Marissa watched as the man was led to her by his family. He was blind. It was only her second day of training, but she knew what to do. She took his hands in her own gloved ones and helped him feel her face. She guided his hands to her nose, her big ears.
“Who is it?” his family prompted him.
A smile grew across the man’s lips and his face lit up. “It’s Mickey Mouse!”
Marissa knew from a young age she wanted to work for the Walt Disney Company, but she never imagined she would actually be Mickey Mouse. Her original plan was to become an Imagineer and create rides, roller coasters and parade floats, but she quickly realized engineering wasn’t the path for her after her first semester of college at Brigham Young University. Dreams of working for Disney were pushed aside for more practical ones, like becoming a math teacher.
Everything changed when she was stopped by a girl while walking on campus.
“You would be the perfect mouse height!”
The girl, a complete stranger, was a representative for the Disney College Program, something Marissa hadn’t considered. She’d heard about it, but she was too immersed in her studies to be able to run off to Disney. The representative insisted that Marissa attend an audition in Salt Lake in three weeks. Marissa pushed the thought to the back of her mind.
It wasn’t until she mentioned it off-handedly to her mother that she started to really consider it. Her mother gave her advice that inflated new life into Marissa’s dream:
“You need to take this opportunity to live your life. School will always be there.”
Marissa took her mother’s words to heart and filled out the application. But she hesitated, wondering if it was really what she wanted. She had nearly talked herself out of it before her dad eventually reached over and pushed the submit button for her.
Then it was the audition. Marissa stood in a room with nine other hopefuls after six hours and four rounds of cuts. They’d danced and done some animation (which is basically pantomiming). Eventually, the casting directors thanked them for their time and sent them off.
“We left not having a clue if we got it,” Marissa said.
Marissa received her letter a month later. She had gotten the job. In April she moved to Florida where she would live and work for the next eight months.
Her time at Disney was unlike anything she’d ever done before. Marissa met hundreds upon hundreds of guests performing as iconic characters like Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Jiminy Cricket, Meeko, and Lilo.
“I walk around the park and nobody knows who I am,” Marissa said. “But suddenly I put on this costume and I own an entire company. People believe that you really are Mickey Mouse.”
As these various characters, Marissa had to sign autographs a certain way, stand a certain way, wear layers of heavy costume in the Florida heat, and remain professional “even if it was the 500th kid that’s bopped you on the nose that day,” she said. It was exhausting and even emotional when she would interact with children from Make a Wish or 100-year-olds who were visiting Disney for the first time. It was always a humbling experience.
“Something you don’t realize is that people save up their whole lives to come to Disney World,” Marissa explained. “People who don’t have a lot of money take years and years to bring their family. I’ve had people come and give me hugs and start crying because they’ve waited so long. They say, ‘Mickey, I’ve waited my whole life to come and meet you.’”
One might think that Marissa became a little disenchanted after being under the Mickey mask and seeing Sleeping Beauty walk around the park’s underground tunnels with a yoga mat and a tote bag, but it’s quite the opposite. Working for Disney enhanced the magic for her and gave her a greater appreciation for the hard work that goes on behind-the-scenes.
Marissa will never forget her time in the College Program and fulfilling her goal of working for Disney, but real life couldn’t be put on hold forever.
“I’ve got some greater plans for the future,” she said. “I’m going to go teach and start a family. I would never trade my program for the world, but I’m not going back.”
With such an amazing experience now behind her, Marissa is ready to move on to newer dreams.