32 – Defining Themed Entertainment

Here’s the thing about themed entertainment: We deal creatively with operational reality. We have to embrace all the challenges and problems and limitations and use them to create magic. Today I’m going to tell you a story of how I came to identify this situation and learn from it.

As soon as I get the job, I start flailing around for some idea of what I will actually do as the Dreamfinder. I’d seen Disney characters pose for pictures all my life, but their only agenda was promotion and nostalgia. In their prime they provided a personal, spontaneous experience with the Guest; with the advent of autograph books and managed crowd contact this personal experience is often reduced to long lines and quick photo ops.

Dreamfinder, EPCOT Center and the Pavilion are all about the Guests’ creativity; about discovering the potential of your own imagination. I have to bring that to the experience of meeting the Guest. If I’m going to last 5+ years in this new job (and not go stir crazy) I can’t be just another notch-in-the-kids’-autograph-books.

First thing I do is study dragons. I find a book called, ‘The Flight of Dragons’ by Peter Dickinson; he states that just because dragons are fictional creatures is no reason they shouldn’t be studied seriously. That really appeals to me.

My greatest early influence is Real Musgrave’s ‘Pocket Dragons’, a massive line of collectible dragon figurines. In a store in Santa Monica I find a collection of greeting cards by Musgrave featuring paintings of an elderly wizard with a long white beard and a peaked cap who travels in an elegant hot air balloon with dozens of these little green dragons. The dragons are everywhere, get into everything, but the wizard takes it all in stride. The paintings give me valuable insight into the relationship between Dreamfinder and Figment.

Artwork by Real Musgrave

I also find inspiration in ‘Creative Dramatics’ by Geraldine Brain Siks, a textbook detailing a form of participatory improvisation with kids. I think this could be used in a storytelling show with the characters a couple of times a day. Beyond that I read up on topics Dreamfinder might be conversant in: creativity, science nature… making notes on material that might make for interesting business.

What I don’t know is… will any of this preparation prove useful when the rubber (dragon) meets the road (Guests)?

# # # # #

Figment and I finally step out on set and all anyone wants is to have their picture taken and to get my autograph. And I pose and I sign and I pose and I sign… and the whole time I’m thinking how can I get these people to engage with me creatively? How can I get them to play? And most importantly: How can I make our interaction an extension of the ideas they’ve seen in the ride?

Then one day I spontaneously react to a small child as if I’ve never seen a child before. His parents laugh and the child himself grows very serious and explains to me that he is a boy and his name is Michael and he is from Orlando. I act fascinated… his parents are amused… and he is suddenly thinking about himself and his life in a new and objective way.

I have inadvertently stumbled on the perfect premise for my Guest interaction. By turning the spotlight on the child as a unique and wonderful being I am in essence echoing the opening scene of the Journey Into Imagination attraction; but the sparks I’m collecting now are the Guests I meet.

All the preparation paid off in that it gave me a real framework for the way I treat my partner. By playing down his importance and focusing on the Guests, I allow their fascination with Figment to drive their interaction. And finally, by seizing control of the waiting crowd I’m able to turn each Guest interaction into a show that reinforces the Pavilion’s themes while entertaining those waiting for their brush with Figment.

The Guests’ desire for a picture and an autograph was my ‘operational reality’. By choosing to deal with it creatively, I was able to turn what could be a liability into a positive asset (and my job into an absolute joy).

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About Ron Schneider

Creative Consultant, Lecturer, Freelance Writer, Director & Show Doctor, Actor and Voice-Over. Lifelong student of themed interactive entertainment.
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One Response to 32 – Defining Themed Entertainment

  1. Mike Scibetta says:

    I stopped after the first paragraph, jumped over to Amazon.Com and ordered the “Flight of Dragons” Book, sight unseen for my Grandson Blase. Since getting the DVD, “How to Train Your Dragon” he has been fascinated with the creature. Ron, I still look so forward to your chapters!

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