You know the old saying -- "April showers bring May flowers" -- right? Well, that's not how Lora Wallace -- who works as a show director for Universal Orlando Resort -- looks at her calendar.
"You have to understand that -- here at Universal Orlando -- we prep for Halloween Horror Nights year 'round," Wallace explained. "We had our first meeting for the 2015 edition of Horror Nights three weeks before the 2014 edition opened. So by the time May rolls around, we already need to be building the haunted houses that people will be walking though come September & October."
And the reason that work has to begin so early on this seasonal event is that -- by the first week of August -- Lora has to already be rehearsing Universal Orlando team members for the roles that they'll be playing in that theme park's spookified streets and mazes.
"Mind you, what's kind of bizarre is that -- just as we're in the middle of rehearsals for Halloween Horror Nights -- I then have to begin casting for Universal Orlando's holiday program. As I try and find the very best performers to appear in Grinchmas over at Islands of Adventure," Wallace continued. "I don't do that by choice. It's just that -- by the end of summer -- all of the other theme parks and attractions in and around Orlando are already holding their Christmas casting sessions. And if I want to be certain that Universal has the very best people appearing in the holiday shows at its theme parks ... Well, that's why we have to hold our Christmas casting sessions in late summer as well."
So is Lora always at least one holiday ahead? Sort of. As soon as something seasonal like Halloween Horror Nights or Grinchmas opens at the Universal Orlando Resort, Wallace immediately enters the here & now. She then puts herself in the guests shoes and goes out into the theme parks to try these experiences just as the they would."
"That's honestly the most important aspect of my job as show director. Making sure that I see things just as the guests do and then making sure that Universal Orlando's entertainment offerings are actually entertaining. Our goal is to always give our guests a top quality show experience right from the get-go. And if that's not happening for some reason ... Well, here at Universal Orlando, the customer is always right. And if they're not being entertained by a show, we then immediately begin making tweaks & changes to that show's script and start adjusting the cast's performances," Lora stated.
Which -- I know -- makes Wallace sound like kind of a tough taskmaster. But here's the thing: Lora was once where all of these Universal Orlando performers are today. Standing in the spotlight, singing and sweating in the Central Florida heat as she tried to entertain some tourists.
"I've been with Universal Orlando for over 18 years now. And one of my first jobs at this resort was playing a singing, dancing Bride of Frankenstein in the Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue, " Wallace laughed. "So I've been exactly right where all of these performers are right now. Back in the day, I had to get notes from my show director as well. Learn what I could do personally to deliver a better overall show experience for Universal Orlando's guests."
And it's that personal touch which Lora has tried to foster with all of the performers that she directs at Universal Orlando Resort. Making sure that -- whenever possible -- the people who sing, dance and interact with the guests at these theme parks always then try to forge some sort of personal connection with the guests.
"This is why -- whenever we send a performer out into the parks to do a meet-n-greet or a photo op -- I always tell them to actually talk with the guests. Make these people aware that this same performer will be appearing in the Macy's Holiday Parade or in our Mardi Gras parade in a specific spot in that parade's line-up," Wallace said. "And the little kids? They just love this. They love being able to spot someone they've previously met in the park performing in the parade. So they wave frantically from the curb to get that performer's attention. And you should see their faces light up when that performer actually acknowledges them and waves back."
Now you'd think -- given that the Universal Orlando version of Halloween, Christmas and Mardi Gras run for weeks at a time-- that Lora must have her hands full, what with having to keep this huge team of performers motivated over the long haul. Making sure that they deliver a top quality, high energy performance day-after-day, night-after-night. But that's where you'd be wrong.
"When it comes down to casting these seasonal shows, I've found that there are performers who really love Halloween Horror Nights and will only audition for that event. Likewise there are people who only want to perform in our Macy's Holiday Parade or in our Mardi Gras celebration. So they'll only come out when we're holding auditions for those specific events," Wallace explained. "So in this situation, my job as a show director is to make sure that I'm always casting the right people for the right shows. Making sure that I'm harnessing all of that person's passion & enthusiasm and then channeling that into the right production. So that Universal Orlando visitors will then experience the best possible performance which comes from a highly motivated team member."
"I won't lie to you. Being a show director can sometimes be a very stressful, very demanding job. But given that we have places in our theme parks like New York Street that are such natural stages, our guests expect that all the shows we present here at Universal Orlando are going to be big, grand and entertaining. And it's sometimes a challenge to deliver on that expectation," Wallace stated. "But I've honestly got the greatest job. More importantly, I absolutely love what I do. There's no other career that I'd rather have."
So with the 2015 edition of Universal Orlando's Mardi Gras now officially in the rear view mirror, Lora -- for the moment, anyway -- is focusing all of her attention on this year's edition of Halloween Horror Nights. Which perhaps explains this seasonal event's catch phrase: "It's never too early to start panicking."
"And given that this year's event will be the 25th anniversary of Universal Orlando's very first Halloween offering, we've got some very special stuff planned for 2015. Stuff that I'm not allowed to talk about. Not yet, anyway," Lora teased.