When multidisciplinary artist Mary Morrison isn't at Disney World setting up a new installation at 3AM, you can catch her either writing or designing in her very little spare time. She took a break from her busy schedule to talk to us about her creative process and what it takes to bring the magic of Disney to life.
Q: How would you describe your creative process?
Mary: My creative process varies wildly from project to project, depending on a lot of things like budget, scale, who I'm working with, etc. What has worked best for me in the past is following my creative whims as quickly as I can before the self doubt sets in. It's a little harried, but because I don't have that much time for personal projects, I try to say "yes" to them with what little free time I have. I try to get others involved in the process, too, when my idea feels half-baked and still needs a lot of work to become fully formed. I am motivated more when I involve others, so I can't back out of a project so easily.
You've worked on a number of live productions, from theatre in college and now at Disney. How would you say art on the stage compares to other art forms?
Live production has an energy that I haven't found in any other art form. A play isn't finished at the final dress rehearsal, its only complete when an audience sees it. The performers feed off the crowd's energy, and that relationship creates something totally unique. Each show, no matter how many times it is performed, is an individual work within itself. So, unlike other art forms, the artists don't have complete control over their work; they share that control with the observers.
Are there interesting or surprising stories behind some of your work?
The story that sticks out to me the most is from the installation of "Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular" at Disney World in the summer of 2016. Because the parks are open seven days a week, any new work has to be completed during late nights; I was basically nocturnal that whole summer. To top it all off, it was a really terrible summer in central Florida. Within one week in June, a child was eaten by an alligator at a Disney hotel, Youtube and Voice star Christina Grimmie was shot in Orlando, and of course, the then largest mass shooting in U.S. history happened at Pulse. I would drive home as the sun was rising, sobbing the entire way home. I remember hugging the friends I feared I would never see again, feeling so lucky that they were still alive. I remember waking up in the afternoon and having to call my family to let them know I was okay.
Yet the good memories also stick out. No one believes me when I tell them that around 3AM, the entire park at Disney smells like cookies. I would be exhausted, fighting tree limbs, as I tried to hang string lights in them, and then all of a sudden, the world would feel so much better because it was "cookie time." Other good memories include taking a 65-foot boom lift as far up as it could possibly go to catch the first glimpse of the sun rise with my lift partner. I was so physically and emotionally exhausted by that install, but I am also so incredibly proud of the final product.
Any upcoming projects you're especially excited about?
Unfortunately, I can't talk publicly about any of the Disney projects I'm involved in currently. Personally, I'm trying to get back into creating for myself first. I feel like I'm still rebounding from college, when I was overstretched, creating on someone else's schedule. Now, if I want to write, I write. If I want to draw, I draw. It's nice to rediscover the joy of creating, instead of the anxieties that come with academics.
And we have to ask, if you could produce any piece of creative work without any limitations, what would it be and why?
I would love to write a play, then design scenic and lighting for its production. I love creative writing because I get to create my own little world, but theatrical design requires the tangible realization of that world. I would create the play's world from scratch by both writing and designing it. It would be like playing God.
That sounds epic, Mary! We would love to see that production one day. ◆
You can find more of Mary's work on her website.