TEA News

08 June 2018

Interview with Bettina Buckley and John Paul Geurts, co-chairs of TEA SATE Orlando - SeaWorld, Oct 4-5, 2018

TEA SATE Orlando will be hosted at SeaWorld, Oct 4-5, 2018. SATE is the definitive conference on Experience Design, organized by the Themed Entertainment Association. #TEAsate 


In the interview below, the conference co-chairs, Bettina BuckleyVice President of Disney Parks Live Entertainment - Walt Disney World, and John Paul Geurts, Experiential Entrepreneur, discuss the goals and importance of SATE, talk about their own unique backgrounds and vision, and give some tips about responding to the Call for Presentations (due June 21).

The SATE acronym stands for Story + Architecture + Technology = Experience. SATE also alludes to a collaborative culture of production, in which designers, technologists and clients work closely together from the early stages of a project, in a team structure often more horizontal than hierarchical. 

In keeping with the theme, "The Experience Recipe," SATE Orlando - SeaWorld sessions will blend Storytelling, Architecture and Technology to show how rich, diverse projects are created. The presenters will curate a diverse menu to satisfy audiences' taste for adventure, discovery and fun. This innovative approach is inspired by hot trends in hospitality, retail, food, costumes/fashion, scenery/theming and even horticulture, inviting participants to broaden their thinking and explore beyond the boundaries of traditional attraction design.


Interview with Bettina Buckley and John Paul Geurts, co-chairs of TEA SATE Orlando - SeaWorld, Oct 4-5, 2018

What’s your elevator speech for SATE when you explain the value to someone who may be unfamiliar with it?

  • Bettina Buckley: SATE provides the opportunity to meet thinkers, producers, influencers and strategists and expand your industry awareness.
  • John Paul Geurts: SATE is an inspiring two days that will nourish your creative soul by being immersed into emerging trends that can elevate your guest experiences.

This is your first TEA co-chair gig, though you’ve both been involved with past TEA events and are experienced show producers. What are you doing to make SATE Orlando at SeaWorld uniquely valuable?

  • BB: I'm excited to be able to introduce some ingredients (topics) that have not traditionally been presented. We are working to present new voices and new points of view.
  • JPG: We decided to treat the attendees as our guests and provide a complete experience from the moment they arrive.

What’s important about this location: SATE at SeaWorld and in Orlando?

  • BB: SeaWorld’s blending of imagination with nature makes it a perfect host venue for this conference - and Orlando is a crossroads of all sorts of world-class experiences.
  • JPG: SeaWorld is an outstanding park operator with a meaningful environmental mission. It provides the perfect backdrop for The Experience Recipe.

You’ve issued a call for participation in SATE Orlando (deadline June 21). What kinds of responses will get your attention? Why do you particularly mention hospitality, retail, food, costumes/fashion, scenery/theming and horticulture?

  • JPG: The responses that will grab us will align with the theme of the event and inspire the participants. SATE Orlando should be a refreshing, inspirational and uplifting retreat. Our goal is to bring new topics to the forefront that haven’t been discussed recently and expand the classic definitions of story, architecture, technology and experience. That is why the topics are much broader than in the past. The presentations need to spark curiosity and send the guests away ready to tackle their next big project. We feel we should consider all the ingredients available to make a satisfying experience. In addition, there are many adjacent businesses, such as hospitality and retail, that could use our expertise, passion and storytelling prowess.

What unique things might SATE offer that people might not hear or learn at other design forums?

  • BB: Diversity of thoughts and how our unique key pillars of Storytelling, Architecture and Technology drive and make up the Experience.
  • JPG: SATE is focused 100% on experience and how to captivate an audience.  Here, attendees will get to hear from experts within the entertainment industry and other adjacent areas that can influence our creative thinking.

What do each of you, individually, bring to SATE in terms of your experience, background and vision?

  • BB: I am very fortunate to have an extensive background in production management, producing and leading multi-discipline teams, as well as strategic planning and creative development for the live experience industry. This experience will help develop a holistic and engaging conference and challenge the status quo. 
  • JPG: I believe we must always remember who our audience is and how to develop to their needs. Through my experience leading a creative studio, developing content and seeing it to completion, I have the skills to create a compelling conference that feels curated for the group. My goal is to create a seamless experience that will surprise and inspire the guests.

Tell us about a few defining experiences and projects of your own themed entertainment career.

  • BB: During a time of unprecedented growth and creativity for the Walt Disney Company I was lucky enough to be involved in numerous special event, theme park, and theatrical production feats; the production of four Super Bowl Halftime Shows, the opening of four theme parks, producing a number of nighttime spectacular, the launch of Walt Disney Theatrical Productions, and mounting Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. Then for 16 years running my own live entertainment company and working around the world from Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, to *NSYNC Celebrity Events to the Georgia Aquarium’s Dolphin Tales has been fantastic and humbling. However, leading teams of creative collaborators and technical partners in multi-faceted, face paced and unique live entertainment productions, special events and attractions is my proudest accomplishments.
  • JPG: Recently, I produced the award-winning SpongeBob SquarePants musical for Broadway. It was a 10-year journey that led to a thoughtfully planned and executed night of joy. Working with the production team, SpongeBob SquarePants show creator and Broadway alumni was a fantastic experience. My 23-year career at Nickelodeon allowed me to travel globally and build their licensing business by developing creative solution and products for parks, resorts, museums and shows. It is now a multi-million-dollar revenue generator for the company and I could not be prouder of the content we created. 
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How did you get your start in this business?

  • BB: My parents were entertainers so I grew up backstage or as my friends like to say “I was born in a trunk”. Other than babysitting I have never had a job that wasn’t in the theatre. While I started as a performer I was always more interested in what was going on backstage and early in my career switched to being behind the scenes doing lighting, props, and effects and then moving to production planning, management and producing. That is where I have been for the last 40 years.
  • JPG: I started working backstage in the theater at a young age doing community and professional theater.Before leaving high school, I had professional design credits and had many roles within various theatrical organizations.I studied scenery, lighting and costume design at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.After working for several years in New York City, my connections brought me to themed entertainment which gave me the opportunity to open Universal Studios first park.After bouncing between New York and Orlando, I settled in the Sunshine State and found my way to Nickelodeon.Over the past two decades, I have built my reputation as an executive leader, creative thinker and strategic brand ambassador.
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What are some of the most important issues for today’s creators of guest experience?

  • BB: Completive Landscape, managing evolving priorities, guest complexity, safety.
  • JPG: The most important challenge is keeping up with a fragmented, ever-changing audience and providing experiences that feel customized for their tastes and needs.

Who should attend SATE and why?

  • BB: If you want to be relevant, to be relentless in your quest for excellence, to transform your heart and mind…attend this conference
  • JPG: Anyone who is passionate about storytelling and creating lasting, memorable experiences. Any professional who loves this industry as we do. Through our work, we can impact people, families and colleagues positively through beautiful design, elaborate story and compelling experiences. Not everyone can say that. 

Bettina Buckley and John Paul Geurts

Bettina Buckley

Bettina Buckley - As a strong and resourceful leader, Bettina Buckley has been working around the world, dedicated to taking the entertainment industry to a higher and more effective level of creativity. As Vice President of Disney Parks Live Entertainment - Walt Disney World, she leads a variety of teams to create, produce and deliver high-quality, innovative and culturally relevant live entertainment experiences. Prior to re-joining the Disney team, Bettina spent 16 years as Principal and Executive Producer of WOW!Works, leading teams of creative collaborators and technical partners in multi-faceted and unique productions, special events and attractions.

John Paul Geurts

John Paul Geurts, Creative Entrepreneur, has a strong passion for exceptional guest experience and exquisite design. He currently consults on unique global projects. While with Nickelodeon, he led the experience design team and also produced the award winning SpongeBob SquarePants musical for Broadway. Prior to Nickelodeon, John Paul worked in the legitimate theatre, and in hospitality. He opened attractions for Universal Studios Florida and developed Halloween Horror Nights. His theatrical work continues to drive his storytelling ability and collaborative skills. At the heart of his creative leadership is a commitment to high-quality, unique interpretation and a focus on the audience and their needs.

Posted by Judy Rubin



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