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Catie Pires-Fernandes, Miss UCF 2014, has taken her talents to stages filled with magic, including ones under the sea.

She performs in a variety of stage shows at the Walt Disney World Resort, including the Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage andFinding Nemo- the Musical. Due to Disney policy, Pires-Fernandes’ specific roles shall remain unnamed.

“That’s what we train out students to do — to go out and work in the field of entertainment,” said Heather Gibson, marketing director for the UCF School of Performing Arts.

Every student in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program is required to have at least one paid internship in his or her respective field before graduating. Pires-Fernandes started her internship with Disney in June 2013 and has been a full-time employee there since May 2015.

Pires-Fernandes said her role in Finding Nemo has been one of her most challenging due to incorporating blocking, singing, acting and puppetry together.

“We spend a lot of time in rehearsals learning how to use the puppets and really utilize them to their fullest capacity with emotion and making it realistic that they’re underwater,” she said.

While she enjoys her roles in different stage shows, the meet ‘n’ greets she gets to do with kids in the Make-A-Wish foundation are her favorite part.

“For me it’s special because you know you’re making their day. They don’t know if they’re going to be able to come back to Disney or not,” she said. “And just to be able to make them smile for a few minutes when you have a special, intimate interaction with them just makes all the stress of your day completely worth it — if there is any [stress] at all. It just reminds you why you love performing.”

Pires-Fernandes said working at Disney has given her the opportunity to meet and learn from many different UCF alumni who she bonds with over stories of their time as Knights.

“It’s inspiring to know that that could be me in the next few years with the next group of students that are going to be graduating,” she said.

Being Miss UCF and a Disney performer are stepping stones to make her dream of moving to New York City and being on Broadway a reality one day, the 22-year-old said.

“And I feel that working at Disney really has prepared me to move to New York one day because you learn how you want to be treated,” she said. “And especially being covered by the Actors’ Equity Union, you learn how to speak up for yourself in a professional manner and work with professionals in a manner that we all like to work in I think.”

She said while she loved everything she was able to do during her year as Miss UCF, it was a catalyst for her to realize that one day performing isn’t going to be enough.

“I’m going to need to do something more to impact people on a deeper level,” she said. “And to me, music therapy is a wonderful culmination of music, therapy and helping people.”

She aspires to eventually go to graduate school and pursue a master’s degree in music therapy.

“She’s not afraid to take chances,” said Chris Saltalamacchio, 30, who owns Pageantry by Chris, a company that works primarily with Miss America pageant contestants. “She’s not afraid to fly to St. Louis or New York for one audition because she knows that something great might come of it.”

Saltalamacchio met Pires-Fernandes in August 2013 through mutual friends who thought he could help her in the Miss UCF pageant, specifically with interview process.

“She has incredible talent, but even greater is her diligence in applying herself to constant improvement, where others might just sit back and coast,” said Tara Synder, musical theatre voice specialist and an assistant professor for Theatre UCF who taught Pires-Fernandes. The two got to know each other through classes and Pires-Fernandes’ work with her honors in the major thesis about the study of voice teaching methods.

Gibson said something that sets Pires-Fernandes apart is that she makes an intentional effort to form and build relationships with people, and that has helped her in her roles of Miss UCF and at Disney.

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Paige Wilson is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @ByPaigeWilson or email her at paigew@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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