Thea Blog

01 March 2019

TEA Summit 2019 Day One schedule, speakers & sessions - April 11 at Disneyland Resort

The annual TEA Summit conference organized by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) will take place April 11-12, 2019, followed by the 25th Annual TEA Thea Awards Gala (April 13). This big weekend of TEA events takes place at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, supported by presenting sponsors The Hettema Group (TEA Summit) and Chimelong Group (TEA Thea Awards Gala).

Lauren Saidel-Baker, ITR Economics
moderates "State of the Industry"
at 2019 TEA Summit Day One,
April 11, Disneyland Resort

TEA Summit Day One (April 11) is an opportunity for the industry to gather and talk about work through a business lens. It encourages lifelong learning for industry members, at all stages of their careers. Summit’s focus as “the business of the business” allows TEA to bring current, relevant topics to the forefront, and focus on the "why" behind business decisions made, and their outcomes. 

Summit Day One co-chairs are TEA Past President Christine Kerr of BaAM Productions and TEA Eastern North America Division Board President Melissa Ruminot of The Companies of Nassal. Moderators: TEA Past President Steve Birket of Birket Engineering; Kile Ozier; and TEA International Board member Mike West of Universal Creative 

"Leave your preconceptions at the door" - In-depth interview with the co-chairs of TEA Summit Day One


Juliette Feld Grossman,
COO Feld Entertainment,
addresses TEA Summit Hot Topic
"Innovating Live Entertainment"



TEA Summit Day One

Sessions & Presenters

All information subject to change

  • The State of the Industry - A look at the business and related influences that will impact the Themed Entertainment industry in the short and long term. With Lauren Saidel-Baker of ITR Economics, Brian Sands and Linda Cheu of AECOM, Elizabeth Merritt, Center for the Future of Museums; Matthew Dawson, Forrec; Kieran Burke, Premier Parks; Owen Zhao, Min-Max
  • Presenting Sponsor,
    2019 TEA Summit:
    The Hettema Group
    Hot Topics - Innovating Live Entertainment, with Juliette Feld Grossman and Peter Weishar; #Workforce2020andBeyond with Julie Reyes, Rani Bal, and Mary Cluff; Future of Zoos & Aquariums with Tim Morrow of San Antonio Zoo; The Vanishing Seesaw and the Future of Theme Park Safety, with Steve Blum of Universal; How Disney is Changing the Future of Storytelling, with Tanner J. Rinke and Stephen C. Gregory, Walt Disney Imagineering. Moderators: Steve Birket, Melissa Ruminot, Kile Ozier
  • Dollywood - Pete Owens of The Dollywood Company spotlights this year's recipient of the Thea Classic Award. Moderated by Christine Kerr
  • Mark Woodbury of Universal
    Creative will be in the spotlight
    as the 2019 Thea lifetime honors
    A Conversation with...Mark Woodbury - The 2019 recipient of the Buzz Price Thea Award Recognizing a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements - moderated by Mike West



Brian Sands

State of the Industry

A look at the business and related influences that will impact the Themed Entertainment industry in the short and long term. 

This session will start with a world economic view, zoom into the global themed entertainment industry and then move to a panel discussion by industry leaders that considers the more specific impacts on different types of businesses and organizations within the world of themed entertainment. 


Linda Cheu
  • The Global Economic Outlook

Global perspective on financial forecasts, trends and other business developments that will impact or influence our industry. This presents context and sets the stage for everything that is to follow.

With Lauren Saidel-Baker, ITR Economics


  • Elizabeth Merritt

    Ten Trends in Ten Minutes

A look at the global themed entertainment industry: the trends and developments that will impact our businesses.

With Linda Cheu and Brian Sands, AECOM



  • Kieran Burke

    Global Trends, Industry Impact - What does this mean to me?

A conversation with industry leaders representing the global theme park and cultural attractions industry. 


  • Elizabeth Merritt, Center for the Future of Museums
  • Lauren Saidel-Baker, ITR Economics
    Matt Dawson


  • Kieran Burke, Premier Parks LLC
  • Matthew Dawson, Forrec
  • Owen Zhao, Min-Max International

Moderators - from AECOM: 

  • Linda Cheu
    Owen Zhao


  • Brian Sands 


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Thea Classic: Dollywood

Pete Owens
  • Pete Owens, Vice President, Marketing and Public Relations, The Dollywood Company

Visitors from across the country and around the world flock to Dollywood to experience its 10 themed areas and enjoy the local culture. 

In 2019, Wildwood Grove will open at Dollywood, representing the park’s largest expansion ever and described as a place where “adventure takes root and dreams take flight.” Since 1986, Dollywood has been owned and guided by country music superstar Dolly Parton and Herschend Family Entertainment.

Dollywood lives up to the Herschend motto of “Creating Memories Worth Repeating®” with a blend of thrilling rides, spectacular shows, master craftsmen and heartfelt sincerity in the best traditions of the Great Smoky Mountains region where it was born.

Pete Owens of The Dollywood Company will share insights into the importance of the culture, story and authenticity of the Dollywood guest experience. They’ll also explore how the Park remains true to Dolly’s priorities, passions and philanthropy through strong commitments to community, employees and other initiatives that are unique in the industry. Moderator: Christine Kerr


Julie Reyes

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Hot Topics

These topics are hot – they reflect the pulse of our industry based on feedback from TEA members and industry leaders. 

These sessions will provide a snapshot of some of the issues impacting our industry today. 

Rani Bal

They will promote a spirited conversation and inspire all of us to be prepared for what’s happening now and what’s next. 


  • #Workforce2020andBeyond

Academia to Application and Back Again - A look at the workforce challenges currently facing the industry and how people are responding, with a specific focus on the next generation of leaders.

Mary Cluff

We will explore with three people from the trenches some key topics as they relate to two specific populations with the greatest practical impact on the workforce of 2020, such as emerging & NextGen talent, and established seasoned talent nearing what in other industries might be considered retirement age.

Moderators: Julie Reyes, Eleventh Hour, and Kile Ozier; Speakers: Rani Bal, Independent Talent Consultant; Mary Cluff, Mousetrappe


  • Peter Weishar

    Innovating Live Entertainment

Feld Entertainment, the leader in live, family entertainment, creates memorable experiences that uplift the human spirt. Discover how immersive, live action storytelling is evolving through innovation and technology to exceed the expectations of audiences from Baby Boomers to Gen Z. 

Juliette Feld Grossman, Feld Entertainment®  and Peter Weishar, University of Central Florida



  • Tim Morrow

    The Future of Zoos and Aquariums

Exploring the importance of storytelling within zoos and aquariums as it becomes more important than ever in connecting guests to animals and to the organizations' messages of conservation. 

Tim Morrow, San Antonio Zoo. Moderator: Melissa Ruminot



  • The Vanishing Seesaw and the Future of Theme Park Safety

Steven Blum

How do our past and future parenting culture and the legal environment affect attraction
design, attraction safety, and global attraction safety trends? What does this mean to
our industry going forward?

Steve Blum, Universal. Moderator: Steve Birket



Tanner Rinke
  • How Disney is Changing the Future of Storytelling

Tanner J. Rinke and Stephen C. Gregory, Walt Disney Imagineering

Moderator: Steve Birket



Stephen Gregory



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Mark Woodbury

The Buzz Price Thea Award

A Conversation with……Mark Woodbury

Mark Woodbury, Vice Chairman of Universal Parks & Resorts and President of Universal Creative, will be joined by long-time colleague Mike West (Sr. Director/Executive Producer, Universal Creative) for a conversation that explores Mark’s approach to his work and how he has “….pushed technology and storytelling and the Universal brand to an all-new industry standard, translating pop culture's visual and literary mediums into today's most compelling and immersive experiences.”  

This conversation will explore Mark’s approach to leadership, creativity and the strategies that have allowed him to collaborate with the likes of Steven Spielberg, JK Rowling, Peter Jackson, Chris Meledandri, Stephen Sommers, James Cameron, Shigeru Miyamoto and Michael Bay. 

Mike West

Mike will take Mark on a journey through his 30-year career including the development of over 60 attractions plus hospitality and retail, at Universal properties around the world.  Mike will encourage Mark to share the creative challenges and surprising stories behind some of his most celebrated accomplishments including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Transformers: The Ride, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Terminator 2: 3D, and Universal's Islands of Adventure.





Christine Kerr

Christine Kerr, Vice President of BaAM Productions, TEA Past President - If there’s one thing that Christine sees more clearly than ever, it’s the links between categories that once seemed so far apart: themed entertainment and professional sports; for-profit and not-for-profit; the visitor experience and the user experience. During a career that has spanned multiple industries (and a couple of continents), Christine acquired this insight serving as “client/owner/operator” in world-class theme parks and attractions as well as “consultant/producer” at BaAM. It's an attitude that has served Christine well over her varied career, as well as in her various leadership roles with TEA.

Melissa Ruminot

Melissa Ruminot, VP of Marketing & Client Development, The Companies of Nassal - Joining themed entertainment seven years ago from the finance industry, Melissa developed a love for all things attractions – from a new theme park land, to a new habitat for African Elephants, to the display of a 250-year old artifact in a new museum exhibit – but most of all, being a part of an industry that tells compelling stories in memorable ways. Melissa currently serves as President of the TEA Eastern North America Division. At Nassal, she is part of an award-winning scenic and theming company in Orlando and Los Angeles.


"Leave your preconceptions at the door" - Read an in-depth interview with the co-chairs of TEA Summit Day One

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Steve Birket


Steve Birket PE, VP Birket Engineering, Past President of the TEA International Board of Directors - Starting in Walt Disney World Entertainment three months after his 16th birthday, Steve Birket has worked as a performer, engineer, manager and vendor for the Walt Disney Company and Universal Creative, and continuously in the themed entertainment industry ever since. Steve holds an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Central Florida and an MBA from Rollins College, and is a life-long Central Florida resident.

Kile Ozier

Kile Ozier, The Guy - Beginning with and well before “Beach Blanket Babylon,” Kile shows up with a career in the creation of Audience Experience: offering effective new approaches to show, spectacle and ceremony. At his core is his innate ability to create live, one-off and destination experience at any level of magnitude such that the Experience evokes personal resonance for each member of an audience. Be it Civic Ceremony, Stadium Show, Theme Park Installation or Product Launch, on Ozier’s teams it’s never Just a Job. Everyone learns, everyone teaches; the best work of everyone is achieved.

Mike West, Sr. Director/Executive Producer, Universal Creative - Mike has led project teams in the design, development, production and installation of numerous award-winning attractions for Universal Parks & Resorts, including several Thea Award recipients. His projects include The Simpsons Ride and Transformers The Ride-3D, along with Annie & VES award-winning Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Simpsons Springfield and Skull Island: Reign of Kong. Prior to joining Universal Creative in 2006, Mike was president of Innovative West, Inc., a creative design company he founded following a 25-year career as a writer, director and producer for Walt Disney Imagineering. Mike also serves on the International Board of Directors for the Themed Entertainment Association.



In alphabetical order

Rani Bal - Independent Talent Consultant to the Fabulous - Rani has a knack for finding the right person for the right job, with a keen eye towards the complexities of Human Resources in the themed entertainment field. She has honed her expertise in staffing, recruiting, and HR over the course of more than 20 years in a wide range of industries, from hospitality to retail. Her themed entertainment roots extend back to key roles at Kings Dominion. More recently, she served as VP of People for Thinkwell, and currently acts as a consultant supporting studios in the HR and talent acquisition realms domestically and internationally. 

Steven Blum, Senior Vice President, Engineering and Safety, Universal Creative, Universal Parks and Resorts - Mr. Blum serves at the technical focal point for all Universal theme park engineering activities. He oversees and maintains ride and show safety standards, supervises technical personnel at world-wide planning and development entities, governs technical oversight of engineered show and ride systems, represents Universal’s technical interests in legislative matters and salient codes and standards organizations, and oversees Universal’s Patent Program. Mr. Blum has worked in theme park engineering for 27 years and has also held various positions in aerospace engineering. 

Kieran Burke, President, Premier Parks, LLC - Premier Parks operates 11 theme and water parks and mixed-use facilities throughout the US and Canada, including the iconic Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier and City Museum in St. Louis. Prior to founding Premier Parks in 2009, Burke
served as Chairman and CEO of Six Flags (and its predecessor companies) for 16 years and led the consolidation of the regional theme park industry in North America, growing from one park to the world’s largest regional theme park operator with 39 parks in eight countries in North America and Europe. Mr. Burke is a graduate of Harvard Law School and a past Board member of IAAPA.

Linda Cheu, Vice President at AECOM is a leader in AECOM's cultural attractions practice group, advising museums, science centers, specialty attractions, performing arts organizations, and cultural institutions of all types on development, expansion, and business planning issues.  She has been with the firm for over 21 years and has served as a board member for multiple nonprofit cultural organizations in San Francisco. Her expertise includes business planning, earned income strategies, market-based concept development, attendance and audience analysis, facility usage projections, physical planning parameters, feasibility analysis, economic impact, and the development of cultural districts and anchors. She frequently teams with sub-consultants such as cost estimators, exhibit designers, and/or architects. 

Mary Cluff, Managing Director, Mousetrappe, Inc. - Proper casting leads to extraordinary results – no matter what the industry, art form or sport team. It’s all about balancing the skill sets and personalities with a schedule and budget in an environment designed to support the desired outcome. Mary found this to be true as the Director of Entertainment with Universal Studios Hollywood, as a Vice President for Thinkwell, and in her current position as Managing Director at Mousetrappe, Inc. There are 30 years of experience behind this idea - adapting it a bit to each new generational wave of the workforce.   

Matthew Dawson, Vice President, Business Development, Forrec Ltd., At Forrec, a global entertainment design company, Matt Dawson leads the strategic direction of the company's business development efforts across all markets and sectors. Matt began his career as an architect, then discovered his true calling was to create extraordinary destinations and memorable experiences for people. He maintains a consistent presence in many of Forrec’s projects, starting with business development and extending to project management and creative direction.

Stephen C. Gregory, Manager, Animation Creative Director, Walt Disney Imagineering - Stephen Gregory works in partnership with the WDI creative, engineering, and R&D teams creatively overseeing the development and delivery of a new generation of Audio-Animatronics® figures to Disney Parks. Some projects he has worked on include Toy Story Mania!, World of Color, Radiator Springs Racers, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and many more. Prior to his time at WDI, he spent 20 years as an Animator and as the Associate Creative Director of Theme Parks at Pixar Animation Studios. 

Juliette Feld Grossman, Chief Operating Officer, Feld Entertainment® - In her role, Juliette leads the company’s strategic planning and business development initiatives. Since joining the company, she has spearheaded the launch of Marvel Universe LIVE! and led the planning, branding and marketing for Monster Jamâ and Monster Energy Supercross, elevating the brands to premier sports and entertainment properties. In a new partnership with NBC Universal, she is at the forefront of the upcoming launch of Jurassic World Live Tour, opening in 2019. She is daughter of Kenneth Feld, Chairman & CEO of Feld Entertainment, and granddaughter of Irvin Feld, founder of Feld Entertainment.

Elizabeth Merritt, Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums - Elizabeth is the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) Vice President for Strategic Foresight, and founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums – a think-tank and research & development lab for the museum field. She is the author of the Alliance’s annual TrendsWatch report, and writes and speaks prolifically on the trends shaping the future of nonprofit organizations. (M.A. Duke University, B.S. Yale University, Museum Management Institute.)

Tim Morrow, CEO and Executive Director, San Antonio Zoo and Will Smith Zoo School - Prior to joining the Zoo in 2014, Tim had a 24-year career in the theme park industry which included opening Fiesta Texas in San Antonio; Parque Plaza Sésamo in Monterrey, Mexico; Discovery Cove in Orlando and Aquatica Waterpark in San Antonio. He leads a team of nine vice presidents to oversee some 500 employees, 600 volunteers and care for a multitude of animal species. Tim’s vision to take San Antonio Zoo to new heights began with a $5 million upgrade of 100+ animal habitats in his first two years.

Pete Owens, Vice President, Marketing and Public Relations, The Dollywood Company - Pete Owens guides marketing efforts for Dollywood, Dollywood’s Splash Country, Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa, and Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Cabins. He also provides PR direction for Dolly Parton’s dinner theaters. Owens joined The Dollywood Company in 2000 as Public Relations Manager. He held a variety of roles in broadcast television prior to his time at Dollywood. Owens served as news director at WATE in Knoxville, Tennessee, and WPDE in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Owens, his wife Cheryl, and two daughters live in Seymour, Tennessee.

Julie Reyes, Vice President, Eleventh Hour – Eleventh Hour is a full-service recruitment and staffing firm specializing in themed entertainment. Julie Reyes established and developed the themed entertainment division in 2008 and has been making matches between the best talent and the best clients all over the world since then, along with an amazing team and several office dogs. When not visiting theme parks all over the world (research!), she can be found at the gym, as she is an accomplished strength athlete and can likely deadlift more than you.

Tanner J. Rinke, Show Mechanical Engineer, Principal, Walt Disney Imagineering - Tanner Rinke has helped design and engineer characters such as the angler fish at The Seas with Nemo & Friends, Mater and Luigi at Radiator Springs Racers, Ariel at Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, Lumiere at Enchanted Tales with Belle, and the Avatar figure in the amnio tank at Avatar Flight of Passage. He has also served as the Project Lead for the Shaman figure in Na’vi River Journey. Tanner is passionate about advancing state-of-the-art Audio-Animatronics® technology and is currently leading a project to deliver advanced building blocks for the next era of Disney’s robotics.

Lauren Saidel-Baker CFA, ITR Economics - Lauren is an experienced speaker and economist. She is responsible for providing reliable industry and company forecasts, presentations, webinars, and economic consulting services to small businesses, trade associations, and Fortune 500 companies across a spectrum of industries. Lauren's experience in finance supports her commanding grasp of ITR Economics' programs and subscriptions and their practical applications. Lauren graduated cum laude from Wellesley College, double majoring in economics and religion. In addition to her academic accomplishments, Lauren is a CFA® charterholder.

Brian Sands, AICP, Vice President / Director of Economics, AECOM - Brian Sands has provided business economics advice for 25 years, with particular expertise in the areas of leisure, culture, and tourism.  Clients include private developers/operators, not-for-profits, and public agencies.  He regularly advises on the development/operation of a wide-range of commercial and cultural attractions, lodging, retail-dining-entertainment (RDE), and associated uses, the focus of which is economic advice enabling clients to reach their goals while simultaneously understanding and reducing associated risks. He is Treasurer of the TEA International Board of Directors, and coordinates global production of the annual TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index.

Peter Weishar, Professor of Themed Experience/Program Director, Themed Experience Graduate track, University of Central Florida currently serves as an Associate Member of the TEA Eastern Division Board and Chair of the TEA Academic Network. He was Dean of the College of Fine Arts at FSU and Director of the FSU Themed Experience Institute. He also served as Dean of Entertainment arts at SCAD, founding the first MFA in Themed Entertainment Design. Weishar is author of three books, Digital Space: Designing Virtual Environments (McGraw-Hill), Blue Sky: The Art of Computer Animation (Abrams) and CGI: The Art of the Computer Generated Image (Abrams)

Mark Woodbury, Vice Chairman of Universal Parks & Resorts and President of Universal Creative - Mr. Woodbury is responsible for overseeing all aspects of Universal Parks & Resorts planning and design worldwide. In his thirty years with Universal, Mr. Woodbury’s visionary approach to developing innovative theme parks, resorts and CityWalk venues has been instrumental in shaping and expanding the Universal brand around the globe. Mr. Woodbury joined the Universal Parks & Resorts team in 1988 and was tapped to lead Universal Creative worldwide in 2001. In 2006, Mr. Woodbury was named President of Universal Creative and in 2017, was named Vice Chairman of Universal Parks & Resorts in recognition of the business acumen and creative vision he has displayed during his career with Universal.

Owen Zhao, Partner, Min-Max - With more than 20 years of experience in themed entertainment investment, management and operation, Owen Zhao has successfully operated diverse culture entertainment projects across America, Australia and China. He has professional knowledge of themed entertainment products in China and the West and expertise in domestic and oversea resources integration and project operation. He has collaborated on projects for Disney, Merlin Entertainments, Chimelong, Shanghai Expo, Asia Music Festival, and more. Owen is currently also VP of the TEA  Asia Pacific Division Board of Directors.


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TEA leadership

Michael Mercadante

Michael Mercadante, President, Main Street Design, TEA International Board President - Michael is a registered architect in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and earned his degree in architecture from the University of Notre Dame, where his studies included a year abroad at the University’s architecture program in Rome, Italy. In the last three decades he has worked exclusively in the field of interpretive exhibit design, creating experiences that engage guests at visitor centers and museums, nature centers and wildlife reserves, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and select themed environments.

Jennie Nevin

Jennie Nevin, Chief Operating Officer, TEA - Now in her sixth year at the executive helm of TEA, Jennie Nevin has become a familiar face in the attractions industry while stepping up as an effective leader. She has helped the Association reach new milestones on many levels including membership expansion, member services, brand identity, financial stability, internal organization, staffing and global growth. Previously, Jennie served as Director of Operations and Development and Deputy Executive Director for the Hollywood Radio & Television Society in Los Angeles. Based in TEA’s Burbank headquarters, Jennie’s dedication to TEA also takes her into the field to know and represent the industry first-hand.


TEA Event Guidelines

Thank you to all the sponsors of TEA Summit 2019 and of TEA!

Summit Presenting Sponsor: The Hettema Group




Many thanks to our TEA annual sponsors!

Global Partners:

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Posted by Judith Rubin



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More Thea Blog

05 May 2022.
Photos and Media Coverage: 2022 TEA Summit & Thea Awards Gala

Disneyland Hotel, Anaheim - The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) reported success and attendance numbers in line with a standard event year for its annual big weekend of events, April 21-23, 2022, consisting of the two-day TEA Summit conference, followed by the 28th Annual TEA Thea Awards Gala presented by Chimelong. #TEAsummit #TEAtheas