Founder of a top industry lighting design firm; current Chair of the TEA Thea Awards Committee
Interview by Martin Palicki
In addition to her “day job” as CEO and co-owner of successful lighting design company Visual Terrain, Lisa Passamonte Green serves as chairperson for the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) Thea Awards Nominating Committee. The Committee annually reviews and adjudicates
submissions for the Thea Awards.
How did you get involved with the Thea Awards Nominating Committee?
I’ve been a TEA member for a long time, really since it was only a few years old [TEA was founded in 1991 and the Thea Awards in 1994]. After being active at a number of events, I ran for a position on the International Board; over the years, I’ve learned the personal pleasure that volunteer service and involvement in the TEA brought me. It is rewarding to be involved and help the organization and the industry continue to grow and improve.
When that previous experience on the International Board was long over, I was excited to receive an invitation from the Thea Committee to participate. It is an honor and a privilege to be in the room with the amazing, esteemed industry leaders in this group, reviewing nominations and seeking out innovative projects that could be recognized for excellence.
Plus, the annual Thea Awards Gala itself is always such an exciting, industry-leading event. After I had been on the Committee for five years, the Committee elected Adam Bezark as Chair with me as Vice Chair. Typically, the Vice Chair is elected to the Chair position the following year, so this past year, I was elected to Chair and Susan Bonds was elected as Vice Chair.
Tell us more about your role and experiences as Thea Committee Chair.
The chairperson is responsible for keeping the Awards Nominating Committee on track throughout the process of reviewing all of the projects submitted as potential nominees. Each year, this becomes more and more challenging as the number of submissions continues to grow by leaps and bounds: There can be hundreds of submissions from all over the world.
The Chair, upon receiving the current year’s submissions, develops a plan for the judging cycle so that each submission can be thoroughly reviewed and vetted. Our job is to seek out excellence and find those projects that should be recognized. This process takes roughly 12 weeks over the summer and into the early fall.
The Committee is comprised of many of the most distinguished TEA members you can imagine – Lifetime Achievement honorees, former TEA presidents, veteran industry leaders, and the members at large – who all take their roles in the process very seriously. The makeup of this group also reflects a relevant and diverse mix of expertise and experience for the overall review process.
The Chair is responsible for maintaining order during the meetings, for ensuring that the rules for selection are followed, and for making sure that every voice is heard. The discussions about whether a submission is worthy of becoming a nominee can sometimes get quite passionate, and it is the Chair’s job to make sure that no one in the room feels that their viewpoint and/or thoughts were not considered and discussed.
Additionally, as Chair it is my responsibility, along with the Vice Chair, to present the Committee’s final slate of nominees to the TEA International Board for final review and approval. And during the course of the judging, the Chair is also responsible for conducting a review of the rules that govern our process and for helping to identify potential future members at large to discuss with the Committee as a whole.
It’s a serious responsibility, and it takes considerable time. That holds true for the Chair as well as all other participating members of the Committee.
How would you characterize the 2019 slate of Thea awardees?
This year’s recipient list continues in the trend of the past several years of recognizing amazing projects of great variety, from all over the world. This includes small attractions that put a lot of creativity, ingenuity, and out-of-box thinking into developing some really engaging, touching, and effective experiences; as well as the larger, blockbuster projects that we kind of expect to knock our socks off. I have really loved the mix of the last few years, blending industry upstarts with well-known leaders, small budget and big budget, and I hope that pattern continues in the future.
What inspires/inspired you to take on this leadership role for the Theas?
I love what I do, and I love the TEA. It’s that simple. I started my career at Walt Disney Imagineering, but before that, I studied Theater at San Diego State University. One thing I learned in both roles, that is central to our approach at Visual Terrain as well, is that “It’s all about the Story.” The TEA represents “creators of compelling places and experiences worldwide,” but what makes those places and experiences compelling is story.
It’s not technology, or location, or IP – although those all can have a part in telling the story (and the Thea Awards recognize breakthrough technologies). It’s the quality of the story you have to tell and how that story is transformed into an amazing guest experience: That is what the Thea Awards are best at recognizing. Even when the Theas give a technical award, it’s all about how well that technology can be applied toward the telling of the story that needs to be told.
To be a part of the Committee and see so many submissions from so many different experiences that have been developed worldwide – in addition to those I see in person traveling for my own business each year – is always inspiring. Story, amazing guest experiences, and projects that evoke an emotional connection, are my mission and my passion. This role gives me the opportunity to express these ideas through the Thea Committee and it truly is like a dream job.
What do you wish everyone submitting projects for a Thea would know in advance?
The first thing everyone should know is that ANYONE can nominate any project they think might be worthy. You didn’t have to work on it. You just had to experience it and know it was amazing and therefore should be submitted and then submit it for our consideration. It is really that simple.
When submitting a project the submission should be
focused on THE GUEST EXPERIENCE. Period. All of the previous nominees who went
on to be recognized were able to paint a picture from the guest perspective:
What did they see, hear, feel, and
how did the project resonate with them and make a lasting connection? The
Committee already knows that every great project is born from amazing amounts
of passion, effort, skill and creativity, so just touch on those points a
little and try to paint a picture that celebrates the potential nominee and
makes it easy for the committee to see what was done and how it was
The Committee members try to see as many projects throughout the year as they can, but a well-written submission can help drive WHY a project should be nominated and then recognized and celebrated with a Thea Award.
The submission doesn’t have to be a big-budget, fancy, video presentation. It just has to convey what the project is and the relevance of the guest experience. Don’t forget, you are addressing a room filled with hundreds of years of themed entertainment experience: Express what makes your project special, what makes it innovative, what makes it exciting. What makes it better than the 30 other projects we’ve seen that day? Just being “new” is not enough. Just spending a ton of money is not enough. We want to see creativity, passion, innovation, and most of all, understand the story of the guest experience and how this particular project engaged them. In a day where people are producing award-winning videos on their smart phones, there should be no barrier for any person to submit a project for consideration and to submit a compelling entry to the Thea Awards Nominating Committee.
Red carpet question: Who will you be wearing to the 25th Annual Thea Awards Gala presented by Chimelong at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim on April 13, 2019?
I will be wearing the beautiful lighting created by Steven Young, one of Visual Terrain’s Principal Lighting Designers, as he is lighting the show again this year [Visual Terrain has provided lighting design to the Thea Awards Gala on many occasions]. After taking last year off, we are back and I know we will make the entire evening shine beautifully and brightly! • • •