#myJourney -- After AU alumni Elyse South and her husband moved to Orlando, Florida, for her internship at Disney World, they became involved in a nondenominational church called Mosaic that unofficially ministers to Disney cast members. The couple also befriended and brought into the faith a young woman they met there. From these experiences, South has become clearer on the future.
“I will always be in the theater,” she said. “But I’ve also learned that it will be essential to me to have a ministry within the theater. I have a friend who says you can run out of pixie dust, but if you run off of the Holy Spirit, he is the sustainer that will not run out.”
South arrived at Disney in 2012 after completing her degree in musical theater at Anderson University. Then she moved into a role as a cast member, all the while seeking her big break through audition after audition. The role she finally landed was in a stage production of the hit Disney film Frozen. When South got the phone call that she had landed her first Equity role as an actor, she tried to remain calm.
“I wanted to act professional, so I had a normal voice,” she said. “But after hanging up, I freaked out and squealed for five minutes. My cat thought I was crazy.”
Being employed under an Equity contract means that a performer can join the Actors’ Equity Association, ensuring good pay for an extended amount of time. The show, which ran from July 5 to Sept. 1 in Disney’s Hollywood Studios park, began with a parade down Hollywood Boulevard. Anna and Elsa, the sisters of Frozen, rode in a horse-drawn sleigh and pulled up to the stage, where they were welcomed to the land of Hollywood. They greeted everyone and then performed seven sing-a-long shows a day to packed houses in a theater that sat 1,000.
Immediately after landing the role, South began rehearsals, and the show opened just one week later. “It was the fastest rehearsal process ever,” she said. “The movie has been so popular that I guess Disney decided to capitalize on it. I loved the movie. The song ‘Let It Go’ I think everyone identifies with because we all have something we can be free in and can celebrate about ourselves.”
Over the past two years at Disney, South has worked as a cast member mostly in the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. The work involves quickly learning dance moves and songs and how to play to a large audience as well as how to interact individually with patrons to make them feel special. “Walt Disney always said he wanted a fully immersive experience,” she said. “He wanted them to get lost in the magic.”
The lessons learned at AU have proven invaluable as South works her way up the ladder in the entertainment world. Perhaps most important was the focus on auditioning, not only on stage but also off. “I treat every day at Disney like an audition,” she said. “I try to treat everyone with the same level of respect, no matter what they look like or how they are dressed. You never know who you could be standing by backstage, so I’ve learned to always be professional.”
She also absorbed the techniques for getting to know a character. “My acting classes at Anderson really equipped me to go above and beyond with my job at Disney,” she said. When she’s given a role, she digs deep to learn everything she can about the character, from her favorite color to whether she prefers cloudy or sunshiny days to whether she likes her hair curled or straight. South can remember being given a list of 150 such questions her senior year when she played Ariel in Footloose. “Your audience may never find out what your character prefers, but it will show through that you believe you are who you say you are,” she said.
Dr. David Larson, Dean of the South Carolina School of the Arts at AU, remembers her vividly. “Elyse was one of those actresses who was full energy all the time. Even coming into the program, she was intense and pushing into the material. She is a very gifted performer, the full package.”
The stage has always beckoned for South. A family video shows her at age three, bedecked in ribbons, crooning along with country songs from the jukebox at the Village Deli in Augusta, Georgia.
“The stage has always been home to me,” she said. A native of Greenwood, South met her future husband, Mac, when he brought her best friend to the senior prom; it wasn’t until they attended college together that they fell in love. Upon arriving in Orlando, the Souths moved in with the family of another AU theater major and have met six fellow Trojans who work at Disney. Mac South, a math education major, works for a nonprofit called Generous Giving.