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Steven Davison was the creator of Eureka! A California Adventure parade at Disney's California Adventure. He's also worked on"Believe...There's Magic in the Stars", "Believe...In Holiday Magic", "It's a Small World" Holiday and others. During the opening of Disney's California Adventure, Davison talked to LaughingPlace.com about Eureka and some of his other Disney projects. The first half of this interview is below. The second half will be presented in the new few days.

LaughingPlace.com: Tell me about Eureka!

Steven Davison: Eureka is the essence of the California golden dream and what we did was kind of build upon what Barry Braverman’s group did which was to create the different districts of California. And what we decided to do was do the people piece, because WDI [Walt Disney Imagineering] is fantastic at building fantastic places to visit. Entertainment is great at putting life into them. So what we did was look at California Adventure and go "what if we did kind of the ethnic lifestyle piece and bring that to the plate as well?" So when the park opened it would basically cover pretty well the essence built around the California dream.

So we dove in and said, "what do we want to play off of" and we jumped into the idea of the golden dream and how people came to California - like Walt Disney when Walt came here to build the studios - and have that whole dream come to life and that dream to build on this. So many people have come to California because, as they say, it has everything under the sun. So if you come here and you have that ambition you can really make life different for yourself, if you choose to.

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So we started with that theme and then we started to play with the word "Eureka" and the whole idea that you can find it or "I found it!" What we wanted the guests to do was find these different communities, these different pockets of California that you might visit, you might see come to life. Different people that kind of embrace this fantastic life they can have in California. So that’s where it kind of started.

And then we created what we call the essence of Eureka or the essence of that golden dream. And if you look at the parade you’ll see Eureka appear as that Folklorico, but if you look at the design, the design of her dress bleeds into the stream and becomes those flowers and becomes the community around her. So all that Eureka represents in the parade, that kind of statue in the middle of the town that everyone embraces, and we kind of just developed her as the spirit that’s woven through these communities.

From there we kind of just started to develop things out. We started with the sun. I thought, there’s a big sun icon. There’s a Eureka icon and the major icon for the parade is that opening logo which is her as the embodiment of the sun and the energy of that golden dream. Gold is the primary color of the whole parade and it threads it. So we open with that kind of - what we call the energy of the sun or bringing that world to life. And all the logos in the opening float represent the places we’re going to head to. So we’re going to head to a kind of Pacifica thing with Eureka winding herself inside the waves. We’re going to go to Chinatown with giant dragons. So it kind of gives you a precursor and it gives you the first beat of contemporary music - something that we decided to do to create a new experience. Because my whole thing was, you go to Disneyland and you’re going to do a very specific experience. It’s all about fantasy and magic. Like "Believe.." is. "Believe..." wraps itself in that. If they asked me to do something like "Golden Dreams Fireworks" in the sky here, I would do it totally different because I would want the experiences to be different. So when you come to California Adventure it’s just wild. It’s all about that word "adventure." And we’re going to take you through this community wash thing but you’re going to have an adventure. You’re going to see stuff. It’s really going to get you excited - that was the biggest hope - you go "wow what’s that. What is this?"

So we started the Eurekas - going back. I jump around a lot. So we developed all the Eurekas. So we have the Eureka that’s the Folklorico. We have the Eureka that is that angel welcoming you into the City of Angels. We then jump into Pacifica where she’s buried in the giant sand car that kind of represents a lot of iconic things that people think about California and the beach. And then we created her as like a Chinese opera goddess as the Phoenix rising up into the sky before we end with the sun icon with her as the golden dream coming to life. Then we started to build all the community pieces.

So we worked on the parade with Michael Curry who did Lion King on Broadway and who originally did the Lion King Parade here. We worked very closely with Michael because he understands me because I’m very kind of out there with ideas and thoughts and feelings, so I can walk in and say, "can we do a Golden Gate Bridge walking down the street like Chinatown’s bringing San Francisco to you?" The theme was really tough. When you have to take the word California and try to iconically represent it in the parade it’s not like doing an animated film, like if we were going to do the Hercules parade or Aladdin parade. There’s a whole set of synergistic products that come along with that. California is a little different because now you’re picking things that people have to instantly understand and get. Usually, by the time a parade hits at one of the parks you know the characters, you know the style, you know the feeling. With this parade you’re starting from scratch. People have their own vision of California and what we played with was kind of a 50/50 what people expect to see and kind of the dream aspect of it. Then we did it all with that theatrical world.

Because if we truly went after the Latino community and not made it theatrical we would get broadsided because they’re all different in a sense. What we did was kind of just take pieces of it and essences of it. We always talked about the parade being a tapestry and as you went along this road that’s a tapestry you pull little threads and these little threads would be different pieces of communities. And if you look at the parade it’s 50/50. You’ll see a very kind of fantastic side of it, a theatrical side and then a traditional side. Even in Folklorico, when you enter Fiesta of the Birds you’ll see we have Folkloricos but we hyped up the color a little bit, but at the same time we have 18 foot skeletons and we did that and a lot of people were terrified of that in the beginning. "You’re going to have 18 foot skeletons? Aren’t people going to get scared?" I said, "yeah. I hope so." I said what I want is people to look at that and go "my God what are those" and start to train the cast to tell them what it is. "Oh that’s the Day of the Dead celebration" and really, it was kind of my version of "read more about it." When you see that community or even Watts Towers, I hope it really inspired people to go see the real one or read more about it or find out about that community and find out what it’s all about.

LP: You mentioned tapestry in a couple of different ways. You certainly seemed to be influenced by Tapestry of Nations, with the puppetry and the drums. Was there any direct influence there?

SD: Michael did Tapestry of Nations, Michael Curry. What I loved about Tapestry is that it kind of jumped off the page and got things to move in huge proportions without motors and that’s what I really wanted in this parade. What I pushed for was to create kind of an A-B-C kind of format. So you have these really fantastic floats coming at you but within them are pieces of puppetry or moving scenery and then costume pieces down below it so it really builds upon itself. So it’s not just one thing or two things, it’s really kind of a very harmonious design that kind of pulls at things and makes people go, "yikes, wow." It’s like "how do they do that or I never knew you could wear a costume that size."

I really started to play off what Michael started with Tapestry and then really kind of bent it a little more as we played in Oregon because Michael’s shop is up in Oregon. And it’s just fun because you’re sitting around and you create. You basically just say what ifs, what if we do this, can you get the Golden Gate Bridge to walk down the street. Can we get these giant sun fans with faces and just have them be a piece. The jumping stills are the same thing. They were kind of brought to us and I was fascinated by them and I threw them at the choreographers and it was a challenge.

Even the lighting and even the sound for this is really sophisticated and there were big challenges to overcome and the hardest part is it’s a brand new park. So you don’t have a sound system that’s been working for 20 years - it’s all new and the lighting is all new. So you go through those growing pains. You kind of had to take big breaths and you sit there and it took a lot of time to get everything up and working. It’s always nice to have this month of previews just to change and say, "what if we did do this, what if we played with this number." We moved dancers around. We moved costumes around. We got rid of all the spandex in the parade. Edwin Pinski out of Las Vegas did the costumes and I loved the original sketch but as we got into it, it actually never kind of fulfilled what I wanted it to. People spent more time looking at the spandex in yellow than they did watching the opening dancers. Then the opening dancers got self conscious and we said, "you know, let’s change it. Let’s just change the look. Let’s change the idea."

And so we just started to play with that and implement that. So as we go through the parade we’re actually re-developing some stuff and making it fit better, making it work. Because I think that’s the big deal. If you watch something and something distracts you - a great example is the spandex. Here’s spandex 101: If you look at the fish type dancers, the spandex doesn’t bother them. Nobody ever mentions it because they have a puppet device and b) the fabric is so varied in style and texture that you don’t react to it the same way as a giant yellow shape coming at you. So we started to play with that and slowly change out. We still have another week to do change outs and stuff. But we didn’t give up color - that’s the big deal. The opening is still bright yellow and bright red and very eye popping colors like this.

Colors are a big, big, factor in that parade. I think that we tried to get very specific as we hit different units. Even like the lighting design. If you watch the parade at night the lighting travels through the parade. It’s very sophisticated. Like when Pacifica comes out, it’s a very different pallet than when Folklorico comes out. They balance between warm and cool colors. Then when we hit the stop moment it all unites itself and becomes one piece. But we do it so hopefully you’re not watching the lights all the time or looking at this or even how sounds transition in the parade.

LP: With this being a new park, were you able to do some things that you couldn’t do at Disneyland?

SD: We got to be contemporary. We got to be very theatrical. A lot of people questioned, initially, if this was a character parade and I said you know, it’s not. And the biggest thing that I love so far is no one has asked. People watch the parade and no one leaves it going "I didn’t see Mickey or I didn’t see Minnie" and what I tried to teach the people is that the minute you influence a parade with a character overlay you have to change the whole piece. If Mickey and Minnie were in the parade as it is today, they would feel very disjointed because it’s not toonish, in a sense. They don’t have a reason for being there and we really wanted to stay pure to those communities. That when you see it, it really feels like a community. It kind of speaks to that. Minnie in a Folklorico outfit wouldn’t do that because you’d spend more time sitting there going "oh, that’s cute" and we’d have to have her talk. It’s distracting to me. So I was very gratified that they let us go that route. They had faith in us to do it.

LP: What about technically? Were there things you couldn't otherwise do or special challenges?

SD: Huge challenges to the point of - I remember our first technical meeting on lighting and sound and I took the technical designers through it and they just looked at me in horror. And after we heard the music the first time they said "we were terrified that you were going to ask to do what you just asked us to do" which is travel lights down the route, make lights interact with music and honestly, we don’t do that at Disneyland. They did do it during Light Magic but they Souped-up the entire system to handle it in two show stops. Here we are asking all 33 zones in the park to manage itself. Then when we got to the part about when we do the stop, I wanted the whole route to change into one color. They were like "oh my gosh." They had to completely re-write the programs on how we do it. Jim Holliman literally recreated how we think about this. They tested it at Disneyland one night and had some great reactions and then it was laborious. It’s literally laborious to get the computers to sync up because if you imagine we have six units and every unit has a different sound track so every sound track has to link within itself. All the songs work together on a continuous loop beginning to end. As they travel from zone to zone they all have to switch in the computer, plus all the lighting has to switch in the computer, plus all the animation is controlled by the computer, plus all the floats are RF so that’s another challenge. And then when we get to a show stop, everything has to stop take another cue and switch. That’s a monstrous task, and for me it’s like "can we do this, can we do that?" Because I think that way. I think about "oh this would be cool if we can do it" and I really push our people to go for it. I said, I’d rather go for it and cut it than not try it. I said, it’s not going to hurt us, we've got some time, let’s try it and they really worked like dogs to make that happen.

LP: Were they able to do most of what you asked them to do?

SD: Yeah, it took us a couple of weeks after we opened to finish the lighting piece because we were still in day rehearsals or day performances. Holliman would come in every night and he’d pull the floats out and they would just go through it again and again and again and really work through the bugs in the system and they finally got it. It all talks to each other now.

LP: How long was the development process for you then?

SD: I started on Eureka about two years ago as an initial thought and which way to go. In fact I developed several different parades for Paul Pressler. There was the character parade which was the epic California where the characters were going to tell you the making of California. Another one was the Latino Community. The third one was a tourist point of view of California where they brought in an artist from Mad Magazine to actually recreate like traffic jams and we had the Miss Natural Disaster Pageant. We did an ocean section about communities being in the oceans. Paul loved the Latino community piece and thought it would fit well but we expanded on that idea. Then moved it past that and developed the Eureka piece. A year ago, we met with Michael Eisner, took Michael through it and Michael liked it and we went into construction. Probably, starting in June, we were officially building steel and we pushed and pushed and pushed and got it through by November.

LP: Did you do one of your famous live pitches?

SD: Actually I did. Eureka is a hard pitch because - "Believe" is a lot easier because you’re going on a single sound track from A to Z and it’s a story. Eureka has seven sections and it was always my goal at the end of that presentation to always get that standing ovation. Can we move people and get them excited enough to be overwhelmed by the product. That’s the hope. I try not to say things that aren’t really in the parade. If people react to it positively then I feel really good about what we’re doing and not try to second guess it.
[Ed. Note: See the Related Links at the end of this article for a link to video of Davison doing his pitch for "Believe...There's Magic in the Stars".

LP: Is Eureka supposed to run every day?

SD: It runs every day from now on until it doesn’t. As of right now it’s probably going to run for three years. That’s kind of the shelf life of it. Usually after three years - parades are developed not to be like work horses. Attractions are built to last for tens and tens of years. Parades, because of their moving nature and the chassis they’re built on, have a lot of stress problems. Even Lion King Celebration, after the third year, it was really hard to keep it going but they did. I think after that, because of our local guests they’re ready for something new. We move onto something else.

LP: Will it ride in inclement weather?

SD: Depends on the inclement weather. We've played with that for the last month. If it’s a heavy rain we probably won’t run the parade. If it’s a misty light rain and it just rained and the rain has stopped we’ll do a modified parade. We send it out but we may cut some objects. We have inclement wind problems because some of the pieces do have some wind limitations so we might pull pieces off. Even people that know the parade - things might disappear from it and they don’t know because it’s so impactful visually. Your eye doesn’t know.

LaughingPlace.com: There certainly are some California stereotypes and ethnic stereotypes in Eureka. Is that something that has worried you at all or that you've been extra careful about?

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Steven Davison: We are very extra careful. To the point of focus groups, in a sense, in that we would do designs and run it past a few leaders and say "what do you think?" Eureka and the sand car changed and changed and changed a lot based on that and how people felt because we didn’t want to do Baywatch. We didn’t want to do what a lot of people really stereotype the beach as. So we middled it in a sense and made it very athletic and very different. It’s all about that whole idea of her melting into the sand and like kids came and made this giant sand car around her and that’s like the whole beach cruising thing and everyone lives in a convertible in California.

Even the Latino piece, that is one of the hardest communities to get into. There were certain things I thought were great to speak about and they actually embraced the whole thing because they were just so proud of Disney actually celebrating their culture. Watts Tower went through the roof with us. We met with their artistic directors and said we really want to do this and they were so proud, again, that Disney would almost honor them. What my hope was - it’s such a beautiful monument but no one goes there. Everyone is afraid to go there, so why don’t we put it out there and really honor it and get it back on line. It just went through a four year renovation and they’re going to reopen it again - I think it has reopened now - and really get people to it. Get people back into that community and really use a device that we have here to help out other people at the same time.

LP: We talked about the jumping stilts at the end of the parade...

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SD: The jumping stilts - they’re called Power Stills actually - they’re from Germany. Danny Castle, one of our stunt coordinators from Fantasmic!, brought them to us. We were just fascinated by them.

LP: You also have some skaters and bikers. Is that specially difficult to have to deal with in the parade?

SD: To engineer the girl in the hoop in the front of the Phoenix was amazing because of the amount of stress you have. Originally she was supposed to be up where the lantern is, but the amount of steel it took to get that point where the lantern is ended up making the candle stick like 8 inches across and I go "that’ll look strange coming out of her hand." So artistically we bounced stuff around. We start with the ultimate idea and then we work through it and still get the same impact, I think, but we’re not trying to kill anybody or have things happen. I think it’s one of those things - you kind of start here and go "well, here’s another way to think about it." We all get together as a team and just talk about it, "that wouldn’t work out, why don’t we do this" and we start working through things together.SD: Actually it is. That was a tough piece. To walk into meetings and go "I want to put somebody 12 feet in the air on a bungie harness inside a circle and have them do back flips and turns,"  those are really challenging things to actually engineer. If it was on a flat piece of ground like out here behind the Hollywood Backlot, it’s much easier because you can put stuff into the ground. We’re talking things that move which complicates things 20 times beyond what you normally would think.

LP: What kind of response has the parade had so far?

SD: Huge huge success from top down to guests. First we showed it to Michael Eisner, Paul Presler and Cynthia [Harriss], they were just ecstatic. They just loved it. I usually just walk out and watch audiences. Even like with "Believe" I just walk out and I watch the audience and how they react, and people clap along, they get into it, they get caught up in its energy. Just to hear what they say like "whoa what’s that?" or "that was cool." To really get at some ages that other parades don’t hit well, like teenagers. Teenagers get caught up in certain pieces. They love the extreme sports thing.

There’s really something for everybody. It’s really great to watch. Kids love it too because they’re just like wowed by it because of the color. It’s actually pretty sophisticated if you look at it. Like if you look in the Fiesta. It actually has the whole swallow tale in it. The whole thing about the swallows returning to the missions and there’s a whole piece actually painted into the parade. If you look at LA there’s all those destroyed murals in LA and pieces of them repainted inside of it. It’s kind of another homage to things. It’s like lost and found. Things that aren’t there any more. I think it’s tragic when art gets destroyed because people don’t care.

LP: And the Hollywood Bowl puppet...

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SD: Hollywood Bowl was fun because the whole thing is about creativity and how people create things like when Samuel Ramie did the Watts Towers. He just took stuff...There’s a story about Watts Towers, that he used to pay kids if they would find broken pieces of tile. So kids would come and bring him little jars of tile and he’d give them pennies. They were going home and breaking good dishes at their parents house and bringing them to Sam. The parents had to make him stop because they were running out of dishes.

Hollywood Bowl or the whole art scene in LA is all created - it’s that creative industry - how things get brought to life. The Bowl thing was fun. We kind of drew it up and sent it to Michael [Curry] and said what do you think and then Michael actually added a puppet onto the front as a conductor. We worked back and forth in Oregon and it’s just fun to see how people react to it. It’s a very simple thing, a puppet - some guy just leaning down to an audience and controlling it. It’s one of the most popular things. Some of the smallest things can be the most popular things.

LP: You’ve had a huge, huge success with "Believe ... In Holiday Magic". Do you feel a lot of pressure now to keep topping yourself?

SD: Holiday was scary I’ll be honest about it because you had a huge hit with the first show [Believe...There's Magic in the Stars] and you don’t know. I never did fireworks in my life and they actually say we want you to do fireworks so we get to play, we get to paint, and you just try something. I’m an artist by trade so you use color and use light and you look at it completely different and you get to play with a medium that a lot of people in the business look at very specifically.

With "it's a small world holiday", the first one, it was just great to have that kind of audience response. I do feel I’m really connected with the Disney audience. Even before we opened we were scrutinized for even touching that attraction and at the end of it, it was really great to see people respond and really bring back a memory for a lot of people because they hadn’t been on the ride in years. "Oh that thing with the dolls. I rode that one when I was a kid." Then they go on it again and just by adding things inside of it you make people relive those experiences and then they have their kids and their kids are seeing it for a whole new first time.

So again, you build on those traditions and memories. That’s what Disneyland is about is that you always go there and there’s always that wishing well and there’s always those great experiences and things that you’ll remember forever. When "Believe...There's Magic in the Stars" opened, all I would have to do is go stand out there and watch it with the crowd. They told you what they thought. Even moving Tinker Bell to the end of the show which a lot of people were "my God you’re moving Tinker Bell to the end of the show." I go "yeah, because that way she’s your star." Suddenly, out of this huge pyro, you have one single object and one single memory and you’re not putting anything else with her other than her and they applaud her. I said that’s what it’s about. It’s about everyone going "oh my God, it’s Tinker Bell. Oh my God it’s her." Oh I remember that when I was four.

Holiday was terrifying, I will tell you that. It was terrifying. I agonized over that show because you’re taking something away and putting something else out there and people may or may not like that. There was a lot of negative response when people heard they were doing the show. "What do you mean? You can’t do that. You can’t take away my Believe". The great thing was it was about Christmas, or the Holidays. The biggest thing about that is that it’s filled with memories also. But we took you on a different version. When we did the first show it was about using Disney and what Disney does with animated features, in a sense, or what the park does with them, with its magic to have you recall those feelings that take you from adventure to fantasy to laughter. Christmas was all about making you go back inside yourself. So when it opened, the show is very - again, it manipulates you because we started of with that song. It talks about do you remember, do you remember going here? Do you remember this? Do you remember that? If you actually analyze the song, it’s starts out with steps. It talks about do you remember Santa, reindeer, blue and the farther you get into it the song talks about do you remember that feeling, do you remember the caring, do you remember the sharing, do you remember what’s really important about it and at the very end it says just remember one more time and we collapse you into a kid and we do the toy soldier thing. We go into Dreidel and Toyland and play that old piece, and by the end of it with Two Front Teeth you’re kind of laughing and we kind of make you feel like a kid again. So we make you that child and then we send you home.

Very simply with I’ll be Home for Christmas with those five words, just by doing that. Even originally, when we opened the show, the floors kept going like every four beats there was a floor and I said what if we just let that linger because it almost felt like they were just dying out as the next one happened. It really kind of pulled you back. So we sent you home and then we did that special piece and we kind of bounced around. I never thought I would ever sellSilent Night. I never thought it would hit the door step. The likes of an audience, that’s a huge piece of it. I said let’s try it. Let’s see what people think of it. We picked a great tune that everyone knows, everyone knowsSilent Night. So we did the star of wonder piece, which is my favorite orchestral piece by Don Harper who writes the shows for me. When the orchestra recorded it, it was amazing. Then we went to Silent Night and we’re going to end on one thing and it worked like gangbusters.

Then we gave you the spirit back The old finale about the spirit of Christmas and getting people excited and when I was working with the composer Don Harper, I said, I want carol the bells to be in a fight with Russian dance and it’s like the church choir was going to do this thing with orchestra and bell choir but they ran out of time so we told the bell choir they couldn’t do it. We basically composed this wild crazy crashing symphony piece that worked pretty well. If you watch the show it’s all about red and green at that point. When we got to the end I literally pitched there and went from red to the green, red to the green, red to the green to the red to the green, red to the green to the red to the green, red to the green to the red to the green and you wear everybody out. In the sky we do exactly that. your eye focuses on that until you explode.

We remind you one more time and all we say at the end is remember the caring, the sharing and then we send you back. We picked a grandmother’s voice - I got accused of that being Grandmother Willow. No it’s not, she's an 86 year old grandmother that we picked up off voice demo tapes. She walked in. She brought her 60 year old son and she was wonderful. We talked her through it. She just reminded a lot of people of their grandmother. It was just a different kind of approach to that. We tried different voices too.

LP: Was the snow always a part of it?

SD: Yeah, the snow was there early on. I was skeptical because I’d never seen a snow effect that I liked and the one came out of Florida and it was like, "oh." I walked out. I was late to the review thing [with the new snow] of it at New Orleans Square one night and all I saw was the street lamps with the snow going by it and I’m like "that’s it". Then we got into how we’re going to end the show. Because you come out of this big remember one more time and then we go into what Don said, it’s a whole new way to do White Christmasand there’s three bell notes and two chords. And we were recording it and I said "you know this is either going to be the hardest sell in the world or it’s going to work perfectly." I said, "I don’t know, let’s try it."

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Then we put it out there, and what I loved about it, even though you know the snow comes on - it falls and you see all those kids hands go up to touch it and it’s just this whole new memory. At the end of three minutes they all just applaud because, again, it becomes a new memory to people and people talk about - it snowed.

The best night of the show, I brought both of my grandmothers and my parents - a whole slew of the family and it was the night of fog at Disneyland. We’re watching the show and the show opens with that huge wide explosion. We couldn’t see it, couldn’t see a thing and I’m sitting here with this whole street of people wondering what’s going to happen. So I’m watching and any time they saw anything they would just cheer. It was really cool to watch that even though they couldn’t see it, they could see glimmers of it and they would hear the music. It still worked and by the end of it when it snowed it was like the same experiences. When the castle went off you could hear huge cheers out in the street because you could see all the castle fire up. It’s a great experience and believe will beback.

LP: Will there be any changes in it?

SD: There’s a couple. We’re waiting for some fire from China right now.

LP: Is there anything else you’re working on past your grand opening?

SD: That new Christmas thing is coming up next season. Most likely there’ll be another holiday mixture that is sure to put the "spirit" back. That’ll be a lot of fun, a whole new thing