. Off stage, Allen sits in his living room and remembers taking a solo performance workshop with Charlie Varon, the Bay Area's resident king of one-man shows.
"My whole reason to do the show back then was to vent," Allen says. "Out came this vitriolic, sarcastic, biting satire. But you can't sustain that. The more I developed the show, the more laughs I got, and I decided that getting laughs was better than Disney-bashing, which is just too easy. I mean, here is this multi-national behemoth that has subverted children's imaginations for generations. If you can't laugh at that, you have no power over it."
After working in the Pluto and Smee costumes, Allen's goal was to become a "face character," that is, a character without a mask, like Peter Pan. Though he was never hired as the boy who would never grow up, Allen was hired as the Mad Hatter. Being a face character also means getting "voice clearance," permission to interact with guests. In the 1951 animated ``Alice in Wonderland,'' the Mad Hatter was voiced by character actor Ed Wynn. Not coincidentally, Allen does an amazing Wynn impersonation.
While working in the Alice unit, which also included the White Rabbit, and for a short time, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, Allen developed a crush on the woman playing Alice. In his show, he discusses his infatuation and recalls a birthday celebration in which someone shared hashish brownies with the Alice unit. Under the influence, the costumed characters actually rode the "Alice in Wonderland" ride, which is a rather psychedelic black-light attraction even for those not on drugs.
"Do yourself a favor, kids," Allen advises in his show. "Don't do drugs at Disneyland." Telling these stories from his past has been an interesting experience for Allen. The first version of the show was a 50-minute piece called "Character," which won the "Best of the Fringe" award at the San Francisco Fringe Festival in 1996. Alice never appeared in that version. But working with director Kent Nicholson, Allen dipped back into his Disney history and decided to tell more stories, even if they turned out to be embarrassing.
"Here I am talking about this boyish crush on a woman completely wrong for me, although it seemed the most natural thing in the world at the time," Allen says. "Why shouldn't Alice fall in love with the Mad Hatter? I was nervous about telling this to people and having them laugh, but when they actually did laugh, it was a very freeing thing."
Allen's show now runs about 75 minutes and is based entirely on real events and people, although he has taken some artistic license by consolidating events and creating some composite characters.
Early on there were some fears that Disney, a company known for its fiercely protective legal department, might object to Allen's telling tales out of costume. "When I first did the show, I was scared," Allen says. "I thought they would come after me, close down my show and sue me for everything I've got, which isn't much. But that didn't happen. I talked about the show on the radio and on TV, and either they didn't hear about it or they chose to ignore it and not call any attention to it. Everything I'm talking about is from my own experience, so I can talk about it. Thank God for the First Amendment."
Though he comes down hard on the Walt Disney Company, Allen is not ultimately a Disney-basher, although he says he'll never be able to enjoy Disneyland the way he did when he was a kid.
"I haven't been back for a while, but when my show is over, I may join my brother and three sisters for a trip to the park," Allen says. "They've been trying to get me to go back, and I guess I will if I'm not barred from entry- if I haven't been cast out of paradise."

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