TEA Connect Blog

08 June 2019

Conference co-chair Ian Klein gives a 12-point perspective on TEA SATE - Seattle (Sept 2019)

The TEA SATE conference cycle is underway for 2019, with TEA SATE - Seattle taking place September 26-27, plus an optional post-conference outing on Sept 28. The TEA SATE - Seattle theme is "Embracing Diversity."  #TEAsate

TEA SATE is the Themed Entertainment Association's signature international conference on Experience Design, bringing together the brightest minds and top decision makers exploring what's next in Storytelling, Architecture, Technology, and Experience in visitor attractions. 


12 questions for TEA SATE - Seattle co-chair Ian Klein of Vizir Productions

Ian Klein is co-chairing the conference with TEA Western North America Division Board President Shannon Martin of Color Reflections, and TEA International Board member Nathan Jones of WhiteWater.

What do you individually bring to your role as co-chair of TEA SATE? 

I’m an academic at heart so I’m naturally drawn to the curatorial aspect of the role of co-chair. I’m also a frequent speaker and panelist at popular culture conferences where I speak about the thematic and practical underpinnings of fictional storyworlds and so much of SATE is about how our industry brings stories to life and supports the stories we create ourselves every day.

This comes on top of the fact that I was born in Seattle and despite living abroad and two other major U.S. cities most of the past two decades, Seattle is still very much a home. This has also parlayed into my role within the TEA Western North America Division, of helping increase TEA-centric networking activity and opportunities in the Pacific Northwest.

The conference venue itself is also a special place for me. Before it was operated as Cornish Playhouse—part of Cornish College of the Arts—the facility was the home of Intiman Theater where I worked for several years. Growing up, Intiman also played a key role in shaping my love of the theater especially with a particularly memorable performance of Peter Pan in the early '90s. The inflatable crocodile that took over the stage was magic to me.


Above: conference co-chair
Shannon Martin of Color Reflections.
At top: conference co-chair Ian Klein
of Vizir Productions. 

How did you arrive at the conference theme of “Embracing Diversity”? What makes this theme important for this conference at this time – and how does it connect to the TEA SATE pillars of Storytelling, Architecture, Technology, Experience?

The notion of diversity was there from the beginning. From there, it was largely a matter of wordsmithing the theme to communicate a clear approach to the subject. It is becoming increasingly vital to create experiences that speak to everyone and in order to do that, you have to let everyone speak. We’re also treating this emphasis on diversity as a way to discuss the many different resources we have at our disposal to create inclusive experiences. From trending technologies to cultural consultants, our industry holds the keys to create spaces and experiences that unite rather than divide.


It's somewhat unusual to have three TEA SATE co-chairs. What’s the magic in the number three?

Three-act structure. RGB. The Sanderson Sisters. The Schoolhouse Rock classic, “Three is a Magic Number.” Good things really do come in threes. Each of us brings something entirely unique to our planning process. Plus, there’s always a tiebreaker.


Conference co-chair
Nathan Jones of WhiteWater

At this writing, the call for presentations is still open (through June 21). World expos are one of the suggested topic areas. How would you describe the connection between our industry and world’s fairs?

At their best, world’s fairs introduce attendees to new cultures and ideas, innovative technologies, and experiences, some of which have become attractions in their own right. And just like theme parks and other amusements, world’s fairs have been sites for international pilgrimages with families saving up money for months or years for the chance to see both wonders of the past and present and the promises of the future. Our industry will always be intimately tied to the legacy of world’s fairs in the way we challenge what’s possible, and hopefully, showcase the best of what humanity has to offer.


At the conference in Orlando in 2018, the TEA Masters program became part of TEA SATE programming. How might we see it play out in Seattle?

With the TEA Masters program now in its second year, we can go deeper into what the TEA Masters Committee looks for when it comes to TEA Masters honorees and the kind of work that they’ve been involved in. This is also the first year we will be able to put 2018 honorees in conversation with a subsequent year’s slate of TEA Masters which offers up a host of opportunities to engage those on and off the stage.


There is a lot of excitement around having TEA SATE in Seattle because of its mix of iconic attractions and its world’s fair legacy. Will the TEA SATE - Seattle program do something to help delegates connect to these things while they are in town?

For one, the site of our conference was built for the Century 21 Exposition in 1962, so just by walking in the door, they’ll be a part of that history. Otherwise, yes, we are absolutely working on programming that will foster a greater connection with the former exposition grounds, but also the legacy of world’s fairs in general. Attendees are also more than welcome to come find me and I’ll tell them more than they probably wanted to know!


What would you tell someone who has never been to TEA SATE, to encourage them to attend?

Possibly more than any other TEA event, TEA SATE pointedly connects the dots across countless aspects of the experience industry, constantly expanding the definition of themed entertainment and inviting new and unexpected voices into that conversation. I’ve always come out of this conference with valuable perspectives and hope to grant the same to others this year as co-chair.


What would you tell someone who is familiar with TEA SATE, to encourage them to come to THIS conference in Seattle?

With every TEA SATE conference there is an effort to make it new and take advantage of all that the host city has to offer. We are confident that Seattle will contribute richly to the distinct nature of SATE 2019 from the ways we’re looking to integrate the city’s history and status as a preeminent innovation hub to the locations we’ve chosen to explore and celebrate together. See also: “Three (Co-Chairs) is a Magic Number.”


What kinds of networking opportunities will there be?

The first opportunity will take place the evening before the conference begins; the TEA Western North America Division is welcoming attendees to Seattle along with local TEA members and friends at an event conveniently close to the official conference hotel (Westin Seattle). Apart from frequent conversation breaks during the conference itself, there will be official and unofficial gatherings every evening as well as the optional day of activities on Saturday, the day after the conference.


Name three things, tangible or intangible, that everyone should bring with them in order to make the most of their participation in TEA SATE – Seattle.

A sense of fearlessness, stamina, and walking shoes.

Fearlessness—if you come to TEA SATE, know that you belong, we want to hear your questions, and we’re all pretty damn nice. Stamina—the conference itself may only be a couple days long but we pack in a lot including the night before and the following day so you don’t want to miss a minute. Walking shoes—Seattle is an incredibly walkable city and when it’s nice out, taking a stroll in that fresh Pacific Northwest air will enliven your world.


What was an important moment, connection or realization that came to you as a result of attending TEA SATE in the past?

At my first TEA SATE, as I was weaving through fellow attendees on a mission to caffeinate, I overheard snippets of conversations that were filled with such wonder and enthusiasm that I thought to myself, “We don’t do this because we have to.” Not only do we love laying the foundation for others’ joy day in and day out, but we go out of our way to commune with our colleagues at events like this to learn and challenge our ideas in order to be better.


What are some of the professional disciplines or market sectors that you’d like to see more of at TEA SATE, whether on or off the stage?

I work a lot with studio franchise management teams and with more and more brand extensions being experiences of some kind, the voices of those driving those teams would be most welcome. On the other end of the spectrum, I’d love to see more creators of DIY, low-budget happenings such as those in the immersive theater and micro experience spaces.


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Posted by Judith Rubin



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