TEA Connect Blog

10 February 2020

How Michael Hirsch, now at WDI, found opportunities through TEA NextGen membership

The "Where are they now?" article series showcases how the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) NextGen initiative and TEA NextGen membership help students and recent grads find their way to careers in themed entertainment. Michael "Mikey" Hirsch, associate project coordinator, Walt Disney Imagineering, tells his story:

My themed entertainment journey

It’s difficult to imagine how different my career path could have been without the TEA and the platform the TEA NextGen program gave me and so many up-and-coming industry professionals for growth and success.

My themed entertainment journey started right after graduating with a BFA in Scenic Design from the State University of New York at Purchase College. This was followed by my professional internship at Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) – Florida as an intern with WDI’s set decoration team. I was first exposed to TEA and NextGen during that internship at one of their many mixers throughout the year.

Being that Orlando is a primary theme park hub, the TEA events that take place there can be peopled with some of the attractions industry's biggest players, especially in November during the annual IAAPA Expo. Networking is one of the best ways to learn about the many avenues within the themed entertainment industry and the TEA events give you a great opportunity to find where you may fit. To this day, I am still connected with many of the people I’ve met at these events, some of whom are now my co-workers.

It was at a TEA mixer where I met my next employer, ThemeWorks, Inc. (TWI) located in Northern Florida, as my internship with WDI was coming to an end. TWI is a custom fabrication firm that produces high-detailed products and creates elements for museums, theme parks, and zoos. After networking with TWI’s presidents at the event, and a few interviews later, I was hired as an Associate Project Manager.

While at ThemeWorks, Inc. I also became a leader of their internship program, where we worked with the TEA’s NextGen to attend their GibGab speed networking events. Some of the interns we found through the TEA NextGen are now industry professionals with WDI, Adirondack Studios, and The Nassal Company. At these events I noticed I would remember, by name, the TEA NextGen young professionals that would come to several events throughout the year, and I was able to see their skills, resumes, and portfolios grow.

Wanting to become more hands-on in the field, I moved back to Orlando and joined the Buena Vista Construction Company, working at Disney’s Central Shop as a Scenic Artist with the Scenic Shop and Magic Kingdom’s Figure Finishing. I worked on many projects as an artist, but my favorite was helping open Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I then moved over to Figure Finishing where we maintained all the Audio-Animatronics figures, props, and sets in Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.

While working as a Scenic Artist, I was able to continue networking, grow contacts in the industry, and find freelance opportunities in the area through TEA events. I reconnected with some TEA NextGen members I had interviewed and was able to hear all of their success stories finding their way through the industry.

When I found a WDI Associate Project Coordinator job posted by Disney, I immediately applied for the position and reached out to the contacts I had made over the years. After I was hired on for the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge project, I found out that one of the reasons I was selected was because I continued to network and stayed in contact with the connections I made throughout my career.

My best advice: Chase your dreams, jump out of your comfort zone, and be the type of person that you would want to spend time with outside of work.

More "Where are they now?" stories:


Posted by Judy Rubin



TEA Members please log in to comment

More TEA Connect Blog

20 February 2020.
TEA Thea Case Studies Day April 17 at Disneyland Resort - a big part of TEA's big weekend

Anaheim, CA, USA -- Every year, hundreds of themed entertainment professionals come from around the world to be part of the annual TEA Summit and TEA Thea Awards Gala at Disneyland Hotel - three days of professional development, networking, education and celebration, organized by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), the global nonprofit membership association for the creators of compelling places and experiences. "Industry members won't want to miss this year's lineup, representing the best and brightest in theme parks, attractions, museums and live event spectaculars from California to Belgium, from Incheon to Abu Dhabi, including such names as Disney, Universal, Puy du Fou, Warner Bros., Christie and even Google," said TEA Chief Operating Officer Jennie Nevin. The 2020 events take place April 16-18. #TEAsummit #TEAtheas


12 February 2020.
February 2020: TEA gatherings in Europe and Saudi Arabia - Owen Ralph reports

The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) Europe and Middle East Division’s first networking opportunities of 2020 took place on February 4. In addition to TEA Tuesday gatherings in three European cities, this included TEA's first networking event in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, an emerging market. 


11 February 2020.
A message to our members

The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) leadership is engaged to do its best for our global community and the industry we serve. In the face of current disruption by the COVID-19 virus, we’re working to keep the TEA community spirit alive, to stay connected and supportive of one another.