See What A Dream Can Do – 2018 Thea Awards

The 2018 TEA Thea Awards, Anaheim, California. April 7, 2018

Originally posted to ThemedAttraction.com

ANAHEIM – When civil rights activist and U.S. Representative, John Lewis, dedicated the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, DC, his words echoed the triumph of generations; “See what a dream can do.”

The NMAAHC was honored with the Award for Outstanding Achievement (AOA) at the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) Thea Awards, where Rep. Lewis’ words also seemed to speak for the spectacular efforts of the themed entertainment professionals whose completed projects were on display that night.

The objective of the Thea Awards, TEA’s 24th annual awards gala, is to find excellence within the themed entertainment industry and celebrate it. Sponsored by the Chinese theme park giant, Chimelong, themed entertainment legends and cutting-edge players alike gathered from around the globe just across the street from the original place “where dreams come true” at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California.

“I never imagined that world of imagination would become real for me and it would be much more than a dream, it would be a career and a home,” said Phil Hettema, founder of The Hettema Group, a well-respected experiential design firm known for building incredible attractions worldwide, for clients such as DreamWorks, Sea World, Universal Studios, and the Chicago Museum of Science and industry.

Hettema was awarded the highest honor of the night, The Buzz Price Thea Award for a Lifetime of Outstanding Achievements.

“We have an obligation to do our work in the highest quality we can and to tell our stories with integrity.” – Phil Hettema

Tony Baxter, Mike Mulligan, Phil Hettema, TEA, Themed Entertainment Association Thea Awards after party Disney Imagineer, Tony Baxter, Storyland Studios Producer, Mike Mulligan, and Buzz Price Award Honoree, Phil Hettema of THG discuss the finer points of theme park design.

Quick to give credit where credit is due, Hettema began his remarks by directing guests to an online list of those he wished he could thank if he had more time. Gently ribbing Disney he quipped, “I want and need to thank all of them, but if I did, we would be here until Star Wars Land opens.”

With all the fun that comes with working within the dream-making industry, Hettema warned that the industry has some important obligations.

“We have an obligation to do our work in the highest quality we can and to tell our stories with integrity.”

Zsolt Hormay, creative executive on the Pandora World of Avatar land at Disney Animal Kingdom poses with members of his creative team Zsolt Hormay, Vice President Creative for WDI, along with members of his creative team, was honored with the Thea for Theme Park Area Development for Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney Animal Kingdom

“Our industry has often been accused of creating fake worlds,” he said, “and we seem to be living in a world of fake news and alternative facts, but when we tell our stories with quality and integrity, they’re powerful and they can change lives.”

“We have an obligation” Hettema continued, “to make sure that we build teams that reflect the diversity of our audiences. We cannot expect our stories to be heard by the whole world if our teams telling the story don’t mirror the full spectrum of our audience.”

Garner Holt, Bill Butler, Olaf Vugts, Coen Bertens (Left to right) Garner Holt and Bill Butler of Garner Holt Productions join Stan Dingemans, Olaf Vugts, Sander de Bruijn, and Coen Bertens (far right) of de Efteling to celebrate their award for Symbolica: The Palace of Fantasy

To the internationally diverse audience, this last statement struck a unifying chord, and was met with their loudest applause.

Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) received a total of four Theas for projects at their American theme parks. First, WDI was recognized for successfully reimagining two beloved attractions; the Epcot attraction Maelstrom into Frozen Ever After, and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror into Guardians of the Galaxy- Mission: BREAKOUT at Disney California Adventure.

WDI’s other two Theas were for Disney Animal Kingdom’s Pandora – The World of Avatar, and it’s anchor attraction, Flight of Passage. WDI veteran and creative force, Joe Rohde led teams in creating an unbelievably convincing alien world based on Avatar, the James Cameron IP.

“This is a business of hearts and minds,” Rohde said. “We reach out and touch the hearts and minds of all the people the who come through these places. That is not done with plastic. It is not done with machines. It is not done with concrete and steel or projection. It is through the hearts and minds of the artists and the workers involved. If you just set them free and give them the power, they will give you back more than you can predict, more than you can measure, and certainly more than you can buy.”

Volunteers and members of the TEA NextGen initiative celebrate an event well done.

Other awards for theme park excellence went to Cedar Point, the flagship park of Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. in Sandusky, Ohio, honored with the Thea Classic award for being an influential project that has stood the test of time, Symbolica: The Palace of Fantasy, a beautiful new dark ride at de Efteling in The Netherlands, Chimelong Ocean Kingdom’s Journey of Lights Parade in Zhuhai City, China, DreamWorks Animation Zone at MOTIONGATE Dubai in UAE, and the amazingly low-tech, day-long immersive theater of Ghost Town Alive! at Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park, California.

“If you just set them free and give them the power, they will give you back more than you can predict, more than you can measure, and certainly more than you can buy.” – Joe Rohde

A tribute to WDI luminary, Marty Sklar, who passed away in 2017, was a heart-warming celebration of the “Dad” of the themed entertainment industry. Images of the hundreds of Disney Parks projects he personally touched and influenced played on the screen while a choir sang the Sherman Brothers’ classic One Little Spark.

Bob Rogers, the founder of BRC Imagination Arts said of Sklar, “Marty was a giver. He was a mentor to me. But not just me. What about you?” One by one, everyone in the audience stood to declare Marty’s influence on their lives.

Along with the NMAAHC, other museums received honors for their excellent achievements including Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War, an emotional tour of remembrance through the history of the famous WWI battle that led to New Zealand’s national independence, featuring 2.5 scale, life-like figures created by Sir Richard Tylor and the Weta Workshop team, depicting the true stories of real people impacted by that crucial 20th century event.

Stacia Martin of Disneyland, Diane Michioka of ThinkWell at the Themed Entertainment Association Thea Awards Gala after party. Disneyland artist, Stacia Martin and ThinkWell Vice President of Production, Diane Michioka connect as peers at the Thea after party.

The Rainis’ Museum in Tadenava, Latvia stood out among the technological giants for it’s stripped down simplicity and warmth featuring beautifully-designed, kinetic interactives made entirely of wood.

Projection mapping and 3D technologies brought honors to projects like the Citadella Visitors Centre on Gozo Island, Malta, which transformed an ancient stone reservoir into a gorgeously illuminated history experience. Les Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux de Provence, France projects fine art masters in gigantic scale onto the walls of an ancient cave. Aura, at Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal, Canada illuminates one of the largest cathedrals in North America with an architectural narrative that recalls the original purposes and impact of religious art.

Nathan Huber of 3D Live and Christian Lachel of BRC Imagination Arts at the Themed Entertainment Association’s annual Thea Awards, 2018 3D Live creator, Nathan Huber trades secrets with Christian Lachel, executive at BRC Imagination Arts in the press reception before the Thea Awards ceremony began.

3D Live was honored for Outstanding Achievement in Innovative Technology with their “Holographic” 3D LED display permanently installed at California’s Great America, within the Mass Effect: New Earth attraction. Sleep No More, an immersive theater experience in Shanghai, China was honored for its haunting live-theater adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Legends Collide – Olaf Vugts, Chief Imagineering Officer at Efteling and Disney Imagineer, Tony Baxter share mutual admiration at the TEA Theas after party.

Everyone literally raised a glass for the brand experience award, which went to Jameson Distillery Bow St. in Dublin, Ireland, the brand home of Jameson Whiskey. The project’s director, John Carroll, quickly became everyone’s best mate when he bought a round of drinks at the after party, all made with Jameson Whiskey, of course.

As the party continued with gusto, TEA guests enjoyed the company and mutual-respect of their peers sharing stories of projects past and yet to come. These accomplished artists, craftspeople, engineers, and architects have seen what a dreams can do and they take seriously their job to continue shaping far off dreams into concrete reality.

Shakespeare’s Kid Sister

Acclaimed author and pre-feminist hero Virginia Woolf once wrote a fictional story about Judith Shakespeare, William’s kid sister. Although blessed with the same talents, imagination, and experiences as her brother, Judith had no opportunity to develop and express her gifts in a world where women simply weren’t afforded the space to do so.

Last Wednesday, nearly 100 years later, I had the opportunity to see a small part of Woolf’s dream come true at a staged reading of Lydia Kapp Gutilla’s Fortune’s King.

Fortune’s King tells the story of a talented, young woman named Fortuna who is unexpectedly thrust into power within a male-dominated kingdom. Fortuna is as surprised as everyone else when she is given the space to use her gifts and to lead as she sees fit. Princes, warriors, scholars, and commoners alike are suddenly forced to deal with their own prejudices and expectations as the fate of the kingdom rests in the hands of a woman. If the plot reminds you of your high school English class readings of Romeo and Juliet, you’re not far off.

The story is set in a fictional, medieval kingdom, with all the Shakespearean tropes you could shake a quill at. Fortune’s King is replete with power-hungry nobles, surly scholars, bawdy common-folk, over-heated young lovers, treacherous villains and mistaken identities. Most of all, the play is dripping with farce as characters hilariously misunderstand and respond to one another’s tangled motives and schemes.

However, as fun as the plot is and as meaningful the message, Kapp Gutilla’s play stands tallest in her ambition to stay true to the Bard’s form.

Fortune’s King is a five act play written in iambic pentameter. Yes, iambic pentameter – Shakespeare’s poetic rhythm that stumps today’s readers and actors everywhere.

One reviewer of Fortune’s King said that when he heard Kapp Gutilla had written the play in Shakespeare’s style he was, “about as excited as you would be for a trip to the DMV on your lunch break.” I have to admit I imagined a similar feeling. But the reviewer and I agree, we couldn’t have been more wrong.

Playwrite Lydia Kapp Gutilla celebrates the staged reading of her 5-act, iambic pentameter play, Fortune’s King.

Kapp Gutilla’s script is fast-paced and easy to follow. Her mastery of iambic pentameter is on point and fluid. Her characters are quickly developed and sympathetic, to the point that even those with whom you don’t agree, you sense where they’re coming from and believe with them in their cause. I’ll admit there were times when my modern mind had trouble keeping up with the Queen’s English, but the actors expertly translated into body language what I lacked in vocabulary.

Virginia Woolf dreamed of a day when a woman would be allowed the space to write and share her ideas.

During the intermission, I watched as Kapp Gutilla connected with family and friends in the audience. She’s a tall, gregarious woman with striking features and a strength that exudes confidence, ambition, and possibility. Unlike Judith Shakespeare, she has opportunity and access unheard of 100 years ago.

If Virginia Woolf had been watching this version of Shakespeare’s sister with me, I imagine she would see her as alien to her own time and place. And yet, I’m certain she would soon come to see in her someone very similar to herself.

One Last Look At “A Bugs Land” Before Marvel Invades

With today’s news that a Marvel themed land, replete with Spider-Man and Avengers attractions, will soon displace “A Bug’s Land” in Disney California Adventure (Disneyland’s kid-sister park next door), the comic book hero fans all gave a collective cheer. But the celebrations were mired by the unwelcome surprise that Disney had already shuttered A Bug’s Land’s anchor attraction, the immersive 4-D theater masterpiece “It’s Tough to be a Bug” just a few days before!

This came as a shock to some as Disney has lately made a big deal about closing attractions so that adoring fans can say their last goodbyes. After learning their lesson when they shut down “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” at Magic Kingdom in Orlando, and herds of superfans staged toad-themed sit ins, Disney has dutifully publicized attraction closures with plenty of time to give the adherents time to visit one more time (and buy the closure-related merchandise).

Beloved attractions like “Maelstrom” and “Ellen’s Energy Adventure” at Epcot, “The Great Movie Ride” at Disney Hollywood Studios, “Hollywood Tower of Terror” at DCA have all been given appropriate mourning periods. And most recently, the controversial redesign of the contested “Buy a Wench for a Bride” scene in “Pirates of the Caribbean” has fans lining up for one last look at the human-trafficking, er, classic animatronics scene. It’s even led to an entire cottage industry of “We wants the Red-Head” fan-made and official park merchandise – no matter how inappropriate the thought may be.

But I digress.

“It’s Tough To Be A Bug” Closed Forever

So when I saw that “It’s Tough to be a Bug” was dropped into the Extinct-Attractions barrel without a lick of fanfare, I felt a twinge of sadness. Guests will never get to see the attraction’s impressive queue with an ants-eye view, the creepy-crawly parody theater posters, and the cavernous theater themed like an insect’s Pantages Theater (an I say “Ant-ages?”).

But here’s the good news.

I was in the park last Tuesday enjoying the beauty of a rainy Disney day. As I passed by A Bug’s Land, I remembered some of the rumors of a Marvel Land coming in the future. So I decided I would get a jump on it and grab some pictures for posterity, including detailed photos of the “It’s Tough to be a Bug’s” queue and interior. Little did I know, I was capturing these photos for the ages.

So I invite you to shrink down with me and enjoy one last look at “It’s Tough to be a Bug,” and the rest of A Bug’s Land before it’s all gone forever.

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This article is an expanded version of the original at StorylandStudios.com

To learn more about the Marvel Lands coming to Disney parks around the world go HERE.

Acrobat – A Homily For Hypocrites

In honor of the 26th anniversary of U2’s brand-bending album, Achtung Baby,  let’s review the record’s most gut-wrenching song. This line-by-line deconstruction of Acrobat explores the spiritual wirewalk many Christians experience as they attempt to be who they claim to be. 

When I was a kid, my Dad had the odd responsibility (either self or externally imposed) to be happy and hopeful all the time. I think he believed that part of his job as a pastor was to match up his demeanor with others’ expectations. It didn’t matter if he was facing financial trouble, marital disunity, illness, or a crummy day, he needed to arrive at church with a smile on his face and a kind word on his lips. In other words, he needed to wear a mask.

The unfortunate side effect of my father’s pretense was the occasional avalanche of pent-up anger, which would fall squarely onto his unsuspecting little family. I remember riding in the car on some Sunday mornings. My brother and sister and I could sense his mounting anger rising up in the front seat. Then some straw would break his camel’s back and for the next few miles we would receive the brunt of his frustration. Then, we arrived at church.

When he climbed out of the car, a miracle happened. He instantly became a different man. Gone were the scowls and furious words. All smiles and handshakes now, his mask was back in place.

Looking back today I feel sorry for the man. I know he didn’t want to act that way. He loved us. I have no doubt. He hated himself for talking love and peace to his flock while giving rage and turmoil to the sheep he loved the most, his wife and kids. When he reads this, I’m sure the old sting of this will prick him again (not my intention Dad). The sad irony of this story is that the mask he wore was a burden even Jesus did not have to bear.

In the song Acrobat, from U2’s 1991 album Achtung Baby, Bono laments the same balancing act that my father was forced to perform: “I must be an acrobat to talk like this and act like that.” Niall Stokes, the legendary Irish rock champion and Hot Press editor, wrote of the song, “Not for the first time on the record, Bono acknowledges his own weakness and inadequacy. He is more conscious now than ever before of the contradictions in his own position.”

If you are being honest, Bono’s words are your words as well. You have your beliefs and convictions. Your beliefs define you. You are red or blue, anti or pro, Jacob or Edward. In today’s wacky world of pundits and provokers, with comment boxes under everything you read or watch, you have the opportunity to shout your privately held beliefs loudly and viciously at whomever you want. But does what you say you believe match up with what you do?

I doubt it. If you happen to be a human being, duplicity is your nature.

New years resolutions fail because of this. We know we should stop smoking or drinking. We should eat better and exercise. We should be more committed in our job or school or marriage. We should make things right with our parents or siblings. We should stop abusing our spouse or our kids and making them feel small. We should stop stealing, having emotional affairs, and sneaking copious bytes of porn into our homes via fiber pipelines. We say we believe one thing, but when it comes to living what we believe, we most often do something quite different.

For Christians, this self-imposed dualism is particularly painful to live with. We desire to be like Christ, but we are drawn to sin like moths to flame. As the hymn-writer said, we are prone to wander, and wander far. And we hate it.

In Acrobat, Bono paints his own picture of this hated wandering. The singer sings something of a rotating monologue to three distinct characters: to his younger self when he was an enthusiastic Christ following idealist, to his disenchanted present self, “the acrobat” who feels distant from his faith, and finally to Jesus circa Revelation 3.

When I first met you girl*

You had fire in your soul

What happened your face

Of melting in snow

Now it looks like this

His young self, was once transformed by his faith, happily drawn into a burning light that thawed a frozen heart. The singer sees in him the strength of character needed to resist temptation and to do only good. He begs the boy he was to hold fast to the faith that sustained him, to stand firm in his convictions.

I’d join the movement

If there was one I could believe in

Yeah I’d break bread and wine

If there was a church I could receive in

’cause I need it now

To take the cup

To fill it up

To drink it slow

I can’t let you go

The singer’s present self stands in disbelief that what was once so clear and motivating now seems so distant. He mourns his loss of passion for the things of God and shouts his need to be welcomed at the table of communion. But he cannot drink the cup or eat the bread. Like so many Christians before him, he stands at the table wanting to receive, but knows painfully well that his actions do not match up with his beliefs. Because of his duplicity, he believes his place at the table is forfeit.

The acrobat… er, Apostle Paul wrote about his own struggle with this wire-walk in his letter to the first-century church in Rome. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” In a particularly transparent moment, Paul shares his exasperation with himself for believing one thing and doing another. “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” Isn’t that the truth? Of course Paul points the finger at the root of this duplicity, his own sinful nature. “Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” And it is this sinful nature that the singer, the acrobat, can’t seem to abandon.

And you can swallow

Or you can spit

You can throw it up

Or choke on it

Most frightening to the singer, and any Christian who has faced his double, are Jesus’ words to the church of Laodicea found in Revelation 3. Here, Jesus rebukes this particular church (considered to be the prophetic embodiment of the modern church) for their lack of passion for Himself. Because they have lost their original heat, their passion for the things that once drew them close to Christ, He threatens to abandon them to their own self absorption. Jesus says, “because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” My paraphrase goes like this; Jesus cursed them saying, “You make me puke!” I can’t imagine any more frightful words for a Christian who thought he had his religion wired.

And the singer takes this curse on himself. He realizes that what was once a fire in his soul, is now a cold ember hidden beneath an empty façade of contentment and false spirituality. The acrobat walks on a wire of compromise, balancing his talk of doing good to others while his heart is far from the faith that would cause him to do so. He says he loves his neighbor as himself, but the truth is, he loves himself and desires only that which will bring him happiness.

The song ends with the singer emboldening himself to claw his way out of his duplicity and sin, and grasp onto the love for God and people he once held so tightly.

And you can dream

So dream out loud

And you can find

Your own way out

You can build

And I can will

And you can call

I can’t wait until

You can stash

And you can seize

In dreams begin

Responsibilities

And I can love

And I can love

And I know that the tide is turning ’round

So here he stands looking into the mirror. The singer is unsatisfied with what he sees. He doesn’t want to be an acrobat any longer. He’s getting back onto the path he desires to walk, and cheering himself for the journey ahead.

It won’t be easy. In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan said, “we have to believe it (the Gospel) enough that it changes how we live.” It’s one thing to say that. It’s another more excruciating thing to do it. But we have to do it. Christians have to believe the Gospel enough that, through the Spirit, our actions match up with our beliefs. Then, and only then, will the wire-walking end.

And all the acrobats of the world say, “amen.”

Reader Resources: The Song, The Video (unofficial), The Lyrics

 

*I believe “girl” is used here as a way to make the characters distinct. It’s also common throughout Achtung Baby for Bono to sexy-up the songs with words like ‘baby’, ‘girl’, ‘honey child’ despite the deeply spiritual and personal nature of the content.

 

This post originally appeared in 2011 on my now defunct blog “isbonoachristian.blogspot.com,” an exploration of the faith and spiritual truth sometimes found in U2 lyrics.