Thea Blog

06 August 2020

Thea Awards Digital Case Studies report - Session 1: Nancy Seruto

"A touching celebration of an industry leader, in an innovative format during challenging times," was the apt summary of an attendee to the first-ever Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) Thea Awards Digital Case Studies session, honoring Nancy Seruto on August 6, 2020. #TEAtheas

"Being recognized by my peers in this way is a tremendous honor," said Seruto. "I look forward to our all being together again," she added, in a reference to the restrictions currently imposed by the pandemic.

Article for TEA by Judith Rubin

Though they could not assemble in person, hundreds of members of the global attractions industry were present at the TEA Digital event, responding enthusiastically to the content and making use of the networking opportunities and tools within the digital platform. This August 6, 2020 session produced by TEA Headquarters (which can still be viewed on-demand by ticketholders) was the keynote presentation of Thea Awards Digital Case Studies, showcasing Nancy Seruto, recipient of the Buzz Price Thea Award for a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements.

The conversation with Phil Hettema of The Hettema Group unfolded Seruto's remarkable creative career and influences, her outlook and achievements, the unique challenges faced by women in the field and the art of leading a creative team on projects great and small. "I came up at a time when there were very few women at the table. You have to recognize it's affecting you at a deeper level, repeated consistently through your life. But my mother told me 'you are who you make yourself.' We have a lot of work to do," commented Seruto.

TEA Past President Roberta Perry and TEA Service Award recipient Pat MacKay, who have co-chaired TEA Case Studies Day in past years' real-life meetings, participated as hosts. The keynote conversation was followed by a live mixer/tribute, with Seruto and many distinguished present and past colleagues and business partners sharing anecdotes, with Adam Bezark of The Bezark Company as master of ceremonies.

  • RICOTTA PIE - During the mixer, several people referred to a ricotta pie that is one of Seruto's popular culinary achievements and a family favorite. Scroll down for the recipe, or click here to jump there.
  • MEDIA COVERAGE - Several members of the press attended and reported on the event. Click here to jump to the articles.
"Know your heart, know your strengths, know your passion - then do the work, and don't get discouraged."
-- Buzz Price Thea Award recipient Nancy Seruto in conversation with Phil Hettema
at Thea Awards Digital Case Studies


Digital reconfiguration of a live event

Under normal circumstances,TEA's Thea Case Studies is an all-day, live conference held each year at Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, just prior to the TEA Thea Awards Gala. It was not possible to meet in person this year due to the pandemic; so Thea Awards Case Studies was reconfigured to a seven-session series on a customized digital platform to enable the community to honor the slate of 26th annual TEA Thea Awards, and allow the Thea Awards cycle to continue. The full Thea Awards Case Studies in 2020 is a series of seven sessions taking place between August and November, available as a one-ticket package, to experience live and/or on-demand.



Seruto's story

With an education in theatrical design and fine arts, Seruto worked as a stagehand and lighting designer and then went on to spend 18 years in scenic design with Lexington (now part of Nassal), which launched her work in theme parks as well as museums, acquiring a strong grasp of both the business/practical side and the creative/visionary side. She subsequently founded her own project management firm and built a reputation as one of the top project managers in the themed attractions space. For the past decade, she has worked with Walt Disney Imagineering since being recruited by Robert Weis, now President of WDI, to produce Treasure Cove for Shanghai Disneyland. (She had worked closely with Weis and his company, Design Island, on Top of the Rock prior to his rejoining Disney.) Seruto's current title at WDI is Portfolio Creative Executive. Weis was quoted by Luc Mayrand at the mixer saying, "Nancy has two brains and two hearts, as project manager and artist."

Of the work at Shanghai Disneyland, Seruto said, "I had never seen meetings that large." She adapted. "The hardest lesson I ever learned is that you can't do everything yourself. If you don't learn that soon enough you become a bottleneck to the project."

The keynote conversation and the heartfelt testimonials in the tribute/mixer that followed gave rise to some fascinating project anecdotes and helped convey the breadth of Seruto's accomplishments and far-reaching influence as well as her deep creativity in both her work and personal life, how she overcame internal and external obstacles, her genius for leading project teams and inspiring others, and her dedication to building a better industry culture. Numerous speakers were ushered in by Bezerk, incluing Luc Mayrand, Ting-Ting Wei and Jodi McLaughlin of WDI; Susan Bonds of 42 Entertainment, who chaired the 26th Thea Nominating Committee; former business partner Robert Koval, past Lexington colleagues Frank Bencivengo and Patti Mondana (now with Universal), Philip Vaughn of Vertex Productions, Jenn Bressler of Hunt Design, Michael Kelley of UNC, TEA Past President Pat Gallegos and others. In addition to the formal, on-camera conversation and testimonials there was a running live feed of questions, anecdotes, comments and accolades from participants, open to all to share and contribute. 


Spoken tributes to Nancy Seruto at Thea Digital Case Studies, August 6, 2020

  • "Nancy Seruto has warmth, intelligence, generosity, grace, creativity and wit. She has the ability to teach Imagineers a thing or two that got us out of our comfort zone. She has the soul of an artist and the mind of an astute entrepreneur." -- Jodi McLaughlin, Senior Producer, WDI
  • "I wanted to soak up everything I could from her. I've grown accustomed to her emails that start, 'the more I think about this...' She never stops thinking about the matter at hand, and she remains open-minded. There’s always a chance for it to be better or done differently." -- Ting-Ting Wei, Senior Creative Producer, WDI
  • "Nancy is the only person I know who doesn't have a dark side." -- Adam Bezark, The Bezark Company
  • "Nancy Seruto shakes and moves with spirit and heart as a human being, and if there was ever a time we needed lessons to learn to move forward, it's now. We all look up to you, Nancy and it is such an honor to be in your life." -- Phil Hettema, The Hettema Group
  • "Nancy Seruto: a taskmaster with a warm heart, who I want to be like when I grow up. The most incredible mentor anyone could ask for. Everyone wants to work with you." -- Jenn Bressler, Principal, Hunt Design
  • "Nancy Seruto has superpowers and makes everybody around her find their superpowers. She understands what projects want." -- Michael Kelley, Dean of Design and Production at The University of North Carolina School of the Arts


Adam Bezark of The Bezark Company was master of ceremonies for the "love tsunami" honoring
Nancy Seruto, following the keynote conversation curated by Phil Hettema of The Hettema Group
at the first session of the TEA Thea Awards Digital Case Studies on August 6, 2020


Dig deeper into Thea Digital Case Studies


Finding ways to meaningfully connect during the pandemic

The Thea Awards Case Studies digital platform and app, customized for the event facilitated networking, video chatting, comments and Q&A successfully delivered the atmosphere, experience and benefits (professional development, networking, education, celebration and press coverage) that have made the in-person Thea Awards Case Studies a consistently popular conference drawing a full house year after year - and even brought a new level of intimacy, and useful networking tools to the proceedings. Many people remained in the digital conference space throughout the day to continue networking long after the formal sessions concluded.

As Seruto herself remarked in conversation with Hettema, "We're in this business because we like to work in groups. We all really miss each other [in the pandemic]."

"You have to understand what your spark is... it helps keep the balance in a very demanding industry."
-- Nancy Seruto in conversation with Phil Hettema, Thea Awards Digital Case Studies keynote session,
August 6, 2020

Congratulations and thanks

TEA warmly congratulates Nancy Seruto on her lifetime of distinguished achievements and thanks everyone whose work, dedication and support contributed to making the first Thea Digital Case Studies session an unqualified success: sponsors, speakers, producers, TEA leaders and TEA staff, the 26th annual Thea Awards recipients, the Thea Awards nominating committee and all the attendees and participants.


Media Coverage

"I wanted to soak up everything I could from her." -- Ting-Ting Wei, Senior Creative Producer, WDI 
talks about working with Nancy Seruto, Buzz Price Thea Award recipient


Nancy Seruto's recipe for Ricotta Pie

Simple Ricotta Pie filling. I use a ready-made graham cracker pie shell (my grandmother of course, made her own shell).


  • 1-1/2 pounds ricotta cheese (get the good stuff from an Italian deli please)
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup white sugar (this is ½ the usual amount of sugar)
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon of shaved bits dark chocolate 
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Beat ricotta, yolks, and sugar until lemon colored. Add lemon juice, zest, and vanilla. Beat whites until stiff, fold into lemon mixture. Pour mixture into the prepared shell. Do not over-fill the shell, it rises slightly when baking.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 45 to 50 minutes. Let pie cool, then refrigerate to set. The pie will become creamy and dense. Serve cold.

Pirate Variations – instead of chocolate

  • Add rum soaked white raisins
  • Add rum soaked apricots
  • Add rum soaked dried cherries


See all speakers, sponsors and production credits for TEA Thea Awards Digital Case Studies


Production Credits for TEA Corporate Sponsors

  • Joe Fox, Alcorn McBride - Technical Manager
  • Ian McDaniel, Good Theory Studios - Associate Technical Manager
  • Dave Martin, DemoDave Production - Sponsorship Video Production
  • Chris Crowe, VCI Event Technology - Producer
  • Jeff Killian, VCI Event Technology - Editor
  • Nick Davies, VCI Event Technology - Editor
  • Dave DaCosta, VCI Event Technology - Technical Director
  • Jack Byers, VCI Event Technology - Event Technology Engineer
  • Becky Moore, VCI Event Technology - Event Technology Engineer

TEA Production Staff

  • Jennie Nevin - COO & Executive Producer
  • Tammie Richards - Director of Events
  • Erica Schwehr - Director of Operations, Art Direction
  • Judy Rubin - PR, Publications & Social Media
  • Christine Mack - Associate Event Producer, Help Desk
  • Christy Nakada - Marketing Associate, Help Desk
  • Alexa Esparza - Member Services, Help Desk

Posted by Judith Rubin



TEA Members please log in to comment

More Thea Blog

29 November 2020.
Congratulations! TEA announces 27th annual TEA Thea Awards recipients (official press release)

BURBANK, California USA, Nov 19, 2020 -- The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) announced the new slate of TEA Thea Awards recipients, honoring people, projects and technologies representing excellence in the visitor attractions industry. 


23 November 2020.
TEA Member Spotlight: Dale Sprague, TEA service award recipient

Dale Sprague has been named by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) to receive the TEA Peter Chernack Distinguished Service Award, which honors exceptional service to the organization, above and beyond the norm. Giving back in this manner is the lifeblood of an association such as TEA that relies in great part on a dedicated community of volunteers.


22 November 2020.
Thea Awards Digital Case Studies report - Session 7: Theme parks

The Nov 5, 2020 session of Thea Awards Digital Case Studies, spotlighting theme parks, explored three Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) Thea Award recipients for Outstanding Achievement: Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, and Disneyland Resort's Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run. The session moderator was Brian Morrow of BMorrow Productions. #TEAtheas #TEAdigital