TEA News

11 April 2018

"We have an obligation" - Phil Hettema's powerful speech at the 2018 TEA Thea Awards Gala

On April 7, 2018, at the 24th Annual Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) Thea Awards Gala, Phil Hettema, founder of The Hettema Group, was honored with the Buzz Price Thea Award for a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements. Upon accepting the award, presented to him on behalf of TEA by Nancy Seruto of Walt Disney Imagineering, Phil gave a touching and memorable speech about his life and career, and the art and business of themed entertainment. With Phil's kind permission, TEA shares the full text of his speech here. Enjoy the story of one of our industry's greatest storytellers!


First, thank you to the TEA and the Thea committee for this incredible honor.

I’m very humbled, and I cannot begin to tell you how much this means to me, especially to be here surrounded by my family and very special friends…. and all of you, my colleagues, friends and peers over the past forty years.

There are so many people who have made a difference in my life and to whom I owe so much... I want and need to thank them all… but if I did, we would be here till the opening of Star Wars land. [Click to see Phil's thank-you list.]

But since time is short, I want to tell you a story…

Many years ago, there was a little kid.. He was quiet, pretty curious, nerdy…and relatively happy. But he also grew up in a world where he wasn’t sure he would ever find a place he belonged.

Then one day that nerdy, gay little kid walked into a place not very far from this room, and found a world where he could be anything he imagined, where magic seemed to appear around every corner, where the future was joyful and possible... where the impossible could happen..

Phil chats with Jeremy Railton of Entertainment Design Corp.
at the 2018 TEA Thea Awards Gala after-party. Jeremy was
honored in 2017 with the Buzz Price Thea lifetime honor that
Phil received in 2018.

And as he grew up, with visit after visit, he really found it to be an amazing place... where just for a few hours at least, he really belonged...but even then, he never dreamed how profoundly and powerfully this world he had discovered would become part of his life.

All those years ago I never imagined that world of imagination would become real for me, and that it would be much more than a dream, It would be a career, and a home.

All those years ago, I never dreamed that I could spend my life working with the most creative people on the planet. 

I never dreamed that it could take me to virtually every continent… visiting, meeting and learning from cultures, people and friends from around the world… learning how much more alike the world is than it is different, and learning how to tell a story in our special way, with the power to touch both head and heart at the same time.

Speaking at the 2018 TEA Summit, April 5

I never dreamed I could build a team who would be a second family to me, joining with me to pursue bigger dreams and tell powerful stories.

And I never dreamed I could contribute and help to lead the Ryman Arts foundation, passing on the legacy of some of my personal heroes to future generations.

My story, which has led me to this very special world which we all share, has a happy ending …. And I do not take it for granted.

You know, there are two things people say to me all the time...  After the first one…. “Did you play basketball?” …  the second thing, after I tell them what I do, is … You must have such a FUN job!

Well, it is fun, sometimes, but it’s also hard… at least it’s hard to do it right.  What we do is complicated, has a million aspects and parts that have to mesh invisibly but precisely to ignite the spark our stories can have… it’s hard, and sometimes it seems like it would be easier to take shortcuts.

It's become a tradition for the Buzz Price Thea lifetime honoree
to conduct a "fireside chat" with TEA NextGen members,
and Phil graciously participated in 2018

We’ve all been there, at that dark moment of a project, when it just seems like there’s no way its ever going to lift off, and you wonder why you ever got into this crazy business….

And we’ve all been part of projects that didn’t fully realize their potential, and we know how painful that can be… but we learn from those moments, work even harder,  and then we are there at the birth of a new story where it all comes together… and all the hard work, all the hurdles, all the “you’ll never pull that off” doubt falls away and the magic happens.

Now that is fun.  But with that fun and that hard work, comes some obligations…these are goals I believe we need to embrace in our industry and that we are committed to in our work at THG..

Waving the Hettema flag at the 2018 TEA Thea Awards Gala,
as Phil Hettema takes the stage to accept his award

We have an obligation to do our work at the highest quality we can and to tell our stories with integrity. We can’t take short cuts and we can’t rely on the latest great idea by someone else to be the best way to tell the story we have to tell.  Our industry has often been accused of creating fake worlds (and we seem to be living in a world of too many fake stories and alternative facts)… but when we tell our stories with quality and integrity they are powerful and can change lives.

We have an obligation not to rely on cool technology just for technology sake, because we all know technology which is hot today will be old 6 months from now… but to use great technology as a tool to make great stories even more powerful…

And this is so important… we have an obligation to make sure that we build teams that reflect the diversity of the audiences we want to tell stories to. We can’t expect our stories to be heard by the whole world if our teams telling the stories don’t mirror the full spectrum of our audience.

All of us, here, in this room, are living our own stories, even as we’re creating experiences and telling stories to the rest of the world.  What an exciting and rare privilege we share.

The story of this nerdy little kid is that he grew up to be the luckiest guy in the world, and even better….that there are more chapters in this story to be written, and we are all going to write them together.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.





Posted by Judith Rubin



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