As a former amusement park employee, I take special interest in Adventureland, which is in theaters now. During college, I was a rides hostess/sweeperette/marketing assistant at Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio, and graduate of the Walt Disney World College Program in Florida where I worked at Disney’s Hollywood Studios doing a job they now call showkeeping.
Minus the drugs, 80s timeframe and stay-at-home factor present for the film’s characters played by Kristen Stewart, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Jesse Eisenberg and Ryan Reynolds, I could totally relate to their follies.
Rides people were way cooler than games people (second thought — I was only interested in games guys), but because college-age kids roomed with coworkers in nearby park-sponsored apartments and dorms, the drama was way more intense, but similar right down to the employees-only bar. (Hello, Louie’s!)
This coming-of-age flick filmed at Kennywood, one of the parks Cedar Pointers could visit each year during a park-sponsored day trip. (Nighttime cruises and ride nights were my personal favorite activities.)
As it turns out, Kennywood became a magical location for games girl Kristen Stewart, who auditioned for Twilight while working on the film.
“Catherine Hardwicke came to visit the set of Adventureland to audition Kristen,” writer/director Greg Mottola tells me. “They spent a day working on scenes together, and then Kristen came to set a few days later and said ‘oh yeah, I got the vampire movie.’ She was so low-key. I just thought ‘oh good, she’s got her next movie lined up. That’s nice. She’s working — that’s great.’”
He chuckles. “I had no idea. Then months later, I start to read about it, and I’m like ‘wait a second, this sounds like a big deal.’”
Choosing Saturday Night Live stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig to play park managers posed an issue: they can’t alter their looks for roles, so it was time for an outrageously bushy mustache for Bill, and bad 1980s hair for Kristen.
“Because they’re on SNL, you can never do anything to their hair or face,” director Greg says. “Bill can’t grow a beard, you can’t cut his hair. When we did Superbad, SNL made us sign a contract saying we will not go near his hair with scissors. So you can’t do anything to his look except comb it. We wanted him to have a mustache – a big, bushy Tom Selleck mustache – although on Bill Hader, it takes on a different quality. He looks like he’s going to do a root beer commercial.”
The director continues, “The first day he wore it, we thought ‘oh, that looks ridiculous. We can’t do that.’ But he just loved it so much, and I thought ‘I can’t break his heart.’ He liked it too much.”
Greg cracks, “Bill’s mustache had it’s own trailer. It was the most difficult person on set.”
Because they shot the summer film in the winter, Bill’s mustache would freeze to his face. “We couldn’t get it off. He’d be like ‘I have to go home and thaw this for a little while.’”
Meanwhile, Ryan Reynolds plays a seamy character in the flick, and I totally knew a handful of those during my time at Cedar Point. (They know who they are – I’ll save details for my own movie. ;))
But I’m certainly not the only one with an amusement park past. I hear Conan O’Brien worked at Cedar Point, members of the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC worked at Disney World and 98 Degrees singers Nick and Drew Lachey, plus Carmen Electra did time at Kings Island.
Carmen’s favorite roller coasters there are the Beast and the Racer.
What were the best and worst parts of her amusement park life?
“Every year I had a season pass to Kings Island,” she tells me. “I love roller coasters and I love going on all the rides. I would spend most of my entire summer at that amusement park with my friends, so when I actually started working there, I thought I would have a chance to go on all the rides because I was there all the time hanging out. But it ended up being long hours at work. That was probably the downside of it. I didn’t get to go on as many rides as I wanted to. But the upside of it was that I was able to save the little bit of money I made. It wasn’t a lot of money. I was able to save $100 a week that we made and I was able to buy a plane ticket and fly to L.A. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have been able to fly out and start a career.”
Carmen encourages college-age kids seeking summer jobs to look into the amusement park life.
“It was a great experience,” she says. “I remember I didn’t want to go and audition, but my mom talked me into it. I was really scared and nervous, and wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. That was kind of a big thing. If you get to perform and dance at a show at Kings Island, it was one of the biggest things to do when you were a teenager and you want to get into entertainment and dance. I was really excited when I made it. It definitely changed my life. It helped give me a little bit of self-confidence to move to Los Angeles and try to make it happen.”
Adventureland is in theaters now, and Cedar Point, etc. are taking applications now, too. Woo-hoo! Make $$$ and have the time of your life. I totally recommend it for college students. I am still great friends with a bunch of people from those days, including another fellow rides host-turned-journalist blogger, Scott Fais.