"You got big dreams. You want fame. Well fame costs, and right here is where you start paying….in sweat" – Lydia Grant – Fame (1982)

When I graduated from high school, I was going to go be a movie star. I lived only minutes from all the major motion picture studios, I had my own little red car to get to auditions with, and I was brave – full of the knowledge that I was invincible. I had my headshots, resume, acting classes - all I needed was a day job, and that is where things went horribly wrong.

My friend (who actually did become a movie star) had connections at the Universal Studios Tour and got me in. How can I ever repay her? Well let’s just say I’ve never bought a ticket to one of her movies.

There are four stages to being a Universal Studios Tour Guide:

Audition - The audition is broken down into three parts.
1. The Cattle Call – anyone with a pulse is invited to come in and try out. You stand before the entire group, state your name and why you want to be a guide and go home with either a thanks for trying or a callback. 2. Callback 1 / The Improv – you get up again in front of the group and speak for exactly five minutes, no more no less, on a topic supplied at the last minute, such as your favorite film star. 3. Callback 2 / The Interview – more like an interview for a regular job, it is a one on one q and a with a supervisor.

Training - Training takes two weeks. Some highlights:

The First Day – you are given your first Insider’s Tour and a red notebook containing the 1 ½ inch thick training manual which you are obligated to memorize before the Tram Test (see below).

Learning the Tour – the tour is a pretty strict script. They are clear that it’s their show – and you are going to learn ALL THREE HOURS of it.

Stalling – it’s a three-hour tour only if everything is running smoothly – which is about 2% of the time. When an animation (like the Falling Bridge or the Tunnel) breaks down there can be heavy delays - and you have to keep talking! This is called stalling.

The Tram Test – On the last day of training, each new guide must do a ten-minute segment of the tour. Even after two weeks of training, a few people don’t pass and are released to the outside world. They are the lucky ones.

From the moment you pick up your first uniform (back then ours looked like we worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken) to the moment you turn it in with your ID badge at the end of your employ, you are sucked in to the black hole that is Guide Culture. You may as well be stuck on a desert island with a bunch of singers, dancers, actors, models, and theme park fanatics.

Your first stop in the day in the life of a guide:

The Locker Room – Pick up your uniform and get dressed. A shower is provided but is of little use – your uniform will already smell like someone else’s BO. Don’t forget your standard 2 inch heel black pumps! Finally, check the mirror before you leave – you don’t want to be sent back to put on more makeup!
Head up to…
Dispatch – The dispatcher is a mini-manager. Check in with him (never a her for some reason) and have him sign your timecard. He may need to check you over – make sure you are wearing makeup, the right shoes, pantyhose; if you’re a guy, he’ll check to make sure you’ve shaved and removed any piercings. Everyone flirts with the Dispatcher because nobody wants to get stuck with the Last Tram of the Day (LTD). If you get the LTD you won't know where everyone is going drinking after work unless somebody leaves you a note.
Now proceed to the…
Breakroom – This is one of the five most insane environments in Los Angeles. 30-50 Tour Guides, two bathrooms, three vending machines, a shelf full of board games and one payphone. It would have been the most amazing live Internet camera ever. If you had tuned in when I worked there, you would have seen:
The guides who unintentionally conceived in the bathroom
The pro-life guide who tried in vain with a public media campaign to save that embryo.
Cocaine cocaine cocaine.
The guide who had an affair with a successful (and married) film director.
The cockroach guide who wouldn’t shut up about his "real career" – entomology.
The stalker guide who just wanted to "be friends WITH ONE GODDAMN GIRL IN THIS LIFETIME"
Fighting! Catfights over men, butchfights over women, lover’s quarrels, nitpicky tour fact disputes…but most of all people who had to call their agents on the payphone
And sooner or later over the intercom you will hear the dispatcher call your name – it’s time for you to enter the….
Tram – you get in, most of your group is already loaded and ready to go. Smile at the teamster driver and give him a wink – maybe he’ll drive a little faster. Enjoy the feel of your double-knit polyester pants/skirt sliding against the vinyl of your backward facing chair. Take the microphone and give it a wipe you never know, Cockroach Guide could’ve used it last. Time to tour…
Hi! My name is Facty and I’ll be your tour guide today. Welcome to Universal Studios Hollywood! Before we begin I’d like to remind you of a few rules we’d like you to follow while on the tour today: first there is no smoking. Please extinguish all smoking materials on the floor of the tram immediately. Second, keep children under 40 pounds on the inside seats of the tram; some animations can be intense. Keep your arm and legs inside the tram at all times, and do not stand up while the tram is in motion. If you should require assistance at any time during the tour, pull the cord located above the window on either side of the car.

And there you are for the next 3-4 ½ hours. At first, it’s a thrill…a microphone, an audience of 150, your very own teamster driver, you are famous! Then one day it hits you…

You are not famous. Not only are you not famous, you are wearing a nametag and a polyester pants suit giving tours to inbred idiots who wouldn’t notice if you told them the whole backlot is made of cheese. The tour has bored you silly. You’ve begun thinking about other things…shopping, partying, You dated all the guys you’re going to date and rejected all the guys you’re going to reject (if you’re lucky the Stalker Guide has moved on from you to the next victim). You haven’t been to an audition in ten months and if you don’t get out of there soon you are never going to be a movie star like you wanted to be in the first place…


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