IAAPA's 'future legends': It's time to embrace the maker culture, and invite the audience into themed storytelling

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ORLANDO – Last night, IAAPA shined its spotlight on the legendary work of the past. This morning, the annual theme park industry convention looked toward the future, inviting three innovative designers to speak about emerging trends and hot projects in the themed amusement industry.

Christian Lachel, Vice President of BRC Imagination Arts, moderated the session, as Susan Bonds, CEO of 42 Entertainment, and Dave Cobb, Creative Director at Thinkwell, shared links to and comments on some of the intriguing events, show and promotions they’ve worked on or found over the past few years. I’ll link those here, then get to some highlights from a great discussion about audience that wrapped up the session. But do check these links. Only one of them could be consider a sort of “theme park,” but all could have applications for engaging visitors in a highly themed, narrative-driven, real-time environment.

Susan’s picks:

  • The Exquisite Forest at the Tate Modern in London: An interactive narrative project, created on the Web and displayed in a museum space.
  • Waze: Real-time, crowdsourced traffic data, powering a turn-by-turn GPS mapping app.
  • Flynn Lives: A two-year, online and in-person interactive experience leading up to the release of Disney’s “Tron Legacy”.
  • The Human Preservation Project: An interactive multimedia and in-person experience to promote Wrigley’s 5 Gum.
  • What is Hidden in Snow…: Another multi-step interactive experience, promoting David Fincher’s “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” films.

Dave’s picks:

  • Sleep No More in New York: A “deconstructed” version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, presented through in a nonlinear narrative in multiple rooms of a converted warehouse that’d grown into a nightlife hotspot of its own.
  • Delusion in Los Angeles: An interactive haunt (produced by Neil Patrick Harris) that relies more on paranormal suggestion and audience participation than traditional gore-driven haunts.
  • Memecube: A customizable Twitter client that aggregates tweets from a specific place or event.
  • Caine’s Arcade: A tribute to “maker culture,” as illustrated by a 11-year-old boy and his cardboard arcade.
  • Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: A 3.5-hour tour through the studio where the Harry Potter movies were filmed.

Near the end of the presentation, Cobb shared a few anecdotes illustrating how people make themed spaces and places their own – how they stake their claims to participating in the story spaces that designers create. He starts by talking about the final scene in the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. But I also love his next anecdote about the Dr. Phillips High School students cosplaying their homework across the street at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, just like they were studying at Hogwarts.

Listen:[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/67591215″ width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

Excerpt: “Regardless of the cool technology and cool designs that we see and all the stuff out there, it boils down to these are places that people use – they want to be part of that world. And if you don’t give them a chance to be part of that world, they will make themselves part of that world, and figure it out. It’s your best interest to try accommodate that and engender that level of devotion. Ten years ago we used to look at guys dressed up in Star Trek uniforms and laugh at them. If you do that now, you’re wrong. These people are not nerds. These are your audience. I’m serious. I get mad at people when they joke about that. You totally don’t understand pop culture right now. Because if you think that’s fringe, you’re not getting out enough – you’re not looking at your audience hard enough.”

Lachel wrapped it up: “These are story worlds that we’re creating. They have multiple levels, multiple platforms for engagement. It’s not just about creating a single attraction. It’s also very creative sandboxes and places where the audience is encouraged to participate. They’re co-creating. They’re developing. They’re working with you to tell these stories which are actually evolving.”

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