06 October 2011

The future of themed entertainment: Networking with 20-somethings at SATE '11 Orlando

The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) hosts a professional design conference called SATE (Storytelling, Architecture, Technology, Experience). SATE '11 Orlando took place at SeaWorld on Sept 22-23. I handle much of the PR and social media for TEA, and I was on the SATE conference committee so was very gratified to see the event sell out for the first time this year, with record attendance of 220.

TEA is now celebrating its 20th anniversary. A natural consequence of the passage of those two decades is that some TEA members are now 20 years older than they were when this international association was founded in 1991.
Joy Kalov

When professionals have accumulated experience and knowledge in a field - particularly something as specialized, unique and rewarding as what TEA calls "the creation of compelling Experiences and Places" - they look for ways to pass along what they have learned. There's a keen desire among TEA's mature members to keep the culture of the industry and the association going while continuing to evolve and remain relevant - in other words, an inter-generational exchange is needed, with both sides listening, learning and teaching. Several programs are in place, and others in development, for outreach to recruit students and young professionals to find their way in the themed entertainment business and become active in TEA.

These programs are bearing fruit - young, creative people are finding us and showing up at TEA events. Once they are there, the time-honored practice of face-to-face networking (the technical term, borrowed from the Yiddish, is "shmoozing") comes into play. Here are five young people I interviewed at SATE's evening gathering at Discovery Cove. Four of them are looking to break into the industry and one of them is already in business.

Paul Martucci
Joy Kalov lives in Chicago and is thinking of relocating to Orlando. She has been a seasonal worker at Disney World (Magic Kingdom operations) and is interested in learning to write for shows. She found her way to SATE with the help of her father, a freelance writer who discovered the event in the course of an Internet search.Joy studied theater at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her favorite theme park is Epcot: "I love the vision - it has all the hope and promise of the future. I love Illuminations; when the lights for every country meet, it gets me every time." Her favorite ride is Peter Pan's Flight. Joy mentioned that she particularly enjoyed the SATE session The Architecture of Engagement.

Paula Wang

Paul Martucci lives in New York City and grew up in New Jersey. He is a CPA and currently works as an auditor. He explained that his passion for theme parks and experiential storytelling led him to SATE - he joined the TEA group on LinkedIn and followed the SATE blog. Paul is now considering going back to school for a graduate degree related to themed entertainment. He was intrigued by the SATE session on Technology and Personalized Experience. "I'm excited about inventing new messages to deliver," he said. "We're still just skimming the surface with mobile technology." Paul's favorite attraction is Tower of Terror at Walt Disney World in Orlando. "The level of theming amazes me." His favorite theme park is Epcot. He has traveled in Europe and studied in Geneva.

Andrew Hansen
Paula Wang, a student member of TEA, is in the MFA program for Production Design at George Washington University in Washington, DC. She learned about TEA while attending the 2010 IAAPA Attractions Expo at the suggestion of her professor, Carl Gudenius, who teaches scenic design and lighting design in GWU's theater and dance department. Paula, who graduates in December 2012, already has a head start on her goal of becoming a professional Experience designer: Her networking at IAAPA led to an internship with Bruce D Robinson Design Group. A favorite theme park is Universal Islands of Adventure, and her all-time favorite ride is the old Dueling Dragons (now integrated into the Harry Potter land at Universal Studios Florida).

Andrew Hansen is a double major (Architecture and International Studies) at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Georgia. A year ago he discovered the Season Pass podcast series which led him to attend SATE this year and become a student member of TEA. Andrew wants to be an entertainment architect and has a strong interest in urban planning. He remarked on the contrast between his formal education and the panel discussions at SATE: "SATE is very different from school - it's more organic." His favorite theme park is Disneyland, and he also holds annual passes to SeaWorld and Universal Studios. His family has visited Disneyland regularly since he was a child, and "a day in Disneyland always starts in the Tiki Room."

Quan Gan
Quan Gan, president of Darklight System has just settled in the Los Angeles area after spending the last 3 years in Shanghai, where he and his business partner and spouse Charlie Xu brought the haunted house experience to mainland China with their Shanghai Nightmare business. Quan grew up in Valencia and has extended family in China; Charlie grew up in Shanghai, and the multilingual, cross-cultural pair are comfortable conducting business back and forth between East and West. Their new company, Darklight System, designs and manufactures professional LED scenic lighting equipment for the amusement park and attractions industry. The company's clients include Universal Studios, Six Flags Great Adventure and the Winchester Mystery House. The Darklight fixture Quan showed me fits easily in the palm of one's hand, making it not only convenient for discreet installation but also for on-the-spot demonstrations. Naturally, Quan always has one stashed in a pocket, ready to impress.

SATE 2012 is now in the planning stages - it will take place in September at a location in Europe, TBD.