Alumnus Dana Amendola discusses career in Disney theater operations

Julia Cinquegrani || Editor-in-Chief 

When Dana Amendola ’82 was a student at F&M, he indulged in the most enjoyable aspects of the College, working as a cartoonist for The College Reporter and pulling pranks on campus whenever he could. But it was the time he spent performing and rehearsing in the Green Room Theatre that became the most influential on his life and future career.

Dana Amendola '82, Vice President of Operations for Disney Theatrical Group, visited campus and shared advice and anecdotes with students.

Dana Amendola ’82, Vice President of Operations for Disney Theatrical Group, visited campus and shared advice and anecdotes with students.

I was sitting outside the [Green Room] Theatre one day and I kept seeing this door, and a lot of really attractive girls kept going through it,” Amendola said. “So I went to see what it was, and it was the theatre department. And I thought, wow, let me try this out. And I auditioned for a couple of shows and got some great parts, and I found a bunch of great people.”

The experiences that Amendola had while involved in theatre launched his career in entertainment, which has culminated in his current position as Vice President of Operations for Disney Theatrical Group. Amendola majored in English and Art at F&M, and after graduating, earned a master’s degree in theatre from Villanova University. Since then, he has worked steadily in the entertainment industry, organized music festivals, and spent nearly 20 years working for Disney.

Before a Disney theatre production opens, Amendola oversees the restoration of the theater to make it historically accurate and look the way it did when the theater originally opened. Amendola is based in New York City and has overseen the restoration of theaters on Broadway, throughout the U.S., and around the world, including the New Amsterdam Theatre in NYC, the Lyceum Theatre in London, the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles, and F&M’s Roschel Performing Arts Center. Amendola has also handled all theatrical operations for Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aida, Mary Poppins, Tarzan, The Little Mermaid, Newsies, and Aladdin.

“As soon as you step out of your car out front of a theater you get the full Disney experience,” Amendola said. “All these great old buildings that were falling into deterioration have had a new lease on life, and I’m really passionate about preserving history.”

Amendola lamented the U.S.’s lack of historic spaces and views the restoration of theaters as a way to preserve and promote the performing arts.

“In America, we don’t have a lot of buildings left from many generations ago because we knock them down and build mini malls,” Amendola said. “These old theater houses were palaces. Theatre was an escape for people, especially the ones built during the Great Depression— they’re magnificent.”

Some of the theaters Amendola restores have been vacant for years, and must be thoroughly renovated before they are able to be used for a Disney production. For example, the New Amsterdam Theatre, which is currently home to Aladdin, was built in 1903 but had been vacant for 15 years before Disney moved in.

“When I came into the building, there were literally vines hanging from the ceiling,” Amendola said. “There were like 3,000 mushrooms growing out of the walls, some the size of dinner plates. It had rained in the building and there was a tree growing out of the orchestra pit.”

To restore the theater, Amendola used architectural plans dated from 1920 and read journals from women what had attended the theater in the early 1900s and written about the experience. Some theater restorations have also led to interesting historical discoveries, like when Amendola was working on the Lyceum Theatre in London.

“During World War II, that area of London was bombed heavily,” Amendola said. “While we were excavating under the theater to prepare it for The Lion King, we heard a clink and a sound of metal. It was an unexploded German bomb… that was water-logged and therefore did not explode. It had laid below that theater for years, and they had rebuilt the theater over it.”

Amendola is also responsible for the safety and security of the cast members in Disney’s theatrical productions. With the recent increase in terrorist attacks, particularly the Nov. 2015 attack in a theater in Paris, the danger that a similar attack could occur on Broadway is quite realistic. After the terrorist attack on Sep. 11 in NYC, Amendola was responsible for re-starting performances of The Lion King as soon as possible.

The Lion King was the first show to come back up after 9/11. But people were legitimately scared; they were fearful for their lives. You are very vulnerable when you’re on stage. But I talked to that cast and I said, ‘You’ve seen an example of humanity at its worst; now you go show an example of humanity at its best.’ There have been many times in NYC when we have had terror alerts, but it’s a daily part of life. As they say, the show must go on… Art is the savior of mankind. If you don’t perform, then what have you got left? Nothing.”

Amendola is part of the team that is bringing a live production of Frozen to NYC in 2017. Discussions are still occurring regarding whether Frozen should be performed in a traditional theater, or whether a new type of venue would better-suit the musical. He also cited the success of The Lion King, which has earned more than eight billion dollars from performances around the world, as evidence of the enduring significance of live theatre.

Amendola credited the liberal arts education he received at F&M as one of the keys to his success because it encouraged him to constantly share new ideas and adapt to different situations and concepts.

“Because of the small classes, [I learned] how to speak up and how to participate, I couldn’t hide in the back of the classes. And in business, it is the guys that keep raising their hands first, that keep coming up with new ideas, that get noticed… If you can make it at Franklin & Marshall, you can make it anywhere.”

During his visit to F&M on Feb. 1, Amendola advised students to keep their minds and options open when considering what type of career they want. He also noted the importance of perseverance, and explained that he applied to Disney unsuccessfully multiple times before he was offered a job there.

“The job you think you’re going to get is not the job you’re going to get,” Amendola said. “Don’t focus on that one thing. It’s a journey, try different things. You’ll have setbacks, disappoints, anxieties, but use them all and keep moving forward.”

Senior Julia Cinquegrani is the Editor-in-Chielf. Her email is jcinqueg@fandm.edu.

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