Thursday, May 23, 2024

TEA: “A new heartbeat”

TEA Summit shifts focus to become TEA INSPIRE

Interviews by Judith Rubin and Martin Palicki

TEA’s annual big weekend at Disneyland Resort (Anaheim, CA) that wraps with the lavish Thea Awards Gala (April 15, 2023) is preceded by TEA INSPIRE, a two-day conference (April 13-14). Formerly known as the TEA Summit, the conference endeavors to make the most of the weekend’s unique opportunities for professional development and networking, as industry professionals gather from all over the world to attend the Thea Awards. Along with its new name, TEA INSPIRE ( has ushered in changes to programming, format and focus, explained here by members of the Summit/INSPIRE planning committee: TEA International Board President Melissa Ruminot of The Nassal Company, TEA Executive Committee Education/Content Liaison Shannon Martin of Color Reflections, and Past Thea Awards Judging Committee Chair Luc Mayrand of Walt Disney Imagineering.

Tell us about the impetus to re-imagine TEA Summit as TEA INSPIRE.
Melissa Ruminot

Melissa Ruminot: A primary goal in TEA’s Strategic Plan is to be a globally diverse, growth-oriented, and essential business forum for the themed entertainment industry. Within that goal are three top priorities:

  • Provide opportunities for meaningful connections between members to diversify, strengthen and grow the TEA membership
  • Increase participation and impact of TEA products, programs, and services
  • Enhance member touchpoints (virtual and in-person) to expand engagement and increase member retention

These goals, coupled with attendee and leadership feedback, necessitated a deeper examination of TEA’s signature tentpole event – TEA Summit & Thea Case Studies – and how it can help advance the strategic objectives. This includes, but is not limited to, re-defining the audience and objectives for the event, leveraging TEA’s strong connection to excellence (as demonstrated, for instance, by the Thea Awards, including the new Catalyst Awards, as well as the TEA Masters program), and re-branding the event with a new name and purpose.

The decision to rebrand and reposition Summit Day One and Thea Case Studies (Day Two) into two unique programs was based on input and suggestions from leadership and the general membership [more details below].

Luc Mayrand: We got really excited to re-invent the components of the Thea Awards weekend into an opportunity to re-energize through the power of Inspiration. We worked together and with several other collaborators to bring a user point-of-view to the event, to better connect the content and relevancy, and give it a new heartbeat.

Coming from my participation on the Thea Awards Judging Committee itself, my role was to highlight what the Committee saw in these projects, to help set the through-lines that connect the overall event, to group Thea-honored projects under themes with expert moderators, and ultimately to create an exciting and meaningful experience for the attendees.

Shannon Martin

Shannon Martin: Where else do you get to raise your global industry knowledge and leave INSPIREd to create the next best thing through peer-led educational content from Thea Award recipients? Or, expand your professional network throughout the event in educational sessions, networking lunches, and receptions? These three days are special, and we’re making them even more special by targeting them closely to what members and the industry need today.

Tell us about the structure of the event.

Melissa: The new TEA INSPIRE program offered in 2023 reflects the effort to evolve and grow the Thea Case Studies segment while preserving and expanding the executive education historically offered on Day One of the former TEA Summit.

The morning of Day One was rebranded as INSPIRE Leadership Forum – Fostering Spark from the Top, Laying a Foundation for Executive Education. It takes place Thursday, 13 April 2023 (including lunch). It is a separately ticketed presentation and workshop for company owners, with attendance limited to 100.

This inaugural 2023 Leadership Forum event will feature an expert facilitator and small group roundtable discussions designed to facilitate networking and gather information, to help develop an expanded C-level program in the coming year. Led by TEA Past Presidents Steve Birket and Christine Kerr, this event will be the steppingstone needed to create a fully programmed Executive Leadership Forum in mid-2024 as an entirely newly branded program of strong, impactful CEO / Ownership content to serve our members.

Thea Case Studies (Day Two) has been rebranded as TEA INSPIRE 2023, devoting one-and-a-half days to the celebration of industry excellence as a source of inspiration. INSPIRE will expand Thea Case Studies presentations to enable more personal interactions with the award  recipients and their partners in the delivery.

  • Thea Catalyst Award recipients are given more time on stage to highlight their contributions to the industry
  • More time for focused Q&A with award recipients and their delivery partners to dive deeper into projects on a more intimate scale
  • More networking time for catching up with colleagues, partners in the industry, and meeting new TEA members 
Tell us about the group driving this effort within TEA.

Melissa: As International Board President, I am working closely with members of the Summit / INSPIRE Planning Committee, including:

  • Shannon Martin (EC Education/Content Liaison)
  • Summit Planning Committee – Steve Birket & Christine Kerr (past chairs of TEA Summit Day One; representing Past Presidents Committee)
  • Thea Awards Case Studies Planning Committee – Luc Mayrand (Past Thea Judging Committee Chair) and Brian Morrow (Case Studies)
  • TEA Headquarters, led by Executive Director Lindsey Nelson, for logistics planning and budgeting

This group has been heavily involved with content curation, speaker procurement, and planning (including budgeting and post event evaluations) of TEA Summit for the past several years. When overwhelming attendee feedback indicated the need for dedicated programming for executives and allowing more time for Case Studies, Catalyst panels and attendee networking, a recommendation was made about expanding Case Studies to 1.5 days and shifting traditional Day One content to a new approach, the suggestion was made to rebrand to create distinction in the programming, hence the birth of INSPIRE. It should be noted that this approach was also supported by members of the Thea Committee who approached TEA last summer suggesting modifications to the program format for Case Studies. And simultaneously, but on a separate path, the TEA Past Presidents Committee and the International Board have been discussing ways to facilitate executive-to-executive education and networking in the form of some type of Executive Forum.  

What makes the Thea Awards weekend so compelling?
Luc Mayrand

Luc: The Thea Awards are our industry’s version of the Oscars – but coming to the Thea INSPIRE weekend is not just about a fabulous night of celebration, it’s also a unique chance – thanks to the Thea Case Studies – to look behind the curtain at these examples of excellence that our fellow creators made. Sharing knowledge is essential to our personal growth, and to our industry’s vibrancy. Plus, it is great fun to hear the stories of what happens on the way to the magic, not to mention it’s also a chance to visit, through the eyes of their creators, many amazing projects around the world in a single day.  

The current slate of Thea recipients shows that our industry continues to be vibrant and to evolve, as we highlight projects with new formats, new venues, new voices, new technologies, new ways to interact with guests – all the while still producing incredible traditional attractions and parks. This is an exciting time. Overall, it’s energizing and positive, an important breath of fresh air, and a unique opportunity to meet some of the folks who made these projects.

Shannon: Whether you’re a long-time attendee, or you’ve never attended, or something in between – hold onto your seat! The Theas weekend is an incredible ride, and truly my favorite event. I remember my first time attending, I was just in awe with the amount of information I took in, the people I was able to connect with and the overall experience of celebrating what we do. Not to mention getting dressed to the nines for the Thea Awards Gala, where you will raise your glass and toast all the honorees. There’s nothing else like this. If you do one thing this year, this is it!

How many people do you expect to attend?

Shannon: We project between 500-600 attendees for INSPIRE and 600-700 attendees for the Thea Awards Gala. We are limiting the Leadership Forum to 100 to ensure we stay true to the event purpose and maintain a strong and intimate forum for the executives in attendance.

How can sponsors get involved?

Shannon: There are so many great opportunities for sponsors at this event. Please visit or reach out to [email protected] and we will be happy to discuss opportunities to fit your company’s needs and budget.

When do submissions reopen for the next Thea Awards cycle?

Luc: While we don’t have an exact date yet, the cycle really hasn’t changed. Submissions usually open up in May, shortly after the dust settles from the Thea Awards Gala. For more information and to submit your project  

What are some of the other TEA tentpole events to look forward to in 2023?

Melissa: SATE Europe runs 3-6 May 2023 at Europa-Park, Germany. SATE North America will run in October 2023 (date & location to be announced).

For a list of events held globally, visit  

Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin ([email protected]) is a leading journalist, content marketing specialist and connector in the international attractions industry. She reports on design and technical design, production and project management, industry trends and company culture. From 2005-2020 she ran communications and publications for the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). In 2013, she was honored with the TEA Service Award. She was development director of IMERSA and publicist for the Large Format Cinema Association, and has contributed to the publications of PLASA, IAAPA and the International Planetarium Society. Judith joined World’s Fair magazine in 1987, which introduced her to the attractions industry. She joined InPark in 2010. Judith earned a BFA from Pratt Institute. She has lived in Detroit, New York, Oakland, and now Saint Louis, where she is active in the local arts community.

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