Elizabeth Hendley is one of a dozen Day-Glo smiles in Busch Gardens' musical revue performed six times daily on an outdoor stage. She sprained her ankle the first day on the job, and her feet blistered from the dancing. She danced anyway, and every night she went home to the apartment she shares with two other girls and cried.
Now the University of Virginia student beams behind the green eyeshadow and false eyelashes of her stage makeup as the director praises her for sitting in the lap of an older man during the "Young At Heart" number and kicking her leg high in the air to make the audience laugh.
Nearby, Cathy Henry, also a student, sweeps the Gardens' grounds. The park is divided into zones, and when she is finished sweeping her zone, she sweeps it again.
She wears a white ruffled hat and apron and a blue dress. She wears sensible shoes. It is a solitary job and so it's nice, she says, when the tourists ask for directions. It gives her a chance to talk to somebody. She earns $2.50 an hour, the minimum wage. It will come in handy for school in the fall.
The place at which both young women work is one of a number of "themed" amusement parks spawned by Walt Disney's pioneering effort in the field. The park takes a small army of summer employes to feed the fantasy for which the tourists pay $8.75 apiece.
Located down the road from Colonial Williamsburg. Busch Gardens revolves on the concept of "the Old Country," with representatives of several European villages of various nationalities and emphasis on the usual amusement park pursuits of defying gravity and spending money.
These old themes, however, are set among green trees and paved pathways that lead in a very different direction from the image of the traditional amusement park.
Gone in the dusty midway, the cold seduction of a carnie's voice, the garish, gaudy excitement and all the harsh promise evoked by a thousand yellow lights winking in darkness. In its place is a vast, self-contained evironment, as complex as a small city and endowed with the kind of efficiency beyond the reach of most cities of any size.
"Its a controlled environment," says John Hunter, a spokesman for the park. "There's very real sense of security that is maintained. People appreciate that."
Controlled environments take a lot of people - about 1,700, in fact - to run the zoo and tend greenhouses, to slice apples for strudel and strawberries for crepes [WORD ILLEGIBLE] songs and dim lights, to play bagpipes and percentages, to build and "retheme the props, to dress up as a green dragon, to juggle the pins and the crowds, to run the rides, to sell knickknacks and maintain order.
Controlled environments hinge on the maintenance of the right kind of attitude among the lower echelons. "It's kind of a rah-rah thing," Hunter said. "We emphasize cleanliness being helpful, being polite."
Consequently, there is a lot of talk at Bush Gardens about All American Images and keeping people "up" and motivated. At the giant, somewhat German restaurant, the Festhaus, there are contests to determine who has the most enthusiasm and best attitude. One of the prizes is free tickets to King's Dominion, Busch Gardens' arch rival up the road in Hanover County north of Richmond.
Throughout the park, a certain amount of energy is devoted to making sure that smiles are kept in place. There are rules about short hair (for the boys) and no eating, drinking, smoking and straw chewing on duty (for everyone).
"We're just supposed to be perfect, see," one employe, a veteran of four summers in the Food and Beverage section said cheerfully.
The emphasis on image at Busch Gardens reaches its fullest flowering in the Guest Relations Department, whose task is to deal with whatever might threaten the determined serenity of the park.
All guest relations employees are girls, imbued with the good looks of small town homecoming queens and all are carefully trained in the nuances of dealing with "the guests," as the tourists are usually referred to.
GR girls, as they are called, bear the same relation to the rest of the summer employes as members of SWAT team do to cops walking a beat. Dressed in starched red and white gingham, they hold forth in an air-conditioned cubicle in Banbury Square, the mock English section of the park. Their jobs are not listed among those for which a prospective skimmed off by th personnel department employes who interview applicants.
"If we listed those jobs everyone would want one," said Jerre Lyn Shafer, a former Guest Relations director who has since moved up the corporate ladder to the marketing division. "And we don't want just anybody."
What they want, according to Shafer, is "the nice clean-cut a American kid. We don't want any frumpy looking people in this job. These girls have to deal with important people, VIPs, executives from St. Louis (home town of Anheuser-Busch's corporate headquarters). These girls have to be the cream of the crop."
GR girls answer questions, give directions, and return lost items, but they are not quite so cooperative about lost people. For instance, they are not about to use the public address system to tell Aunt Sally to meet Uncle Clayt by the Loch Ness monster roller coaster.
Such announcements, Shafer said, "destroy the atmosphere we're trying to create." Consequently, only medical emergencies are allowed to interrupt the steady flow of mood music that flows out of the monstrous tape decks that the GR girls monitor.
GR girls also deal with tricky questions such as what to do with a woman who seeks admission to the park dressed in a bathing suit (politely suggest that she check her car for a shirt) and what to do with Irate Guests. The Irate Guest is a subject of great concern at Busch Gardens, if one goes by the fact that he is at the top of the security force's radio code, way ahead of 10-56D (Intoxicated Guest, Drugs) and 10-100 (Beer Outside of Festhaus).
GR girls do their best to soothe the Irate Guest, but they know that one of their best weapons is time. If the Irate Guest is turning into the Abusive Guest or the Obnoxious Guest, then the girls are told to delay dealting with his problem until he has had a chance to come to his senses. Or, as Shafer puts it, "If it's a jerk, wait'til he calms down."
Those who must come in closer contact with the summer heat, Bermuda shorts and Polariod Swingers describe the GR girl's special status somewhat differenty.
"They're stuck up," said one [WORD ILLEGIBLE] most of the time. "They act like they are doing you a favor if they notice your existence when they walk by."
Sharing the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] reaches of the summer hierarchy are in 160 performers in the Live Entertainment somewhat damp after a day in the sun hauling children in and out of a contraption that kept them upside [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] of the lower orders who was Department - the folks who bring on the Bozo Band, the Renaissance lutists the flautists, the can-can dancers in the Three Musketeers Theatre, the costumed characters, the German folk dancers, the jugglers, the magicians, the puppeteers, the clog dancers and all the others hired to entertain the cotton-candied masses.
More than 1,200 people auditon from up and down the East Coast for these jobs, according to Joe Pesci, whose jaded eyes have gazed upon everything from singing dog acts to classical ballet dancers in the process of selecting the chosen few.
Last year Jeff Hutton, a 23-year-old music major at Madison College, auditoned and was rejected. He took a job in the Food and Beverage section, or F z B as it's called, to be away from home and closer to his goal. He made friends with the people in live entertainment. He learned how to do the German Polkdances performed in the Festhaus while working in the cafeteria.
This summer, he got his big break. One of the German folk dancers backed out at the last minute. He audtioned and got the part.Now he's up there dancing his heart out and persuading blushing matrons to join him on stage for the BeerBarrel Polka.
His goal for next year is hit the big time - the Three Musketeers Theater and Le Music Hall.
Onstage at the Three Musketeers Theater, the perform what is described as a '60s medley - 15 tunes in five minutes that are meant to reflect the "dreams, hopes, and aspirations of the '60s," all played to an audience which is passing the time eating ice cream cones, changing diapers and blinking in sunlight that has completely eclipsed the stage lights.
But the real show is backstage. Some of the costume changes in Le Music Hall must take place in less than 50 seconds. Pieces of brightly colored finery fly as fast as the hazy heat will allow the the atmosphere resembles an aquarium of tropical fish on amphetamines.
Don Cox is aglow. The graduate opf a Fairfax County high school, he teaches in another and has spent every other summer school students. This year, he is the theatrical director of live entertainment section.
"I just loved it," he said as he dodged stagehands during a set change to make sure the waiters' trays in the can-can scene wouldn't be in the way of the rollerskaters. "It's like a dream, a real fairy land, just like it's supposed to be. How can you get depressed when you're supposed to be smiling all the time?"
The players are young, feeding on the fantasy themselves. Most of them are college students, and many of them have majors in drama and music. A few already have embarked on professional stage careers, although at this point, it is hope and ambition on which they thrive - the seeds of a success to be harvested in another season.
Although some of the men have already worn out one pair of shoes in their dancing, their energy is unfrayed. After their own performances, they go to see the other shows - watching their colleagues, lending support, revelling in the camaraderie.
Those who don't quite make it into the corps of singers and dancers but show potential in a slightly different direction are given a chance to try out for the position of "costumed character." They parade the park, appropriately themed to the country they are supposed to be inhabiting.
Wandering in Banbury Square is the Busch Garden Eagle, now dressed in a blue British waistcoat and a cockade hat, but capable of being rethemed nd outfitted in a lederhosen to wander around Rhinefeld, the German Sector.
Inside the Eagle is Emile Husson, of Newport News, who is 18 and soon to be a freshman at Columbia University. Husson usually plays Gordon the Dragon, but an 85-pound $3200 dragon costume needs a lot of maintenance. Gordon is in the repair shop, leaving Husson's colleague, 21-year-old John Ross, to wander around as St. George in his armor bereft of a nemesis.
Husson got his job by doing a stellar imitation of a fried egg during an audition, a performance which he oblingly repeats on the floor of the employes' trailer where he and St. George are taking a break. The audition won him the right to wear a costume that, he said, often reaches 130 degrees inside, to have his picture taken with battalions of sticky-faced children and to dodge the insults, physical and verbal, of the guests who find the characters all too unbelievable.
They pull on the dragon's tooth. They tweak the eagle's tail. And there are parents, Husson said, whose reaction to children trying to knock over the dragon is to advise them to get a running start.
Consequently, the costumed characters usually are accompanied by another employe who tries to avert impending acts of aggression. But the inhabitants of the costumes learn forbearance as well. After all, said Peczi, "think what would happen if Gordon tried to level a guest."
The break is over. Husson and Ross, who came to Busch Gardens armed with a wok, a French horn and a burning passion for Gilbert and Sullivan, oblige a visitor with a favorite comedy routine and then, without prompting, do an excellent imitation of a bagpipe.
The three kilted bagpipers in the trailer are not amused. They look as stern as anyone can look when their knees are exposed. Pesci sighs, "Bagpipers," he says, "are very sensitive, you know." He takes it in stride. After all, he says, it's just another part of "dealing with the artistic temperament."