Heather Hall, Thornton School of Music production manager, always dreamed of dancing in Disneyland parades, so while studying dance at UC Irvine, she decided to audition.
She was cast as a dancer in the Electrical Parade, and soon learned it was much harder than it looked.
“My first performance, I was so overwhelmed with excitement and joy,” Hall said. “But at the same time, I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be because the parade route is a lot longer than you think and it’s also really tiring. I was so excited, but I was dying at the same time.”
Hall had been a performer for most of her life before dancing at Disneyland. She said her parents enrolled her in her first dance class when she was four because she started to dance whenever she heard music. She also spent several years playing piano and clarinet.
“I started getting too busy, so I had to choose,” she said. “Do I want to focus more on dance, or do I want to do music? I chose dance, but I was still doing a lot of singing and choir, so music has always been a big part of my life.”
Hall left her San Diego home to study dance at UC Irvine. She spent her last two years in college dancing at Disneyland, but wanted a change when she graduated.
“When I graduated college, I think that’s when I realized I really enjoyed dancing, and it’s always something that will be a part of my life in some way, but I’m ready to be behind the scenes,” Hall said.
She continued working for Disney, but transitioned to behind-the-scenes production as a stage manager and administrator, working for the Guest Talent Program department, where she worked with community groups who came to the Disneyland park to perform.
“I’ve always been really intrigued with events and I had at one point thought that maybe I’d be an event planner,” Hall said. “I thought this would be a really good opportunity because it combined my arts background with dance as well as the event production. I didn’t really anticipate being there long, but I ended up having such a good time and learning so much.”
Eight years later, she still works for Disney on weekends, but, for about two years, has spent the week days in Thornton’s MacDonald, Ramo and Newman recital halls as production manager. She heard about the job from Director of Operations and Concerts Michelle Maestas, a friend from Disney, and applied partly because her fiance, who she met at UC Irvine, was working on his masters at USC.
“I was looking for a larger role than what I was doing at Disney,” Hall said. “Our department was so small that there wasn’t really a lot of opportunities to move around.”
Hall is now responsible for hiring and training student staff members, updating operating guidelines and managing Thornton productions from small student recitals to large events like the recent Piatigorsky International Cello Festival.
“There are a lot of events here and working with the students is awesome because I love training and sharing the knowledge that I have with other people,” Hall said. “My drawing point was definitely working with these kids and giving them advice before they graduate.”
Hall said she has been able to share lessons she learned from her experience with Disney with student workers to make events run as smoothly as possible.
“The ultimate thing I learned [at Disney] is to make the guest experience the best it can be,” Hall said. “What I try to instill in the students that work for me is that we’re going to make this the best and we want them to be happy, so we need to give them the best service we can. It’s not always going to be perfect, but that’s what we’re always going to strive for, so we’re going to do our very best.”
Hall said spring is the busiest season for Thornton performances, with numerous recitals and other large events. Though summer provides a break from the many performances, Hall is not entirely taking a break from events. She is currently planning her wedding, set for August.