Elizabeth Earns Her Ears

My Secret Disneyland Cast Member Diary

by Elizabeth Coram | Release Date: July 6, 2016 | Availability: Print, Kindle

Smile and Say "College Program"

Shy Jersey girl Elizabeth has always had a soft spot for Disney, and for film, and so she decided to pave the way for her future career at the Disney studio by applying for a semester of "work study" as a PhotoPass photographer at Disneyland through the college program.

It's hard to channel your inner Spielberg from behind the lens of a company-provided SLR camera taking scripted shots of persnickety guests. But Elizabeth took the exposure and ran with it, happily crossing off personal goals on her "things to get done at Disney" list, and (as so often happens in the Disney College Program) gaining maturity and confidence from dealing with moments both magical and miserable.

Elizabeth's cast member diary recounts:

  • The unique pleasures and pitfalls of working as a PhotoPass photographer at Disneyland
  • A simmering roommate feud explodes over the amputation of a construction paper cut-out called "Big Turkey"
  • How rain and Disney bureaucracy spoiled Elizabeth's photo shoot of a wedding proposal at Sleeping Beauty Castle—but put 40 bucks in her pocket, anyway
  • How a cast member shortage and Disney bureaucracy spoiled Elizabeth's "dream date" with Jack Skellington—but then a happily ever after salvaged it
  • Plus, the usual EARS mix of off-the-wall guest and cast member stories, and enlightening peeks backstage at Disney theme parks


Elizabeth Earns Her Ears is the eighth volume in the popular "Earning Your Ears" series. If you've never been in the Disney College Program, this is the next best thing!

Table of Contents

About "Earning Your Ears"


Chapter 1: ODD: Obsessive Disney Disorder and Why I Chose Disneyland

Chapter 2: First Impressions: Why Is Everything So Orange?

Chapter 3: One Small Step to Disneyland

Chapter 4: The Quest for the Turkey Leg

Chapter 5: Any Idiot Can Hold a Camera: Except This One

Chapter 6: My First Real Shift: Dapper Day

Chapter 7: It Happens Once in a Blue Moon

Chapter 8: Ain’t No Party Like a Mad T Party Because Butts

Chapter 9: First Character Shifts

Chapter 10: Friday the 13th

Chapter 11: Cast TV

Chapter 12: The Best Birthday Ever

Chapter 13: That One Class I Was Forced to Take

Chapter 14: Everyone Really Does Have a Script in Cali

Chapter 15: Ridiculous Photos in a Santa Hat

Chapter 16: Crossing Boundaries

Chapter 17: Disney Professional Internships

Chapter 18: Achieving the Unachievable

Chapter 19: My Family is “That” Family

Chapter 20: The War of the Turkeys

Chapter 21: You Can’t Be the Asshole! I’m the Asshole!

Chapter 22: Connections Are Finally Happening

Chapter 23: I Get a Proposal, You Get a Proposal, Everybody Gets a Proposal!

Chapter 24: The Perks of Being a Cast Member

Chapter 25: I’m Becoming One of the Experienced People; What Is Happening?

Chapter 26: Discouragement of the Third Kind

Chapter 27: Radiator Springs Racers Backstage Tour

Chapter 28: The Snowy Apocalypse

Chapter 29: Thanksgiving and the Doctor Who Anniversary Special

Chapter 30: Making My Film Debut With the Video Announcements

Chapter 31: That Time We Drove To San Jose

Chapter 32: The Two Times I Ate an Entire Box of Oreos Because I’m an Adult

Chapter 33: The Stars Are Not in Alignment

Chapter 34: Dreams Do Come True

Chapter 35: The Dinner Party

Chapter 36: New Year’s Eve: The Ultimate Send Off

Chapter 37: Tying Up Loose Ends

Chapter 38: I Don’t Know Who You Are, But Give Me My Ears

Chapter 39: Adventure is Out There

Chapter 40: Hey, Look, It’s My Long-Lost Cousin

Chapter 41: See You, Space Cowboy

Epilogue: Why I’m An Idiot Who’s Trying to Go Back

When I knew I was leaving for the Disney College Program at Disneyland, I made a list of things I was going to do while I was away:

  • Go on the Tower of Terror.
  • Attend a game of musical chairs.
  • Find Clopin and tell him how we met when I was 6 and he owes me big time.
  • Find and meet Peter’s very special friend Andrew.
  • Find and meet the very talented Brianna Garcia.
  • Go on the Little Mermaid ride.
  • Go on the tea cup ride with Alice and the Mad Hatter.
  • Find Hatter’s entourage (if they’re still around).
  • Meet Peter and Wendy.
  • Meet Alice and the Mad Hatter.
  • Meet Jack and Sally.
  • Attend Jack’s party (everyone says it’s Mickey’s but, really, it’s Jack’s).
  • See Walt Disney’s apartment above the firehouse.

As I look it over, it sounds like a list a child would write.

But I was still a child in many respects. I had only been to Disney twice in my life: once when I was four and couldn’t remember anything and another when I was in eighth grade. I felt this was a crime against humanity, but there was nothing I could do except make up for lost time.

I also had never been away from home for a long period of time. A week trip here or there but never more than that and never clear across the country. I couldn’t even survive dorming at a nearby college for more than a few weeks at best and even then I commuted in between and eventually gave up dorming all together.

And then there was the ideology that if I worked hard at Disney they would surely recognize my talents and I’d be working for Walt Disney Animation Studios in no time. Perhaps I would have to get a Disney Professional Internship in between, but I could see the future quite clearly. It would be a piece of cake. I was top in my digital filmmaking class, the well-known Disney nut, and the definition of a teacher’s pet; there was no way Disney wouldn’t hire me.

That’s what I told myself because that’s what I had to believe in. I don’t want to say I felt I was above my role as a Disneyland PhotoPass photographer, but I felt I was above being a Disneyland PhotoPass photographer. I had to keep telling myself how much I’d be learning in terms of using SLR cameras, something that was never my strongpoint as a filmmaking student. I felt as though I was capable of so much more. But, at the same time, I knew I had to suck it up: with no film-oriented jobs in sight (unless I wanted to work for free, which I didn’t) between graduation and the start of the DCP, I had no other choice. This was my only option to break in. And I was going to break in with this company whether Disney liked it or not. Because that was my dream; the only thing I ever wanted in life.

So I packed up my car with as many belongings as possible, including but not limited to clothes, my Playstation 3, and an array of stuffed animals. It’s an addiction and one I’m not willing to stop anytime soon. I said goodbye to my sisters, my beloved pets, my best friend. And then I made my mom drive me clear across the country for a Powerline concert.

I wish I could say this was the road trip of a lifetime, but it wasn’t, really. We only had five days to make it from a small suburban town in New Jersey to Anaheim, California. It may sound easy; it was not easy. Staying in a car for most of the day for five days straight can drive anyone insane, even with breaks to stretch your legs. I had been on long road trips before, but they were at most twelve-hour drives and even then I felt insanity slowly consuming me. This one would be well over twenty four hours; I can’t even say how long the trip was. I didn’t keep track. But it felt like forever.

I spent most of my downtime listening to a podcast people wouldn’t stop raving about. And by people, I mean the internet. “Welcome to Nightvale” proved to be my only salvation and I had a whole thirty episodes to get through. Cecil Baldwin’s voice was complete and utter bliss to my ears and proved to be very valuable when I needed something soothing to put me to sleep. Of course I had to discover the one good thing New York had to offer just as I was leaving it behind me.

I’d be lying if I said there were no fun times. I did get to see Elvis’ house during the Elvis week celebration. And let me just say this: Elvis fans are nuts. My first impression of his home was how small it was. I remember seeing his house featured on TV several times growing up and it always appeared to be a big mansion. But it isn’t. When we expressed this, it was as if a group of vultures were ready to attack with their angry looks and disapproving tone. I mean, you’d think it was their house we were talking about. I’d hate to think what would have happened if I had actually said something about Elvis himself.

So that was that. But it was, in an odd way, a good start to the trip. Mostly because I took a picture in front of Elvis’ house with my Stitch plush that I had bought solely for the sake of that photograph. I wasn’t kidding when I said my stuffed animal addiction was a problem.

There was also the Grand Canyon, a place I had longed to visit. And it was beautiful and breathtaking in every way possible. I wish I could have stayed a night just to see what it looks like under the stars and the night sky, just as its supposed to look, without the city lights. I also secretly wished I had seen a mountain lion, but that didn’t happen either.

Those were the only two big things we had time to squeeze into our tight schedule. So with our only sightseeing trips in Tennessee and Arizona, you can imagine just how boring the trip was.

I also figured out pretty quickly that I am not a fan of the desert. God, they’re so ugly. I mean no offense to people who enjoy the desert terrain, but I am a fan of these things called trees and forests. And, considering Anaheim is so close to a desert and in so many ways like a desert, you can imagine that my first impressions of the city I would be calling home were not favorable. But if I was going to work for Disney in the way I wanted to, I knew I would be forced to embrace the orange overlay.

I had been given one glimmer of the life I would be living before arriving for my program. About a week or so before our journey across the country, I had been selected as a student volunteer for SIGGRAPH, a convention where animation companies like Disney show new technology they have been working on as well as scout for potential employees. When I wasn’t at SIGGRAPH, I decided to explore Downtown Disney. As someone who hadn’t been to a Disney park in years, just seeing World of Disney was enough to send my entire body giddy with excitement. And as I heard the screams from Tower of Terror, the laughter from guests in Disneyland, the music that would play throughout the park, I knew that despite my role, I was getting into something special.

I’m Elizabeth by the way, and this is how I earned my ears.

Elizabeth Coram

Elizabeth Coram has so many jobs ranging in so many fields of study she’s not entirely sure what she does for a living anymore. Currently, she lives in New Jersey; but sometimes she lives in Florida and may soon be living in California. So she’s not entirely sure where she lives, either. In fact, at this point, Elizabeth Coram isn’t really sure if she’s a real person or not. But she knows she has a cat.

A plum position for PhotoPass photographers is the character shift, in which the photographer snaps shots of guests posing with Disney characters. Elizabeth coveted these positions, but her shyness sometimes got the better of her.

It was maybe a few weeks in when I finally started to see character shifts pop up on my schedule or when I was relocated due to lack of staff. But who cares, because I was finally going to work with characters and that was awesome. I was finally going to have character friends.

Or not.

I quickly noticed during my character shifts that my shyness began flying over the roof. I suddenly couldn’t talk to characters, and that was because during breaks, characters let their guard down. It may be only for a few seconds or sometimes several minutes, but at the end of the day, you get moments where characters are vulnerable. And I quite frankly didn’t know how to handle that. I idolized the characters and I didn’t know what to say when they told me about their personal lives.

Suffice to say, I was also pretty terrible at introducing myself. Again, the shyness would kick in and I would suddenly become mute. Plus, I already knew Ariel and the Evil Queen and Peter Pan and Mulan. I was completely insignificant in comparison. There were also some shifts where I had to jump from character to character and sometimes never got the chance to talk in private and give myself a proper introduction. I once got a four keys card from Frozone himself without even knowing it. His handwriting was a little hard to read and we never got the chance to speak backstage.

I wish I could say it was solely my lack of social skills that caused some completely and utterly embarrassing moments with characters, but luckily it was just my sheer and utter stupidity I could thank for that. Being socially awkward at times was the least of my worries.

For instance, I like to be prepared for the worst case scenarios and so I always had some form of feminine care products on my person since reaching my backpack was not always an option. Now, with that being said, I’m sure you can imagine what kind of event went down during my first time working with Sully and the Incredibles. Lets just say something slipped out of my pocket for the world to bear witness to on the ground in front of the Monster’s University door. I played it cool, since that was the only thing I really could do, and tried to prevent my face from turning as red as a rose.

There was another time where it was only my second or so character shift. During my first character shift, the character host had been extremely helpful by asking me if I had ever done the shift before and what to do when she was not there. I wish I could say the same thing happened during my second shift with Woody and Jessie. One minute I’m taking photographs, interacting with guests, and everything in between. The next minute, I’m turning to the character host who has seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth. Now, at first I think to myself she is probably just going on a fifteen minute break and as soon as she comes back I’ll be able to continue my duties by taking my own break and then breaking for a fellow photographer.

Well, fifteen minutes went by and there was nothing. I started to seriously question what to do. Because, shockingly, no one ever explicitly stated which characters could be left alone and which characters needed a host or photographer at all times. The general rule of thumb was to never really leave a character without a host. And I had no idea where mine went. To top it all off, I noticed one of Woody’s buttons was consistently unsnapping. Of course, I had no idea how to properly fix it and even if I did it wasn’t exactly easy to expect someone of my size to reach the said issue with an SLR in hand.

Of course, panic ensued as it always did. What was I supposed to do? Where was the character host? Should I leave Woody to continue my actual job or go the extra mile and wait for the character host to come back? How do I tell Woody I’m leaving without it seeming awkward? How do I get away from all these guests that expect me to take their pictures? Why is this so difficult?

As the time went by, I eventually left Woody and Jessie alone. In the end, I called management to tell them the situation which is probably why when I got back from everything, the character host seemed to be in a bad mood. I felt guilty for potentially getting her in trouble, but at the same time, there was really nothing I could do. No one had told me you could leave Woody and Jessie by themselves. She never said where she was going. And I hadn’t a clue about what to do. At least I knew for next time. I guess. I would have liked to avoid making potential enemies due to my lack of knowledge.

Of course, after my first embarrassing shifts, things did start turning for the best with nothing super embarrassing occurring, thank goodness. Toward the end of my time as a PhotoPass photographer, I even became semi-good friends with Tinker Bell due to all my Pixie Hollow shifts. But those first couple of shifts were such doozies at times that I wondered how exactly I would survive the next four-and-a-half months. Or if I would even survive at all.

At the end of the day, I liked character shifts. But the fact of the matter was, I was too awkward, too much of a shy kid at heart to do anything productive. And forget about networking. I completely failed in that department. I would like to say if I could do it all over again, I would be more outgoing, communicate more, play more. But really, I’d probably just fall back into being a complete idiot with mouth diarrhea.

Continued in "Elizabeth Earns Her Ears"!

It's not always the cast members who make magic for guests; sometimes, it's the guests who make magic for the cast members.

Probably the highest honor you could receive as a cast member is a guest compliment. Fellow cast members can easily appreciate one another with the Four Keys Card. But it takes a certain someone to take the time out of their vacation to give a cast member that is already expected to act a certain way a guest compliment.

I never really expected to get a guest compliment. First off, I barely understood what they were so I couldn’t anticipate getting something I didn’t fully understand. Second, I knew my sarcastic and overtly sassy persona at the parks was not always well received by guests. It’s an East Coast / West Coast mentality thing.

There was one day in particular where a fellow CP said to me, “Elizabeth, you were such an a-hole to guests today, I loved it! It totally made my day.” Of course, after hearing such a comment, I could only anticipate a guest complaint would be on the way. I knew what those were and sure as heck didn’t want one. Which, now that I think about it, makes me wonder why my fellow college program photographer was so happy about my “a-hole” personality in the first place.

But luckily as the weeks rolled by, I heard nothing. So I knew I was safe, which was certainly a relief. I had seen some of the nicest people get guest complaints so the fact that I had slid under the radar was a miracle. Then again, guest complaints are a hit or miss as well. It only takes one extremely angry guest to go the extra mile and complain about you.

Then there came a day when I was working and a woman wearing professional attire stood to the side waiting for the guests to leave. I can’t remember the location, but there were other cast members around. Perhaps it was Pixie Hollow. Perhaps it wasn’t. I’m not entirely sure. But it was most likely a character shift.

Oh god, what did I do? It was the only logical thing that came into my head. I was quiet, I had been injured, and when I wasn’t quiet I was throwing my East Coast humor left and right. Clearly, I must have done something wrong.

The guests left and I waited. At this point, I didn’t even consider that the woman might be there for someone else other than myself. I knew, I just knew. And I was completely right.

“Hi, Elizabeth, I just wanted to come by and congratulate you on the guest compliment you received.” She then proceeded to show me a black certificate. “I’ll leave this with your leads so you can pick it up when your shift is over.”

“Great, thank you so much!” I replied, dumbfounded as my fellow cast members cheered me on and congratulated me. Just how I managed to pull off a guest compliment, I’ll never know. Of course, I was completely giddy with excitement the entire day. Getting a guest compliment was a good motivation to actually do a good job that day. At least, I would assume so. I have no idea what exactly my performance was on that particular day.

After my shift ended, I took the certificate and read the description. It was for work I had done at the main entrance. The main entrance; one of the most despised and arguably worst locations in both theme parks. How the hell exactly had I pulled this off?

“Elizabeth really got us in the Halloween spirit with her fun poses!”

I couldn’t even remember the guest who commended me or what sort of fun poses I had done. Considering all the other magical moments I thought I had created, it was odd to receive a guest compliment on such a small occasion. Again, this goes back to the idea that guest compliments are really hit or misses. You could do the best job in the world and not get a guest compliment or do a somewhat adequate job and get a guest compliment. Which is why guest compliments should probably be taken with a grain of salt just as should guest complaints. But who cares? It didn’t matter. I had achieved the unachievable: I had gotten a guest compliment. Who says East Coast humor can’t get you anywhere in life?

Continued in "Elizabeth Earns Her Ears"!

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