3 Things I Got To Experience Starring In Ecuador's 'Mickey Mouse Club'
I've had quite the set of adventures in my life, considering I'm still in my '20s. From living in different countries to having after-school lessons at Berklee College of Music when I was only 10 to singing with the Disneyworld Parks Choir that one time. Yet, none of those compare to the adventure that spanned four years of my childhood: being part of the main cast of the Ecuadorian franchise of the Mickey Mouse Club (we called it El Club Disney).
Back when I was seven, I started attending an after-school recreational club called Art'En 3, in which they taught us the basics of any triple-threat artist (dancing, singing, and acting). The classes were amazing, and through them, I realized that I wanted to be an artist at a young age. One afternoon, in the middle of our break, I was munching on a lemon with salt that I grabbed from the garden (Yes, I eat them like that.) when an odd-looking group of individuals with large cameras started setting up a little "audition corner." The head of the program came out and said they were producers looking for new cast members for their show. Of course, being an arts program, everybody got excited and ran over to their table to audition. I did my audition with a friend; it went by as quickly as I ate that lemon, and before I knew it, I had forgotten all about it.
A few weeks later, my mother got a call, letting them know that I had been selected to do another audition. Again, thinking nothing of it, I went to my second with my mom (this time at the studio offices). I kept reminding myself that these are rare opportunities to avoid keeping my hopes up. But a few more rounds of auditions passed, and before I knew it, I was being sent my very first script. I mean, I couldn't believe it; I was SEVEN with an ACTUAL SCRIPT for a TV SHOW. I felt like a young Sharpay Evans, just hustling my way through what felt like stardom to me (I also had like the biggest celebratory meal; it was great). And so, the strangest four years of my childhood began.
Now, keep in mind, this was local Ecuadorian TV, so I wasn't appearing on any big networks. It was a local kids' TV show for a National Network, but it still felt like the best and biggest opportunity ever for me. The first day of shooting arrived, and I was so nervous that I memorized the ENTIRE script. As in, everyone else would be speaking, and I knew their lines and would mumble along until one of the producers told me to stop. During my four years there, I eventually became one of the front members of the cast and found out some interesting things about the show …
Sets in real life are TINY. I mean, it looked huge on screen, like it was an entire mansion or something. But, the reality is that all of the set rooms were in one large area, simply spaced very cleverly so as to give the illusion that they were separate. It was kind of funny recording certain scenes knowing this because for the audience, I hypothetically just came from the other side of the place, but in reality, I walked 10 steps to my right.
The lights on set were also extremely bright, which meant that it was always warm when rehearsing and recording -- not just warm, but also SWEATY. I used to wear cool Disney Channel-type outfits with many colorful layers sometimes, along with some makeup. Add a bunch of bright lights to that, and you got yourself a burning 8-year-old trying to look cool on camera. Honestly, they don't give makeup artists enough props because ours was always on stand-by ready to wipe any sweat and make us look all professional. (So, thank you, makeup artists, I appreciate y'all.)
We also had this big, bright-red, latex-like couch smack in the middle of the set, which we used for most intros and outros and a few scenes here and there. That couch always smelled a bit funky (probably from drinking up everyone's sweat, tbh) and was very uncomfortable to sit on. But hey, it looked so cool on camera that I can't really complain. It was also weirdly enough stuffed with confetti for some reason. I once asked someone what that was about, and they never answered, so it's a mystery to this day.
Now, we never changed our names for our characters on the show. I was still Antonella, but each cast member's main essence was amped up and more exaggerated for the theatrics -- like if Disney did pro-wrestling for kids. For example, my character was very vain and materialistic; she was enthusiastic, dramatic, and always finding a way to be the center of attention, or at least of the plot (and even though I am a Leo, I promise I'm not like that in real life). She wore bright colors, and for some reason, loved to speak with her hands. And she was put in the most insane costumes or adventures for sketches. I remember one time the sketch was about a "haircut gone wrong," which basically ended in me gluing my hair down with hair gel and putting on a bald cap (and then proceeding to put on a wig on top of that bald cap).
Here I am next to my second cousin (who was also a cast member), living every kid's dream of appearing bald on television.
I think the producers figured out how much I love wearing different costumes and acting out all these different characters because soon enough, I found myself being a teacher, a grandmother, a knock-off Sharpay Evans, a mermaid, a fairy godmother, a cheerleader, a drummer, the list goes on. We even had a special episode for the release of the movie Enchanted, in which I dressed up as a princess searching for her prince and crawling into the sewer to find the magic land. Lucky for me, there was no real sewer on set. I just rolled in some dirt to make it seem like I crawled out of the sewer.
I will say, though, that regardless of how many twists and turns the show got our characters into, the cast got along really well. I really enjoyed working with these amazing people that I can still call friends to this day. And, I even got to meet my long-lost second cousin (we found out we were related on set, quite the family reunion!). Each and every character got into different adventures and gave their own unique touch to the show.
Most of the episodes and sketches were filmed on set at the TV station, but every so often, we had special segments that required some travel to specific locations. I'm pretty sure I traveled around almost the entire country for this show. We visited Guayaquil, a city near the coast of Ecuador, about five times shooting specials for the show. We also visited the Zoo quite a few times. (I even got to pet a kangaroo!)
In addition to the magical land that is the Zoo, I was lucky enough to be part of the cast that promoted High School Musical 2, which meant we had to find a place that looked as similar as possible to the set (you know the one). So, we closed down the Marriott Hotel and got a full day to shoot there (I even saw the inside of the presidential suite, and I'm pretty sure that was the first and last time I'll ever see ANY presidential suite). Other locations we've shut down for shooting include a thermal spa in the middle of the mountains, an amusement park, a local hair salon, and my bathroom (we had to shoot a short on how to brush your teeth, and I'm pretty sure I hurt my gums from brushing so many times in a row).
I even got a small taste of what real-world fame feels like. While a lot of us were recognized around the country for our work, most of the kids in our respective schools either didn’t know about our job or didn’t care for it, so we got to experience a bit of that Hannah Montana double-life. During one of our location shoots, we went to the Interactive Museum of Sciences (Museo interactivo de ciencias). Upon arrival, we saw a local school having a field trip day at the museum, and as they were coming out into the parking lot, one of the kids noticed the cast and crew. Before we knew it, a wave of middle schoolers was making its way to us, full of excitement and lots of yelling.
We were, quite literally, pinned up against our car while the producers (ahem, the adults in the situation) organized the kids in a neat line and gave them each a chance to meet us. Oh my God. I thought. I feel like a CELEBRITY! All these kids were looking at us, with beaming eyes full of hope, telling us how much our show makes their day and how one day they want to be like us. I truly never expected to be in this position at such a young age. I got to autograph a cellphone case, a couple of school notebooks, and a forehead. I’ll never forget that day. Needless to say, the shooting got delayed by quite a bit, and we had to schedule an extra shooting day. But hey, it was totally worth it.
I know this entire thing is one not a lot of people get to experience in their lifetime, so I'm incredibly grateful for it; all of it. Did it make me grow up a lot faster than I probably wanted to? Yeah. Did it give me once-in-a-lifetime experiences like autographing a forehead, shutting down a Spa, petting a kangaroo, and getting to wear a wig on top of a bald cap on top of my hair? Absolutely. Although I really hope that autograph was able to come off that kid's head.
If you wanna get a taste of a few of the sketches, I found some re-uploads on YouTube. They're in Spanish, but honestly, they're great:
The granny sketch from earlier.
Antonella Ponce is a producer, singer, actor, and performer from Ecuador. You can follow her story on her Website or check out her music on Spotify.
Top image: Disney