Like the TEA - Themed Entertainment Association itself, the Thea Awards were created to bring recognition to achievement, talent and personal excellence within the themed entertainment industry. From a modest beginning in 1994, the Thea Awards have become internationally recognized as a symbol of excellence.
From the start of the TEA in 1991, the TEA’s founder, Monty Lunde, felt our industry represented some of the most accomplished yet under-recognized talents working in all of entertainment. Therefore after launching the TEA, and guiding it safely through the first critical years, Monty’s next priority was the creation of an award that would bring recognition and prestige to the people of our industry.
TEA's first Awards Judging Committee was comprised of Bob Rogers, Pat Scanlon and Barry Howard. In early 1994 they met in a single session at Monty’s Restaurant (an ironic coincidence, no relationship to Mr. Lunde) in the west San Fernando Valley. The choice of an honoree was easy: Industry veteran, Harrison “Buzz” Price would be the first recipient of the only award to be given out that year — the TEA Lifetime Achievement Award (now called the Buzz Price Thea Award Recognizing a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements)
Our second year, in 1995, our single honoree was Walt Disney Imagineering’s Marty Sklar and again the event was held at the Biltmore, but in a bigger room with about 350 people in attendance. Again the format was a series of speakers, roasting and saluting the honoree.
Thea’s third year (1996) was a major turning point. That year, the Awards for Outstanding Achievement (AOA) were introduced, turning the TEA Thea Awards into a multi-award event. Ten AOA awards were distributed and several breakthrough traditions were established that have come to characterize the Thea Awards:
In 1997 two additional special categories of the AOA were created. Excellence on a Limited Budget (assuring annual recognition for one or more achievements created for less than $5 million) and the Thea Classic Award, honoring one achievement each year, which has stood the test of time.
For 2014-2015, new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions at Universal Studios prompted the Thea Awards Juding Committee to create the Paragon Award, which recognizes a project that sets a new bar of excellence. In 2017 (and since) several Thea recipients have represented the newly created category of Connected Immersion, recognizing that tremendous advances in technology, social behavior and connectivity are reinventing our notion of storytelling and the possibilities of guest experience.
The Thea Awards are now internationally recognized as the equivalent of an Academy Award in the themed entertainment industry. Each year over a hundred highly qualified achievements from all over the world compete for between 12 and 18 awards. Traditional awards include:
But the overriding objective remains to find excellence and celebrate it — a search for projects that call attention to the excellence that exists throughout our industry.
As we look to the future, the Thea Awards will continue to grow, evolve and change, never forgetting their original objective of bringing recognition to achievement, talent and professional personal excellence within our themed entertainment industry.
Bob Rogers of BRC Imagination Arts provided essential information for this article.