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Sunday
Jun062010

Why Shows Fail

I have to admit, before actually working at Disney I didn’t care much for the parades or shows. As far as I was concerned, the times that shows were playing were the best times for riding the attractions surrounding those shows. However, after spending a lot of time with entertainment, I have become quite opinionated about the whole thing. 

One of the most mind boggling things to me is the consistent pattern of the company spending time and money on shows that any person in their right mind could tell you are incredibly lousy and doomed for failure. Many of their shows don’t even last a year and yet they spent boatloads of money on them. How does it happen? Why does it happen? Well, I’ll tell you.

It starts with an idea. Now I wish I could tell you it was an idea like “You know what would really be a cool show?” or “I just had this amazingly creative and artistic idea pop into my head for a show...” but I can’t. The idea usually comes from The Suits and starts more like this: “You know what’s been popular? Show’s like Turtle Talk and The Laugh Floor. Let’s make another one like that.” Or, “Nothing’s going on over in that area, let’s put a show there.” Or, my personal favorite, “You know what people love? Stitch and princesses. We need more shows with Stitch and princesses.”

Then they bring in people to carry out their dirty deeds. Possibly some very overworked show writer that has been writing pretty much the same show since 1980. Then, instead of giving this “creative team” the time necessary time to develop a show that could possibly be any good, they give them about a fourth of the time it takes and half the staff they would need.

After the underdeveloped show gets finalized, they bring in a director who probably won’t even be there half the time because he’s directing 7 other shows at the same time, and a choreographer who will probably make up the choreography as he goes and once again, the cast and crew will get about half the time they need to put this show on. It’s incredible to watch them do this over and over again. 

Aside from this atrocious method of show development, Disney does a few more things to set themselves up for failure. Something that I’ve noticed is their pattern for using the Abbot and Costello character roles over and over again. Let’s Have a Ball: Lucinda was Abbott, Simon was Costello. Storywalkers: The violinist was Abbot, the actor was Costello. Jack Sparrow’s Pirate Tutorial: Jack is Abbot, Mac is Costello (Since when did Captain Jack Sparrow need a silly sidekick anyway?). Hyperspace Hoopla: Guy with the Blue Jacket is Abbot, girl with the crazy hair is Costello. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Another thing I’ve noticed is a pattern of not thinking things through very well. Example: Storywalkers. Storywalkers was a little show they put in Asia at Disney’s Animal Kingdom that lasted probably less than a year. It was originally created because there is a dead spot in Asia between Expedition Everest and the siamangs (the apes in the temple) so they decided to put a show there. First mistake. Then they write a show with two characters that act like Abbot and Costello, but are dressed like they work at Pizzafari. Second mistake. Then they put this show in a major dead spot where people don’t care to see a show, because they are on their way to Expedition Everest. They could not get people to watch this show. I literally saw actors grabbing people walking by to try and get them to watch this sad show. Third mistake. So, to try and get people to watch this show, they moved it to two locations where people are standing around anyway, right outside the bathrooms and right below the roller coaster where people are waiting for their loved ones to get off the ride. Trouble is, when their loved ones get out of the bathroom or off the ride, they don’t want to be in your show anymore (They used “volunteers”). Fourth mistake. The fifth mistake was sound. At what point did they not recognize that setting a show between screaming monkeys and a roaring roller coaster with a giant body of water in front would completely drown out the sound? I remember watching one of the performers pause every time a car would come down that big drop on Expedition Everest so that she didn’t get drowned out by the rumble of the coaster and screaming of its riders.

Okay that’s small scale. Let’s look at something big scale. Stitch's Supersonic Celebration. Originally created because Space Mountain was going to be under some major maintenance and they didn’t want there to be dead space there. However, they didn’t seem to consider the fact that nobody has any reason to go to that part of the park when Space Mountain isn’t operating. Not to mention that a cheesy show can in no way compensate for missing out on a classic roller coaster.

Next, they thought they’d throw all the right ingredients together to make a good show: a little Stitch, a little music, a little dancing, girls in boots, and the ever so popular animated characters talking to audiences live. It didn’t really occur to them those things don’t always go together that well, and by the way, Stitch doesn’t really talk that much, but who cares about character integrity anyway, right?

Then there is logistics. An outdoor screen with no covering and the sun shining on it, means people can’t really see what is on the screen. An uncovered stage with no seating doesn’t really entice guests to stand in the blazing sun to watch a forty minute show.

And let’s not forget about content (the thing that should have been stimulus for the whole project, but instead is an afterthought). How did that script make it past someone’s desk, let alone into a full blown show? That host? That choreography? What were they thinking? I could have told you it was going to fail before they even started.

I thought that Walt Disney World was the only culprit for these obvious eye sores, but I was walking by the Plaza Inn at Disneyland the other day and saw this.

His name is Pat E. Cake and I can literally look at this picture and tell you this is not a good idea....but then I saw the show. He sings a terrible song and breaks out into a rap in the middle. See for yourself.

You know, after watching that video I really have nothing else to say about it.

So here’s my dream. No more crappy shows. It’s that simple. I want the parks to be full of things that I love as much as the Dapper Dans, the atmosphere characters on Main Street and Hollywood Boulevard, or the ragtime pianist pianist that plays in the evenings at Disneyland. Remember when you could go into the Diamond Horseshoe and see all those little variety shows and maybe a can-can or two? Those were the days (although I like the little band they have in the Golden Horseshoe, they can stay). It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to come up with ideas that really add to the parks instead of take away from them, or at the very least, aren’t complete failures. But I guess it is.

 

References (7)

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Reader Comments (28)

Once I went to disneyland and there was a Beatles tribute band performing a show. That was actually really FUN! Don't know what the Beatles have to do with Tomorrowland, (yellow submarine maybe?) but it was fun anyway. Lol

Right now at disneyland there is a show in Tomorrowland where they take kids in the audience and dress them up as Jedi and I think they battle darth Vader. It honestly sounded cool, and we rushed over to experience it. My two little boys were sooo excited. But we got there a minute and a half too late, the seating area was closed off and they were only picking kids in the seating area to go on stage. Well I wasn't going to stand there with two little boys and watch a bunch of other little boys be jedi but have to explain to my boys why they couldn't. So we left. I don't know if it is lame show or not, since we didn't see it. But the concept sounded cool enough and we were bummed that our boys missed out on the opportunity to be jedi and fight darth varder. I'm currious as to what your opinion on this show is (Keeping in mind that I am a mommy of two little boys who LOVE star wars).

June 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdisney obsessor

They have a Beatles tribute band in England at EPOCT called The British Invasion that are actually really cool. There voices are pretty dead on and the guys in the band are pretty cool. I like them. I also like Mo' Rockin. Both of those bands I feel add to the experience of the World Show Case and don't take away and that's what I like about them.

I'm on the fence about The Jedi Training Academy. It is by far one of their better put together shows. It originally was created for Star Wars Weekends at MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios) and was such a success that they brought it to Disneyland as well. It is done MUCH better at Disneyland in my opinion. Not only is the stage fantastic with a moving piece that brings Darth Vader out of the ground, but the talent there does a really good job. As far as the experience for the kids and the audience goes, I think they do well, I mean, what little kid doesn't want to be a padawan and fight Darth Vader with a light saber? My only struggle is character integrity. Darth Maul should not be in that show. Darth Maul was cut in half when Anakin was 9, he would not be on the same stage as Darth Vader. So, in short, yes I think your kids would have fun wearing Jedi robes, fighting off the evil of the dark side, and receiving an official certificate they are ready to begin training as padawans. But until they care about character integrity (especially with Star Wars 'cause there's a lot of us nerds out there), I still get bugged every time I watch it.

June 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLilly

I LOVE this post, I'm so glad you pointed this out. It's sad to say that the suits hold all the money and make all the decisions and instead of flashy new big things we get small lame shows that cost and eat up budgets for other things...like attractions and refurbs.

As for doomed-before-it-began stitch show. It went through 3 different hands before being finalized. Everyone knew the thing was doomed! That show had a rather LARGE price tag if you can believe it. It was so sad to hear how much money they spent on that one show when ANYONE, and I mean ANYONE could of told you was a bad, bad idea, and most of us who voiced our opinions on blogs and forums didn't even have a MBA and 10+ years of professional experience in the entertainment industry.

I wish the suits would get a head of things before sitting around and waiting til the last minute. I mean what does it say when they have to wait out to see what happens... be it movies, cartoons, etc. It kinda shows that they don't even have faith in their own product. It would be nice, just for once to see Disney take a leap of faith and develop something for the parks based on their property before it came to the theatres. Could you imagine if a TRON attraction opened the same week as the highly anticipated film? Talk about inclusion, cenergy, and promotion...what a buzz that would create.

I think the ONLY division that get's a head of things anymore is Disney Consumer Products and to them I say well done indeed! Well actually I think WDI does get a head of things but the suits don't listen to them, they just dream up pretty things that could work someday....someday being 21 years later.

June 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWDIDreamer

This is a great post. It describes what I've been calling the 'dumbing down of Imagineering'. The Imagineering ideals and drive that separate Disney Parks from 'everyone else' seem to be sorely missing these days (with a few exceptions). And it's not just limited to the shows at Disney Parks. Your post could be applied to recent attractions and updates (Toy Story Mania, SSE update, Stitch's Great Escape), resorts (the upcoming Animation Resort based on 4 random films), all the way down to the monorail spiel, which years ago used to inform and educate, but is now a big long commercial (don't even get me started about the new TTA narration).

June 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSanford

WDIDreamer: GREAT COMMENT. So true. I especially appreciate your comment about timing. Like when they created a High School Musical show years after the show was all the rage, or started the American Idol show when American Idol was in its 7th or 8th season. Or how about when the bulldozed the Country Bear Jamboree in Disneyland right as the The Country Bears movie was being released? Not only was the movie lousy, but they took out one of the references for the film.

Sanford: So true. Sometimes I feel like they don't even want to make something good, they just want to put something there.

June 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLilly

Really good post. There are some shows at WDW that are well thought out, but those ones out in the open air that you just sort of have to stand around and watch have a strike against them before they ever start performing (the sun). We rarely if ever stay and watch any of these types of shows, mostly because we're trying to get somewhere else, partly because we're not that interested, and partly because we don't want to stand in the sun any longer than we have to. That said, we have stood and watched the Jedi Training Academy shows a couple of times because the kids are huge Star Wars fans. (But as the first commenter said, it's disappointing to them when they don't get selected, and they never have been selected.) I think they could do more shows of this quality, and make them short enough that you don't come to a boil standing (or sitting) and watching...

June 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScott

It just does my heart good to see a blog post about Disney that's not all sugary sweetness and light!

June 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Toby

The really sad part is that many of these actors put into these horrifying spectacles is they are highly-qualified performers who have invested years and years of top-level training in their craft, only .... for this.

June 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Toby

Personally, I don't like shows because they're uncomfortable to watch. I don't want to sit under the blazing florida sun to watch some princesses or whatever it is go by at .000005 miles an hour. I appreciate the effort, and I know there are tons of kids who love them (including me when I was little) but now I would much rather be riding rides. Unfortunately, I don't think there's much they can do to get people like me to watch these shows or parades unless they tossed candy or something at us haha. If I want to go see a good show I'll go see Beauty and The Beast or Mickey's Philhar Magic.

As for the Pat E. Cake... now THAT'S something I would want to see. Not because it's cute, or magical - but because its freakin' funny. Part of me wants to believe that whoever had the idea to implement this guy into the parks thought this was hilarious. (But the majority of me knows they thought we would eat it up)

June 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKate

As Sanford said, this post could be applied to most stuff Disney has made, especially attractions. But, man, It's almost like I can't read this stuff anymore because it makes me more and more upset to see Disney declining by degrees. Simply put, Disney isn't trying as much, they aren't taking leaps of faith, they just go with "what's popular" (usually right on the verge of it being outdated). Like visitors here and my site, so many people are in agreement with us.

But this is what gets me... Why isn't Disney listening to us? Because they don't have to. Beyond the "so many" that feel the same way I do, there's hundreds if not thousands of people that either don't care or don't know any better. First time visitors that don't know the quality Disney used to put out. If they could only know that rides like Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean or shows like Main Street Electrical Parade lasted many many years (or are still around) not because they were based off of something popular but because they packed full of so much R&D and detail that they are timeless.

The return of Captain EO at DL is a prime example of building "on the cheap" as Roy Disney so eloquently put it. A simple effect like the lasers shooting were not put back into the show. Even if the equipment was gone, how much can a high end laser cost? 10k? And then another 10k to perhaps pay technicians to sync it up with the show? (Numbers are a total guess) Yeah, not very much. But did they do it? nope. Let's just slap a label on it and ride the wave of MJ's death.

Everytime I post, I feel I sign off with a "sigh".
... sigh

June 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSubsonic

It’s not like entertainment HAS to be cheezy for it to exist in a Disney park. Some of my own family members claim that everything cheezy is OK because “it’s for the kids and they like it” and “Disney is supposed to be cheezy and that’s what makes it fun”.

I strongly disagree. FIrst of all, nothing should be just “for the kids” (except maybe kids meals at the Hungry Bear or kids merchandise). Yeah, a certain level of whimsy is a good idea. A bit of corny humor can be great. One thing Disney did so well for so long was provide quality and entertaining entertainment to all ages.

Examples: Watch “Disneyland After Dark” from 1962. Get a taste of excellent quality entertainment, large and small at Disneyland. Yeah, I know that the amount of entertainment was increased big time for that TV broadcast, but a lot of that stuff was regularly found in the park when it was not being filmed for TV.

A couple weeks ago I was at Disneyland and watched a few musical acts. A jazz band and a Dapper Dan-like group in New Orleans Square, the band in Town Square, and the Billy Hill show at the Golden Horseshoe. All were great and all were well-attended. People of ALL AGES got such a kick out of each one.

Sadly, the shows mentioned in this post (though they might have potential with a little more TLC --Stitch show not included--) don’t appeal to all ages. A guy with a cake outfit to me is crap because people didn’t do that sort of thing around the turn-of-the-century. Have a guy who looks like he belongs on Main Street there to sing to the kiddos, and WITHOUT the rap please.

June 7, 2010 | Registered CommenterFritz

I never really liked the entertainment at Disneyland, even as a kid. I liked Fantasmic!, of course, but everything else I sort of steered clear of, including parades (by the way, the way to fast forward a parade is to walk in the opposite direction! A life saver!).

Anyway, it wasn't until I went to Tokyo DisneySea that I realized what the problem was. Disneyland shows just suck. From the cheesy Celebration parade to High School Musical to the surprising lack of entertainment on weekdays and in the off-season, it mostly sucks.

But go to DisneySea and you've got Mystic Rhythms, Legend of Mythica, BraviSEAmo!, Big Band Beat, this neat Little Mermaid Show with cool puppets and a big ass Ursula and all the little performances in different corners of the park. Best of all, this stuff happens every day, off-season or summer, weekday or weekend. I had actually written off the entertainment based on my experience at Disneyland and ended up changing my tune halfway through the trip. I rolled my eyes as I went into the Little Mermaid show, dragged into it by my girlfriend, but ended up loving it because it was much more complex and cool than I thought it would be.

So yeah, agreed with everything in your post and all that.

June 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSpokker

Yes I hate how the shows at disney are really starting to be overcome by corporate managers. It's humiliating for Imagineer's really. When I was doing a report on Imagineering, I interviewed an Imagineer at the original Disneyland, and he said the thing that bugged him about his job was "Well, I think the thing I don't enjoy is like any big company we have a lot of levels of management, you know the managers are usually very good. But you know that, sometimes it seems like there's a little bit too much of that going on, I'm sure it's all for the best. But you know when you're hoping to do creative things it makes it a little hard sometimes."

= LEAVE US ALONE CORPORATE MANAGERS
gosh they are just trying to do thier jobs.

Also the stich show already looked doomed to fail, and the cake guy was just to painful top watch really. Ouch.

June 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnne

I want to stress that we can not blame Imagineers for messes like these, you know they want to create attractions and top notch shows for us but it always comes down to the head honchos coming in and making crazy changes because they think they know best. Take all the changes to WoC...

I find it ironically delightful that the suits with their MBAs are inclined to give creative suggestions as if their MBA's trump these imagineers who have went to school for art, design, painting, show writing, etc. I think they need to stop, learn and listen. They wouldn't dare listen to an imagineer giving them quarterly and fiscal year report advice and how they can improve on their ROIs.

I understand about branding and existing properties, franchises and licenses... from tent pole to evergreen. I get it, but lets not waste 21 years when we already could of had a Little Mermaid attraction. I mean does it really take a competitor park's newest edition to get things moving around there???

June 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWDIDreamer

AAAHH! So it's not just me! Longtime Disney lover and fanatic, I took my fiance on her first trip to WDW a month or two ago. Needless to say, she knows she's marrying someone with an extremely great passion for Disney. Half way through the trip she commented "what's so great about this!? This is just an upscaled Six Flags!" I was shocked at first. Then she said "where's all this magic you've talked about?! What's SO different about this?! Why IS this the number one vacation destination in the world?!"

OMG! She hit the nail on the head. I was at a loss for words. There was nothing I could show her that came close to the magic Disney created years ago. Yes, we had a fight about it...I defended Disney like I've always done. But then I viewed the experience through her eyes and realized what she saw was NOT what I had hyped Disney to be. She concluded by saying "it's nice...but there's nothing MAGICAL about it!"

Out of curiosity, I watched the Stitch show on Youtube. I had no idea it had gotten that bad. I too have never stopped in the park to watch the street performers and yet, I could listen to the Dapper Dans for hours! Disney parks are still the most expensive theme park ticket in the US and there was a time that I didn't mind paying for it. Quality made all the difference. Growing up, I dreamed of becoming an Imagineer. Today, if given the opportunity, I think I'd have to consider declining that offer :(

June 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSparky

You're all so whiny. I mean really really whiny. You also disregard and cherry pick to suit your own jaded views. Much of the Disney park past is gone...out with the old and in with the new, get over it. Surprise surprise that you don't like the new stuff as much as the OLD stuff. Is it possible that you relate to the old stuff not as you are now, but rather as you first experienced it, perhaps as a child or adolescent. Disney has made mistakes, but they have created gems recently too. The tone of this site and its posts prevent those from actually getting highlighted, though.

I like this site, but it turns into an all-out bitch fest with almost every post. I could write out a long winded post like I have in the past, but I don't feel like it. I just think it's funny that you disregard almost every show in World Showcase which is fantastic. Finding Nemo the musical? The music for that AND the puppetry is amazing. And do I even have to mention World of Color which looks like it is absolutely fantastic and full of that "old" Disney Magic?

And to Sparky: I had a similar start with my longtime girlfriend coming down to WDW for the first time. She is 27 years old, with no prior interest in anything Disney related. In fact, she was quite the opposite, thinking that Disney is nothing more than a glorified six-flags, just like any other theme park. Well, she ended up loving the place, loving every minute of it, the parks, the shows, the attractions, the resorts, the restaurants. She has gained much interest in Disney parks and films, and now we share that Disney passion, bringing us even closer together. The magic is still there, man. I've seen it convert someone personally. Not to mention, the 7 months later vacation we took with her parents, that also resulted in two new life-long Disney park fans.

I don't know if I'm just suckered more than the rest of you, or what. I'm critical of what Disney does, but I don't just gloss over the stuff they do right to serve my own cynicism.

June 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Chris, I was waiting for you to comment on this article!

And I have to agree with you on at least one thing. There are some good entertainment acts at the parks. Fritz mentioned some above.

June 9, 2010 | Registered CommenterMitch

I just watched World of Color on youtube from a CM preview the other night. I'm very impressed with it. Beyond impressed, really. I'd use it as proof that Disney is still capable of doing new and exciting things and should instill some faith in the fans that there is more great things to come from the Imagineers.

The most obvious complaint is going to be lack of storyline in the show. It does lack cohesive storyline, but that is replaced by a strong theme about the color (figurative and literal) of these different Disney film worlds. Each section illicits an emotion from a film already familiar to the audience, and this emotional narrative is quite cohesive from one segment to the next. Disney definitely uses their properties here. I was very happy to see the Rite of Spring used both from Fantasia 2000 with the proper peak of the crescendo, as I'm a Stravinsky lover. Glad to see the pirates and other Fantasia parts used as well.

In defense of the abstract nature of the show, I think it should be mentioned that it is intended to be something in the vein of a fireworks show rather than an updated Fantasmic. they are meant to be two different shows. Fantasmic is much more concrete in storyline (even though that gets pretty vague) than say, Wishes. WOC reminds me of something like Wishes only instead of fireworks, they use jets of water. So, it is meant to be abstract. the concrete emotional elements come from the projections.

Anyway, really enjoyed it, and I can't wait to see it for myself.

June 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Fireworks are abstract, but World of Color feels like one big commercial for Disney films. The motivation here is definitely nostalgia... again. If you go to Disney theme parks just to see characters, than World of Color is for you. For those that prefer the original stuff more, they'll enjoy the spectacle of it, but won't connect emotionally with the show.

June 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSpokker

*than should be then.

June 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSpokker

As someone who is known as strictly, "face" - "entertainment" - "yellow/yellow" and "female", all I have to say is you're 100% correct. Besides being sick and tired of being taught choreography that last no more than 6-9 months, then burning it down, taught another, then spared over to another part of the park for a whole 'nother role.. The shows are just lame now. :/

June 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMK Entertainment

A very good point. I actually liked the Jack Sparrow Pirate tutorial but other than that, a lot of these little shows on the side are pretty bad. But I guess when you're only really making them to temporarily fill time and space, why bother making them good? The last thing you want is a temp show to actually get popular and you can't get rid of it. That's basically how we got that Lion King show in Animal Kingdom. It was meant to be temporary too but it was actually good and fun to watch, therefore, people didn't want it to go away.

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Ninja Pirate

For my money, the shows that work are the ones that are just about the arts, like the Dans. I remember visiting Tomorrowland when I was a kid in the '80's, and they had a troupe of dancers in futuristic costumes come out and do a dance performance. It was great, because it was just an artistic performance tied to the land's theme. It didn't try to shoehorn in any non sequitur cartoon characters or talk down to the audience. And because of that, the dancers had the time and freedom to just put on a really GOOD performance.

February 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Pat E. Cake is failure at it's best. The people who are cheering for him while he raps were probably hired to do that cause nobody else would!

July 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmily Oriotis

This is so true, from Phineas and Ferb and High School Musical... Terrible.

BUT you must admit Fantasmic and World of Color have been a GREAT success.....

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephen

We've always been impressed with the shows and talent at WDW. Having said that, we tend to watch shows like Festival of the Lion King or Beauty and the Beast. It never even occurs to us to stop and watch whatever it is they do at the castle with princesses and their princes too many times a day. Makes the cstle unapproachable and simply walking through it is a joy and wondrous or WAS before all the prop stuff took up space there. I love Dapper Dans, piano player, moving talking tras cans (at Epcot) but large overdone/underdone themey movie related nonsense like High School Musical in the hot sun is absurd. Not interested. Our daughter saw that show when she was 10 and fully into HSM. But 3 minutes into the interactive dancing show, she was headed back to us ready to elsewhere bc the characters were obviously not the real ones. Love fireworks but despise the long winded
overly sappy bits in Magic Kingdom's closing show. A little sappiness goes a long way. A lot goes way too far. :D

June 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterL montin

My god, why did I watch that Pat E. Cake video? I'm going to have that terrible song stuck in my head all day! I did appreciate the CM spouting off about the lyrics - yeah, that joke is about ten years old.

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErin D

Hmmm...maybe they should tear down that Tomorrowland stage and just put in a great big photo-op spot (like the gallows in Liberty). I would prefer it mostly because I would be able to hear myself think again.

July 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

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