When I started playing Annie Oakley in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Disney Village in December 2008, it was a dream come true. I had not thought that it would be possible to combine my two passions in a single job. But then, I found myself performing in front of more than 1000 people, in an indoor arena, on horseback. It was also an immersive show, even if we didn't use that term at the time.
There was western style food with chili con carne and roast chicken, potatoes and cornbread. There was the smell, not on purpose but very present, of horses, cows, sand, and cooking. There were several moments of audience interaction and participation. There was the music, the lights and sound effects, the sets and the ambiance that was installed during the "pre-show".
I was put in the show urgently.
I only had a week of rehearsals before doing my first performance. I had to learn to master the use of firearms (I had never handled a firearm in my life and even if the bullets were obviously blanks, the risk seemed very present to me); learn to lay down the horse and gallop around the candelabra while shooting out the candles with the rifle, two feats that are not easy if the horse decides not to cooperate; and then I had to learn all the dialogues, movements, costume changes and character attributes. It was a very intense week.
Honestly, I don't remember exactly how that first performance went, but I think it went more or less well. It would take a very long time to count the number of performances I did afterwards because I continued to play Annie Oakley in this Wild West Show until 2020, when Covid-19 closed the show permanently. When I found out, at least six months after my last performance, I was really sad about it. If only I had known it was my last. I might have savored it even more, taken the time to say goodbye and thank you to all the horses, get everyone’s contact info and plan with my colleagues to meet again soon, take photos and videos as memories. But too often in life, we don't know that it's the last time... that we make love with someone, that we ride our beloved horse, that we see a relative or a friend. It’s a lesson that repeats itself: savor every moment of life because you never know if it will be the last.
Over the eleven years that I played Annie Oakley in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, I accumulated many memories : good, bad, touching, funny...
Here are a few :
The time when my horse, Target, fell to his knees as he tripped while circling the candelabra. Luckily I slid down his neck to my knees in the sand in front of him. We weren't hurt, but we could have been. Luck was with us.
The only time (fortunately it was not more) that while shooting the rifle during the shooting contest scene, a bullet casing, still very hot from being fired, fell into the collar of my costume (strange as the collar was so tight). The red-hot casing slipped halfway down the left side of my chest and it burned me like a brand. But to take off my costume, I had to undo the laces in the back, impossible to do on stage by myself. So I had to continue the scene as if nothing had happened until I left the arena and my costumer was able to remove my costume. I still have the scar from that incident.
Often we had VIP guests who came backstage to take pictures with us. I remember when Phil Collins, the lead singer of Genesis, came to see the show, like he did about once a year apparently, and he wanted a picture with us. Or did we want a picture with him? I wasn’t sure who the celebrity was at the time!
All the time spent chatting with the hair/makeup artists and dressers while they were getting me ready for the show or between scenes during costume changes.
All conversations with colleagues while eating in the cheap but far-from-delicious cafeteria in Disney Village.
The faces of the little girls that lit up when they came down into the arena to shoot the rifle with me during the shooting contest.
The erotic moments with a colleague in my dressing room during the "Cattle Trail" scene when I had about 20 minutes to relax before returning to the stage.
Transcendental meditation with another colleague between the two shows. (We did two performances a night).
All the friends and family who came to see me play and who I brought backstage to see the horses and meet my colleagues.
The time the seat of one of the cowboy’s pants split wide open during the Pony Express game !
My favorite horse of all, Foxy, the little palomino Quarter Horse who loved his job so much he squealed in joyful anticipation as we waited for our entrance behind the curtain. How he liked to rest his chin on my shoulder while I scratched and rubbed his head.