Once prevalent at both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, but now increasingly rare, a spiel attraction is one for which an onboard guide narrates your ride experience. Current spiel attractions include Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safaris and the Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, while former spiel attractions included Universal Orlando’s Kongfrontation and Jaws.
Spielers have to memorize long narrations that are carefully timed to the action going on around the ride vehicle. But did you ever give a thought to what happens when something goes wrong? Spielers have to be ready for anything, from wandering animals to technical mishaps. This is where stall material comes in.
The purpose of stall material is to fill in the gaps. A chunk of additional paperwork handed to a spieler to memorize at the same time as the regular spiel, stall material runs the gamut from fun facts about the ride to several paragraphs of company history. As any spieler will tell you, however, stall material is, at best, a loose guideline that might or not might be the best option for a particular situation.
I personally worked on both Kilimanjaro Safaris and Kongfrontation, which taught me a thing or two about stall material. Here's what every spieler needs to know!
1. Stall material is tough to remember
While memorizing stall material is an important facet of a spieler’s job, the reality is that it often falls by the wayside. If you were handed a 30-page script, plus a bunch of random facts, and you knew that in a few days you would be tested on the script but not the facts, where would you focus your attention? Even for the spielers who do dutifully memorize every item of the stall material, ride breakdowns and other anomalies just aren’t that common. It’s a simple fact of human existence that it is easy to remember something you use 20 or more times per day, and much harder to remember something you use once or twice a month.
Spielers also tend to go into a sort of auto-pilot during each shift. Think about how you drive to and from work each day. You’re aware enough of traffic and changing road conditions that you don’t have an accident, but when you arrive you have little knowledge of how you got there. That’s how it is for a spieler on the 10th cycle before lunch.
A ride anomaly could be compared to a sudden detour onto a slightly familiar road. You know where you are, you’ve been there before, but you suddenly have to really pay attention to how the roads fit together in order to plot a new route home. That’s how spielers feel when they suddenly have to switch into stall material. They know it, but it doesn’t feel familiar. They’re on relatively unfamiliar ground, and are actively trying to tap into their memory banks to figure out what to say.
2. Stall material is hard to use
No matter how well the writers try to match up the stall material to the attraction, ride breakdowns all seem to happen at the worst possible time for the spieler. One of the worst moments of a spieler’s work life is a badly-timed E-stop. An E-stop, or emergency stop, shuts down all power to the attraction, including the lights. While rides typically have emergency lighting, it seems to be a law of fate that at some point during their career, every spieler will eventually experience an E-stop in a spot with no lights at all. For me, it happened one time on Kongfrontation.
My tram had just started around the final corner before the Unload platform. The guests were in a great mood, as they had just “defeated” King Kong. The overhead monitors started to drop down to play the “news footage” of their victory. Just then, the power went off, and we were plunged into complete and utter darkness.
Have you ever been on a cave tour when your guide shut off the lights? This was that sort of inky blackness, where your eyes strain and strain and cannot pick up a single bit of light. All audio effects in the building also went silent, and we were too far away from the platform to pick up on anyone’s conversations. At the same moment, my headset radio exploded in chatter between tram drivers, control tower employees, mechanics, leads, and supervisors, all trying to figure out what happened and how best to handle the situation.
The sudden darkness and eerie silence, combined with the knowledge that we were 30 feet in the air, caused some of my guests to, understandably, panic. They didn’t want to hear fun facts about how the Kong animatronics were built or movie trivia from the original 1933 film. They wanted to know that they weren’t going to die, and were soon going to be free to go about the rest of their day. Staying calm, putting my guests’ psychological and emotional needs first, and winging it were my only tools for getting through the longest 10 minutes of my life.