You might have seen them around Universal Studios Singapore®– people clad in black, wielding walkie-talkies, stopping you from swarming up next to Woody Woodpecker and Marilyn Monroe. Just who are they?
Introducing the Star Guides – people who protect their character charges, keep overzealous fans at bay, and keep a close watch on schedules, like a manager, butler and personal bodyguard all rolled into one. And before you think they’re an unfriendly lot, they’re not.
Their work sounds easy enough. All they do is keep tabs on the characters, right? But when I was invited for a backstage sneak peek of their typical workday, I realized that it is far more challenging than I initially thought. I met up with JR, the In-Charge for Madagascar (one of the park’s seven zones), who brought me into their “greenroom” – a backstage area for performers and escorts.
It was a bustle of pre-performance energy. Madagascar is one of the park zones with a street show, featuring well-loved characters like Gloria the hippo, Alex the lion, King Julien and the penguins – who were busy suiting up and preparing for the performance.
As we waited, more Star Guides streamed in and they shared with me about what they do. They told me that in order to help deliver a convincing story during character meet and greets, they have to both learn how each of the seven park zones operates as well as understand each character’s background story.
Ensuring that their show schedules are kept to is also key, but more importantly they have to ensure the safety and well-being of their attached characters on set – which also means keeping an eye on rowdier crowds.While most guests are gracious, there have been a few who are unhappy with group photos and insist on one-on-one pictures with each character. Gloria has been hit on the head with a can of coke. Some visitors can get a little touchy-feely, which the Guides have to be quick to spot.
That said, they do get to witness the occasional ‘aww’ moment, like when men choose to propose to their girlfriends in the park. Strangely, there have been marriage proposals to the characters themselves too, which of course have to be declined.
Showtime rolled around soon enough; the Guides steadily exited the greenroom and prepared for action.
It’s time to boogie
Outside the greenroom, the morning sun was heating up and camera-toting guests were milling about. JR led the way and the Guides started gathering slightly puzzled guests in a semi circle around the performance area. It involved quite a bit of persuasion and coaxing before an audience was formed.
The Guides then created a human barricade demarcating the performance space before the characters are escorted out. Boogie-ing was well under way and the Guides encouraged the audience to cheer and clap along, which seemed pretty easy to accomplish considering how catchy the music was.
Mummy, I want a photo!
Of course, all those cameras in the crowd weren’t for nought. It was truly impressive how in about 10 seconds (and without much verbal communication) the Guides managed to part the crowd like the red sea and into neat rows for photo-taking.
Keeping to a schedule
Soon, the Guides wrap up a few last shots before moving the characters backstage, getting them out of the stifling heat- where everyone can revel in a few minutes of air-conditioning (and avoid a nasty heat stroke) before braving the heat again for the next set. It goes on like this for the rest of the day till the park closes. Just one set in the morning sun has already got me all warm and sticky, so, coupled with all the crowd control and persuasion that has to happen, I really couldn’t imagine how the Guides (and the characters) manage to do this everyday.
I left with a better understanding of what these folks in black do. It’s not an easy job but they would go the extra mile to contribute to a complete guest experience, whilst ensuring that their assigned characters stay out of the, er, hospital. So the next time they come between you and tackling Kung Fu Panda to the ground, just understand that they’re essentially Kung Fu Panda’s nanny – it wouldn’t do to see him get hurt, despite the well-rounded tummy.