Actors’ Equity Reaches Agreement With Walt Disney World Over COVID Testing: Actors Can Return To Park

Walt Disney World AP Photo/John Raoux, File

UPDATE, with Disney World statement Walt Disney World and Actors’ Equity Association have reached an agreement over COVID-19 testing that will allow actors to return to work at the resort following a two-month stand-off.

News of the agreement comes after Walt Disney World notified the union that it had taken steps to provide the state of Florida with a temporary testing site that will offer free testing for Florida residents, including Disney World employees and immediate families. Disney said the establishment of a COVID testing site was not undertaken to satisfy any particular union’s demands.

In a statement, a Disney spokesperson said, “We have offered the location to help with community testing and any suggestion that this has been done as a result of any one union is unfounded. The Florida Division of Emergency Management will operate the location which is available to Cast Members and their immediate families as well as Florida residents. Our actions support all cast and our community at large.”

“Cast members” is a Disney Resorts term for park employees. The state-run testing site is located inside Disney’s Maingate office complex in Osceola County near Disney’s Animal Kingdom park.

“We have been consistent that testing is an important part of ensuring a safe workplace for Equity performers, and today, I’m pleased to see that Disney World has agreed,” said Kate Shindle, President of Actors’ Equity Association. “With the news that Disney will make testing available for Equity performers and others in the park, I’m happy to announce that Equity’s executive committee has signed a memorandum of understanding with Disney for Equity performers to return.”

The test is a self-administered nasal swab that allows personnel to swab their own noses in their vehicles, under supervision of trained medical personnel. Results are delivered within 3-5 business days.

The testing debate began on June 23, when Disney announced plans to recall cast members for rehearsals the following week. Two days later, Equity announced that its member actors needed to be tested since actors cannot practice social distancing at work. On June 26, Walt Disney World rescinded all of its recall notices for Equity members.

Equity represents about 750 park employees, many of whom performed the resort’s musical stage productions. Since the park’s phased reopening began on July 11, some stage productions have been revamped without actors, leaving stripped-down shows populated by non-speaking costumed characters and park employees serving as on-stage hosts. The long-running  Beauty and the Beast — Live on Stage show, for example, was replaced with The Disney Society Orchestra and Friends, a 20-minute instrumental concert that ends with non-Equity Disney employees dressed as Belle, the Beast, Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, Cogsworth and Chip taking the stage to silently wave goodbye to the audience.

A review in the popular Disney blog Blog Mickey was harsh: “If it weren’t for the talented musicians in the Disney Society Orchestra, what you’re left with is little more than a middle-school theater production.”

No dates have been announced for the resumption of actor-staffed musical productions.

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