TEA Connect Blog

31 October 2019

Michael Blau becomes TEA International Board President in November 2019

Incoming Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) International Board President Michael Blau, Principal, VP Business Development, Adirondack Studios LLC talks about the association, the industry and his new role.

PHOTO AT TOP: Michael Blau (center, standing) at the annual
TEA Members Meeting in 2018.
ABOVE: 
At the 2019 TEA Thea Awards Gala, left to right:
Michael Blau (TEA President Elect), Jennie Nevin (TEA COO), 
Michael Mercadante (TEA President), Chris Ho (Chimelong)

Michael Blau will be officially installed as Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) International Board President in November 2019 during the annual TEA Members Meeting at IAAPA Expo Orlando. Michael Blau’s leadership participation within TEA began with his being elected to the TEA Eastern North America Division. He served for three years as VP of the Eastern Division Board followed by three years on the TEA International Board, most recently as Vice President. He will succeed Michael Mercadante of Main Street Design, who steps into the role of TEA Immediate Past President.

Interview by Judith Rubin, TEA publications editor

 

How do you view the role of TEA within the industry? What are its strengths?

The global attractions industry needs consistent resources to continue to create great experiences. Key to doing so is fostering a culture of respect between owner/operators, large and small companies, competitors and individuals. This means looking out for everyone’s well-being FIRST in a healthy, fair way. At the pace at which projects are being developed, there are many stories of this not happening. This practice should not become an industry standard.  When everyone is taken care of, then we all can look out for each other’s back when things become challenging.

The TEA fosters excellence.  We help members network, learn and explore.  TEA is the place to go when you want to learn, grow, meet interesting people and experience the world. We offer access to world class professionals through formal presentations and informal events. TEA fosters opportunities for members to educate members. The stronger our members become, the better the industry becomes. Our job is to help that happen.

 

What do you see as some of TEA’s landmark achievements in its 30-year history?

The founding members of TEA really set the association in motion toward fostering and recognizing excellence in the entertainment industry. The TEA Thea Awards, TEA Masters program and TEA SATE conferences are excellent examples.  As the association has grown, its members have become more sophisticated. I believe without the TEA, the world would not have created the terrific experiences that exist today.

 

What will be some themes of your TEA presidency? How do they reflect the evolution of TEA?

As with any association we need to evolve in strategic ways, to better serve our members, current and future. We are surrounded by opportunity. From my perspective the current industry leaders, experts and professionals need to take on a new role: that of being mentors rather than doers.  If we do not become teachers, the knowledge gap that exists today will become greater. 

The TEA is an organization with heart, drive and passion. That is because of its dedicated members. Through the years I am continually amazed by the efforts of members and leaders to forge ahead and make the Association and Industry better.  Having seen these efforts grow from smaller but potent initiatives into greater reaches, I believe the Association is at a key point in its evolution to establish clear paths, based on the foundations of the past, to serve its members better and more globally, with robust association operating systems and great leadership. We should build upon past knowledge, not continue to reinvent it. Now is the time to set out a clear plan so we keep moving in the same direction.

 

Presenting at the TEA Thea Awards Gala,
TEA International Board members
Matt Kent and Michael Blau

Tell us about your involvement, and your company’s involvement with TEA over the years.

I first got involved in the TEA as an avenue to network in the industry for Adirondack Studios. My colleague Louis Allen [VP Adirondack Studios] had already been volunteering with TEA for many years prior to my jumping in.

Adirondack Studios has grown, as many companies have, through the last decade, from being a small design/fabrication firm with one facility into an international company with offices/facilities in seven locations around the world. I believe the success of our company is directly related to our involvement in the TEA. We have entered into healthy, collaborative relationships; we have worked on some of the best projects ever created. I often tell new members to jump in and meet people, tell stories and make new friends. When you put energy in, it comes back to you many times over. At our company, we want to wake up every day and be excited about the work we do; and enjoy the people we do it with. TEA allows us to find those projects and people.

TEA Leaders with the Chairman of Shendi who hosted
TEA SATE Asia 2019 in Shanghai

In preparation for my taking on the role of TEA President, my partners at Adirondack Studios asked that we put some systems and staff in place to allow me to take some of my time with the company and refocus it toward the role. They have been and are extremely supportive, and I am very appreciative of the backing.

 

What are your hobbies?

I’m very fond of vegetable gardening. I’m Italian on my mother’s side and German on my dad’s and grew up in a traditional Italian neighborhood in Albany, New York. There was always somebody around who was a relative, or seemed like one, looking out for you. After school, I often played sous chef at my grandparents’ house. While my grandmother watched General Hospital and other stories, I helped prepare dinner to be ready when my grandfather, a barber, arrived home. The food was always brilliant, made with really good, simple ingredients, everything in balance.

Everyone had a garden out back - my grandmother, my parents, the neighbors. My parents also had community garden plots. Helping take care of all of those, I learned that if you give the plants what they need, when the season comes to harvest you get incredible, fresh food that tastes 100 times better than produce from the store.

Over the years that has been synthesized into my life. Today, I still live in Albany. With my family living next door to my parents, my two sons (now growing into smart, generous, talented young men) are close to their grandparents in the same way that I was as a child. I have my own garden now and in the growing season, spend many great weekend mornings tending it. I plant more than I can eat and bring baskets of chard, peppers, zucchini etc. to neighbors. I love coming home after a long day and picking some tomatoes (we put in about 40 tomato plants and about eight varieties each year) from the garden to have with fresh mozzarella, good extra virgin olive oil and really crusty bread for a terrific, healthy meal.

I also continue to practice art. I try to do some painting on a regular basis for local theater work. And here at Adirondack we do quarterly art shows, so when I am not bouncing around the globe I will contribute a piece. 

 

What are some life lessons you bring to your role at TEA?

Let’s call them formative experiences. I’ll give you two. The first is a story from growing up. Every Sunday, the family would gather to eat at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother would send me to get a loaf of fresh, Italian bread, five blocks away on my bicycle. Being an eternally hungry, growing boy I would break off an end of the bread and eat it on the way. After my grandfather noticed this, my grandmother gave me extra money so I could buy two loaves and one would stay whole. I’d grip the open ends of the two long bags, one in each hand, while holding the handlebars, riding fast and hopping curbs, hurrying to get back. On one of these trips, I discovered that while I still had hold of both bags, the loaves had broken through the ends and fallen. I got more money from my grandmother, turned around and had ridden halfway back to the bakery when I saw the bread in the street, still intact. Should I continue to the bakery for new bread? Or should I take the fallen loaves home and keep the money? While my seven-year-old self pondered these options, a car ran over both loaves and flattened them. I understood both karma and fate in that moment. When opportunity (or temptation) presents itself, you have to take a step back and decide what’s right.

The second story concerns an important mentor from my theater days - the late Desmond Heeley, a brilliant costume and set designer from England and a Tony Award winner. He passed away in 2016. We worked on a national tour of A Christmas Carol together, and were friends for many years. He was a designer’s designer. He taught me that when the curtain opens, the story should be immediately communicated through design - the audience should know exactly what they’re going to get with that first image. One time, I was working on my own design for a ballet set for Nutcracker, sketching the winter scene and Desmond said, “Michael you’re doing it all wrong. This is a ballet, Michael. Ballet dancers dance and they leap and you want to have them fly. Your horizon line is too high. When they leap they don’t sail across the sky.” He showed me that on a ballet, you lower the horizon line; instead of the usual six feet, you make it four feet, to make the dancers soar. I said, “that’s freakin’ brilliant.” He said, “That’s what a designer does,” and walked away with this big grin on his face.

 

Anything else to say as you prepare for this new leadership role in TEA?

I have a lot of appreciation for Michael Mercadante, who has spent the past year as TEA International Board President. He has set a solid foundation in place and established important pillars of strategy. He has been such a great collaborator and very focused on getting these things done, and a support and a model for me all through the process. Michael wants to do right by people - he wants to listen as well as respond appropriately. He’s one of the first people I met as a true colleague and friend within TEA. We met years ago at a TEA SATE conference in Paris and had dinner in a little place near Disneyland Paris. From that point on we have had a true friendship and collaboration, working together on projects with mutual respect. Michael has done right by TEA.

 

 

Posted by Judy Rubin

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