Six Flags New England in Agawam, Massachusetts, opens for the season next weekend. Like at that other large amusement destination in Florida, a day at the park is not just about the thrill rides.
There's a lot of live entertainment, and a need for employees who can sing, dance and possibly ride a unicycle.
Annually, just as winter is winding down and summer still feels a ways off, Six Flags holds open-call auditions. The basic requirements: be outgoing and 16 years or older.
The park hires 3,000 people for the season, and a few hundred are performers. Some star in indoor stage shows, and others walk around dressed as Marvel heroes and villains, a stolling singer or cartoon character.
So when the line for the Thunderbolt or the Wicked Cyclone is wicked long, adults might not realize how uncomfortable they are standing in the hot sun with sticky-fingered children.
“Maybe you're a stilt walker, juggler, [or a] percussionist. You play the fiddle. We will send you out in the park to entertain our guests,” said Six Flags' Jennifer McGrath.
At a recent audition at at Holyoke Community College, more than a dozen people had already come though by early afternoon, including Sabrina Russo.
Russo stood on stage reading from a script she was given. It was for a master of ceremonies role, as if she were introducing a barn full of entertainment.
“Wild, wacky Daffy Duck. The baron of the barnyard, Mr. Foghorn Leghorn. And of course, your friend and mine, our resident wabbit, Mr. Bugs Bunny,” Russo recited.
Russo is a high school student from Holyoke, and is taking classes at HCC. She just randomly saw the sign to audition, she said, while walking through the building. For Russo, a summer job dressed up as a cartoon character could be life changing.
“I have really bad social anxiety,” Russo said.
A waitressing job already didn't pan out. Maybe she wasn't ready for it, Russo said. She’s pushing herself to get out there she said, and a job at the park would essentially be undercover.
“It’ll give me a little more time to get over my fear of people. If I was in a costume and you couldn't see me, it gives me space to be free,” she said.
Next up was Jack Hebert, a music student at HCC. Not too many years ago, Hebert was in the Chicopee Comprehensive High School marching band. He's been playing music since elementary school. At the audition, he crooned "It's Only a Paper Moon."
Hebert has always wanted to perform — not necessarily at Six Flags, he said, but the job could be a way to get in front of an audience.
"It doesn't matter what I'm doing, as long as I'm doing what I need to do as a career," Hebert said. "It’s what I want to pursue."
Amusement park entertainment is very one-on-one, and like in Hollywood, getting the part can come down to the “it” factor, said Peter Shannon, entertainment manager at Six Flags. An energetic personality is sometimes more important than skills, he said.
“Somebody might be such a fantastic dancer and have exquisite extension. If they're not interesting, they're not connecting with the audience,” Shannon said.
Six Flags might consider them for a different position, like taking tickets or selling expensive stuffed animals. So if an applicant doesn't get the gig they wanted, Shannon recommends starting somewhere. In the meantime, he said, take an acting class.
For some, like Rocco Desgres, performing at an amusement park could help build up a theater resume. While he was at the Six Flags audition, Desgres said he got an important phone call.
“I just got accepted into the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts,” he said.
That's in the fall. Meanwhile, Desgres said Six Flags is exactly what he needs to be doing. He brought two pieces to perform, a song from "Little Shop of Horrors," and his go-to monologue, something Muppets creator Jim Henson wrote.
Desgres's big dream is to one day host his own kids show, like "The Wiggles." There's nothing better than performing for young people and getting them to laugh, he said.
So maybe a summer job at an amusement park is just a job — or maybe it's a warm-up exercise to get ready for the next big thing.