Saturday, December 9, 2023

TEA’s spring awakening

After two years with extremely limited in-person events, the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) delighted hundreds of industry professionals over the course of three major tentpole events: the TEA Summit, Thea Awards and SATE Europe.

Summit and the Thea Awards took place at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim April 21-23, 2022. The two-day Summit featured one day of industry panels and experts discussing topics of interest. The second day, Thea Awards Case Studies Day, revolved around a series of presentations showcasing the slate of Thea-awarded projects that were recognized the following night at the Thea Awards gala.

TEA’s big Summit/Thea Awards weekend celebrates excellence in the industry. While the awards technically go to the attraction or experience owner, the credits list provided for each project also celebrate the creatives, artists, designers, technicians and companies that help create each experience. It provides a chance to honor those vital vendors, otherwise often hidden behind NDA restrictions and clauses.

The event also serves to educate the larger community on the breadth of projects out there. I had the pleasure to sit next to Igor Cortadellas and Ignasi Miro from Symphony at la Caixa Forum in Barcelona. Prior to the Thea Awards I had not heard of the project. On a trip to Spain a few weeks later, they helped arrange a visit to Symphony and I got to see first-hand why the project was worthy of a Thea.

Symphony starts with a short film highlighting three individuals being called to share music with an orchestra. Next, guests move into an adjoining room and don VR headsets while sitting in comfortable swivel chairs. As the experience starts, participants are in the middle of the orchestra, able to look in any direction and see and feel the music in ways impossible at a typical symphony hall.

The Theas continually reinvent themselves. The awards committee regularly creates new categories to accommodate worthy projects and does not limit awards to projects developed by TEA member companies. Perhaps that makes the awards even more interesting to the 300 professionals gathered on Case Studies Day who want to learn about these projects and maybe find inspiration for a future project of their own.

In addition to highlighting excellence and discussing business and markets, Summit also allows space for uncomfortable conversations. Issues of racism, ableism, gender inequality, harassment and others were all mentioned. Not everyone agrees on how these topics are best addressed, but the discussion is welcomed and the event makes space for conversations to continue in groups, during breaks and even online.

One of the things I really enjoy about the Thea Awards is getting a chance to meet the project owners. In addition to Symphony, I enjoyed talking with Mike Barclay from Night Safari Singapore (Thea Classic Award recipient), Sina Bahram (Thea Catalyst Award recipient) and Moment Factory’s Emannuel Dufoing who worked on The Roads to Freedom (Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement). It’s fun to see our industry friends with their loved ones all dressed up – and it reminds us we are all lucky to be able to create such amazing things.

SATE Europe

TEA’s SATE conference started many years ago in North America, and as the organization grew, SATE expanded into an international conference series that let the regional divisions of TEA express some of the unique qualities of the industry in their parts of the world. SATE Europe held an event in Spain in 2021 and then again in 2022 from May 4-6 in Göthenburg, Sweden, hosted by Liseberg. SATE Asia has been on hold since the pandemic. SATE North America returns after a two-year hiatus October 13-15 in Las Vegas.

It seems that SATE Europe always has just the right amount of attendees. It’s big enough that you are guaranteed to meet more than a few new people, but it’s small enough that you have time to actually get to talk to people and get to know them for a while.

The event covered two days of presentations, with topics ranging from the metaverse to Expo 2020 Dubai. Sessions were punctuated with ample break and networking time. TEA SATE conferences typically include some kind of behind-the-scenes opportunities, and being held at Liseberg amusement park, SATE Europe was able to offer guests exclusive access to several of the park’s attractions, including its AtmosFear VR drop tower, Helix roller coaster, Spökhotellet Gasten haunted house and Underlandet dark ride. An event focused on themed attractions is amplified when it takes place surrounded by them.

Nightly dinners offered more entertainment and opportunities to network. Thursday night included a visit to the Mamma Mia! Dinner Party show. Written as a supplement to the popular Mamma Mia! Musical and movie, the show takes place around and within the audience space. The evening culminates with a dance party, complete with a DJ and tables on which to dance.

The entire conference successfully blended education, thoughtful discussion, networking, camaraderie and fun – particularly appreciated at a time when many of those components had been missing from our shared professional experience.

SATE Europe heads to Europa-Park in spring 2023.

Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki owns and publishes InPark Magazine. Started in 2004, InPark Magazine provides owners and operators the perspective from "in"side the "park." Martin has also written for publications like Sound & Communications, Lighting & Sound America, Attractions Management and others. Martin has been featured in Time Magazine, and Folio. Martin lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

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