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June 21, 2024
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Silver Dollar City entertainers reflect on decades spent at theme park

Madison Foreman auditioned to be a Saloon Girl at Silver Dollar City four times before she finally received the call she had been dreaming of since childhood.

“I grew up coming to Silver Dollar City … I always saw the Saloon Girls and was like, ‘I want to be a Saloon Girl so bad,'” Foreman told the News-Leader. At 18, Foreman auditioned to be a part of the theme park’s entertainment team for the first time and in her early 20s, she was asked to perform at The Saloon, the comedy venue that celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

Foreman performed as a Saloon Girl for 10 years before transitioning to her current role as junior publicist. In addition to high kicks in the Saloon, Foreman performed on the Showboat Branson Belle, in the Santa’s Pancakes & PJs Cruise show, with The Rivertown Ramblers and in the Tinker Jr.’s Toy Shop Show as Raggedy Ann over the years. Foreman also choreographed a few Silver Dollar City shows while working with the entertainment team.

Between all of Silver Dollar City’s live performances, the park employs about 45-50 entertainers when operating seven days a week during the regular season (March-November). During the spring and fall specifically, when the park cuts back its days of operation, only about 25-30 entertainers are working, Foreman said. Many of these entertainers return each year.

Larry Hoover, more popularly known as “Shorty Hatfield,” has been working at Silver Dollar City since 1998. Today, he is the lead of the Street Troupe, the group of entertainers who perform the McCoy-Hatfield feud on Main Street.

Originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Hoover has fond memories of visiting Silver Dollar City as a child. He said he visited the theme park about twice a month with his father growing up. It didn’t take long before Hoover was distinguished as a popular regular. Standing at seven-feet tall, he was easy to pick out.

“I’d be down in the Saloon and one of the guys would say, ‘Hey, tall guy is back’ and would make jokes about it,” Hoover said. “One of the guys that was on the Street Troupe at the time made the comment one day, ‘We get paid to be remembered. You’re doing it for free.’ I always thought it would be fun to work out there.”

More Silver Dollar City: Final salute to Fire In The Hole: Thousands of guests say goodbye to the 51-year-old ride

Not long after graduating from high school, Hoover decided to apply. He didn’t have any singing or dancing experience — he was a standout basketball player in school — but when asked why he should be hired, his answer was simple: “I’m seven foot. You put me in a costume on Main Street and it will draw a crowd.” He was right.

For many of Silver Dollar City’s entertainers, colleagues are like family, but in Hoover’s case, that couldn’t be more true.

In May, Hoover will celebrate his 10-year wedding anniversary with his wife Toni Hoover, formerly an entertainer at the park. Ironically, she performed as a character in the McCoy family during the Hatfield-McCoy performance, while Hoover was on the opposing side. The two have three children, Jeremiah, 7, Isaiah, 4, and Merry, 1, who all enjoy visiting their dad at work. Today, Larry and Toni perform together at the Branson Murder Mystery.

How do you audition for a role at Silver Dollar City?

When it comes to auditioning for Silver Dollar City’s entertainment team, the process has changed since Foreman’s first rodeo. Foreman’s auditions were in-person and candidates were asked to prepare one or two different songs to perform in front of a panel of the theme park’s entertainment management. If the panel liked a candidate, the candidate would be asked back for a dance audition. All candidates would hear back a few weeks after auditions about whether or not they were selected.

Photos: Thousands of Fire In The Hole fans flock Silver Dollar City for coaster’s final ride

Since the pandemic, Silver Dollar City auditions have become entirely virtual. The theme park posts information about applications and auditions on its website and third-party entertainment sites like Backstage and Playbill. Candidates then submit demo reels — short videos that serves as compilations of their best work.

Silver Dollar City hosts auditions each December for its upcoming season. In the case of the 2024 season, candidates auditioned and were hired in December 2023. The park then hosts another round of auditions in August for An Old Time Christmas, the theme park’s winter festival.

Entertainers who choose to solely work during An Old Time Christmas are offered two-month contracts, Foreman said. Because of this short timeframe, Silver Dollar City provides housing for these contract workers, which is usually an apartment near the park for entertainers who do not live in the area.

If entertainers plan on returning for the next season, they don’t always have to re-audition. Foreman said auditions are only held for new shows introduced at the park or when a recurring show is changed.

How much do entertainers get paid at Silver Dollar City?

The starting pay for first-time entertainers at Silver Dollar City is $700 per week, Foreman said. If working the regular season, entertainers start in March, before the park opens, and work through October, before An Old Time Christmas starts up. Holiday entertainers are paid the same rate.

Entertainers, like the rest of the park’s staff, are also offered health insurance, medical benefits and access to an on-site health center, which provides basic office visits, x-rays and lab work, according to the Silver Dollar City website.

Additionally, Silver Dollar City entertainers receive an array of discounts, including free admission to the theme park and discounted admission to Herschend Enterprise attractions throughout the country, including Dollywood Parks & Resort in Tennessee, Newport Aquarium in Kentucky and Wild Adventures in Georgia. Entertainers also receive complementary tickets and discounts for family members and reciprocal discounts to other Branson attractions.

What does a day in the life look like at Silver Dollar City?

Heather Stolfa is originally from Louisville, Kentucky, and unlike Foreman and Hoover, did not grow up visiting Silver Dollar City. In fact, she hadn’t even heard of the theme park until 2018, when she applied to work there.

Upon moving to St. Louis with her husband in 2018, Stolfa was looking for work with her musical theater degree. Folks recommended she look into Silver Dollar City. In December 2018, she auditioned to be on the park’s entertainment team and by the following spring, she was moving to Branson to begin work. Stolfa has performed as a Saloon Girl for the past five years.

The days of a Silver Dollar City Saloon Girl are fast-paced, which Stolfa said she enjoys.

“Walking” the News-Leader through a typical day, Stolfa said she usually arrived to the park around 9:30 a.m. where she does her hair and makeup before warming up. She then gets in costume, which takes about 10 minutes due to how elaborate the period-piece getup is. Next, it’s all hands on deck for the first show at 11 a.m.

Before getting on stage, the Saloon’s cast, which is made up of four to seven entertainers, serve guests a variety of drinks and snacks, like root beer floats, popcorn and cotton candy, Stolfa said.

The Saloon show lasts about 25-35 minutes, depending on much the cast improvises. Afterwards, the cast conduct meet and greets with guests.

Once all the guests have left the Saloon, the cast has about 15-20 minutes to reset the stage, clean up tables and get ready for the next show. Stolfa said the Saloon runs five shows every day.

“After that, we usually have some sort of fun activity planned with the cast,” Stolfa said. “We love to go out on outings around Branson together because if we didn’t have enough of each other at work after doing five shows, we still want to hangout afterwards.”

Though she no longer performs in the Saloon, Foreman said one of her favorite parts of being an entertainer at Silver Dollar City was creating relationships with regular guests. She even invited a few to her wedding last year.

“We’ve had a lot of people come through that door and maybe they’re having a rough day or maybe something happened in their life and we’ve gotten to know these folks,” Foreman said. “They’re local or they have a season pass and we get to know them.”

Foreman’s case of moving into a different role at Silver Dollar City is not uncommon, she said. Many entertainers who are still interested in working at the park, but maybe not on stage anymore, will move into behind-the-scenes positions.

As for Stolfa, she doesn’t have plans of leaving the Saloon anytime soon.

“I am honestly really content with where I am; it’s a great company,” Stolfa said. “I currently have no desire to go, so I will stay as long as they will have me.”

And fans of Shorty Hatfield can expect to see him return next year.

“Until God calls me someplace else, I’ll probably still be there,” he said.

Greta Cross is the trending topics reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. Follow her on X and Instagram @gretacrossphoto. Story idea? Email her at gcross@gannett.com.

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