Bright Lights, Big Ideas - SATE Comes to New York City

October 04, 2016

How should we approach risk as creative professionals? How much risk is too much? How do we inspire our clients and collaborators to step outside of their comfort zone? What do we do when risk meets the realities of budget and schedule?

These are core questions to Experience Design that will be explored at the 2016 Themed Entertainment Association SATE conference, October 13-14 in New York City. SATE stands for Storytelling + Architecture + Technology = Experience, and the name alludes to the collaborative efforts of a diverse group of artisans, technologists and producers in creating themed entertainment projects.

The theme of this year’s SATE, which will be held at the AXA Event and Production Center in midtown Manhattan, is “Walking the Tightrope: Taking Risks That Transform Experiences,” and 2016 SATE Co-Chairs Michael Blau (Adirondack Studios), Chris Conte (Electrosonic) and Traci Klainer Polimeni (Luce Group) have assembled a dynamic group of speakers around the topic of risk: how to address it, how to incorporate it, and even how to embrace it.

In addition to the sessions, attendees will enjoy one-of-a-kind experiences, such as a hosted mixer at 30 Rock, discounted tickets to a Cirque du Soleil show on Broadway, and exclusive networking opportunities. New for this year, a specially ticketed, post-conference SATE Saturday Experience features tours of the 9/11 Memorial Museum and One World Observatory. Through these panels, sessions, and events, SATE seeks to inspire and challenge participants to redefine their relationship with risk, “walking the tightrope” with a newfound confidence.

Co-Chair Michael Blau took time out of his busy pre-conference schedule to give JRA's Clara Rice a preview of what attendees can expect when SATE meets the Big Apple.

CR: Why did you choose risk as your topic? Why was the theme of risk particularly relevant this year?
When the three co-chairs first discussed the conference, we talked about what it takes to create a unique guest experience. (S+A+T=E) This means exploring the phrase “What if?” What if Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew were set in 1850s California Gold Rush? What if we traveled through time and saw Manhattan grow from a small settlement to a major city while riding up an elevator to an observatory? What if you give guests control of an experience rather than have a predetermined outcome? All of these things require taking a risk, stepping away from the expected and norm. And for the themed entertainment industry (museums, theatre, film as well as theme parks) to continue to grow, we need to continue to take chances. Creators must be ready – always – to step out of their comfort zones. Collectively, our industry must take the leap.

CR: What does risk mean to you?
The SATE 2016 theme is “Walking the Tightrope: Taking Risks That Transform Experiences.” I think this imagery describes the balance one needs when creating experiences. If you lean out too far, you can fall. When you are in the middle of the tightrope, you only have three options – go back, push forward or fall. If you fall, did you put up a safety net? Consider if you work the wire without a safety net, then there is more of a thrill, but more to lose. The creator, and the audience, get a heightened experience. Where and how do you strike the balance?

You need commitment to reach a goal. You need a champion – whether it is an individual or team – that drives the process. You need expertise, training, technical knowledge and personal awareness, but you also have to have the faith and strength to take risks. You need collaboration – rarely do great successes happen without it.

CR: What do you think the NYC location will add to the overall SATE experience?
Coming from a theater background, I have always associated NYC with emotional experiences. Years ago, when I first started working in NYC, I learned that the smaller venues (Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway) were the ones in a position to explore cool, new ways to connect with audiences without much financial risk. A successful performance, sometimes, was able to move up the production ladder and get funded for Broadway runs. For the most part, that was the hope and the challenge. We worked to explore new ways to suspend an audience’s disbelief without major repercussions. Producers have always tried to mitigate risk and balance it with the required creativity. It is the healthy tension that is present on every project.

To really answer your question, NYC is a fertile artistic environment, constantly looking for and providing new experiences. It has a vibrant, sometimes dangerous, personality. The well-known line, “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere,” really does hold true. What better place to discuss balance and risk?

Our hope is to have all attendees learn from each other, to be inspired and to explore more creative ways to collaborate. We also hope people will try to make the most of the unique setting and the huge range of experiences available in NYC. Try a new type of food, whisper a secret to someone in Grand Central Station at the Whispering Gallery, see a Unicorn Tapestry at The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park or follow a new interpretation of a love story at the musical Paramour. I could go on and on.

CR: What "nugget" do you want attendees to walk away with?
Sometimes addressing your greatest fears head on, like walking across a tightrope, can get you to the other side… To a better place. But the real story… thrill…experience is the walk itself. Let’s hope it isn’t too windy up there!

CR: Anything else you would like to say about why people should attend SATE this year?
The SATE conference is a forum for creative designers and producers to listen, learn, collaborate, and be inspired. It is also an opportunity to meet and network with like-minded professionals across all forms of entertainment. The hope is to have our guests participate and engage in this very unique two-day conference in one of the most amazing cities in the world.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk a little more about this year’s conference. I am thrilled to have been on this journey with my co-chairs, our segment chairs and the TEA.


For additional information and tickets visit the TEA website. Follow TEA and SATE on Twitter at @TEA_connect, hashtag #TEAsate.

 SATE 2016 is presented by Brogent Technologies, Inc. with generous segment sponsorship from Barco (Storytelling), Chicago Scenic Studios (Architecture), McCann Systems (Technology) and USITT (Experience).


Tags: Guest Blog , Outside the Studio

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Peoria PlayHouse Holds "Our First Night at the Children's Museum" Gala

June 08, 2015

Kids-at-heart guests enjoy taking a closer look at the new Peoria PlayHouse

Kids-at-heart guests enjoy taking a closer look at the new Peoria PlayHouse

On Friday, June 5th, the JRA-designed Peoria PlayHouse children's museum held their "Our First Night at the Children's Museum" gala.

The event not only gave the local Peoria community a first look at the world-class facility, but also helped to raise funds to support the soon-to-open museum in its first year of operations.

Over 300 guests dressed in "ready to play" attire attended the party and enjoyed a wide assortment of appetizers, as well as a delicious buffet.  An open bar kept attendees quenched as they danced to a live DJ under a perfect summer evening.

The real draw of the night, however, was the chance to explore the recently-completed museum and try out all of the interactive exhibits.  Whether it was role-playing in the agricultural exhibit, sailing a model boat down the facility's whimsical water table, or pretending to be a movie star within the museum's dress-up area, a great time was had by all.

Attending the event from JRA were Mike Meyer, who served as JRA's lead designer on the project, as well as Vice President Shawn McCoy and his wife Kimberly.

Tags: children's museum , Guest Blog , Peoria PlayHouse , Project Spotlight , shawn , work-main

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Conference World Tour 2014: Chloe's Adventures in Amsterdam

October 10, 2014

Once again, we've called on our international conference correspondent (and JRA Executive Assistant) Chloe James Hausfeld to cover the ins and outs of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions' recent European Attractions Show, which took place in Amsterdam.  Here are her travel tales:

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Stopped at my “trusty” candy store, Natalie’s, at CVG. This has become a ritual of mine before trips, much to my dentist’s dismay.

Sour Jelly Bellies were my choice for this trip.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Keith, Linda and I were too early to check in, so we dropped our stuff at the hotel and headed to the Amsterdam RAI Convention Centre to check on the booth…ready to go in our hard hats and boots.

Can I get 5 takers to dress up with me as The Village People for Halloween??

Much deserved refreshments after setup. YUM!

After we had done all we could for the day, we decided to go for a looooong walk throughout the city.

Flower Market - I loved that you could bring tulip bulbs home to plant, since they aren’t in season.

Delft Shop - Beautiful earthenware

 VERY appropriate for our Owner/CEO Keith JAMES…and others ;)

Basilica - Absolutely breathtaking

Central Station – Wish we had more in the states!!

Clock Tower – Perfect lighting

Met up with great friends; Jim Seay, Sara Ingram, and Joanna Guy of Premier Rides & Gina Guglielmi of IRG Intermark Ride Group, for a fantastic dinner at Momo.

Momo – Nothing mixes with great friends, like GREAT food.

Used the famous Grasshopper as a meeting place to finish the night…

The Grasshopper

Monday, September 22, 2014

Linda and I spent the day supervising the JRA being constructed.

The booth ended up looking great. That’s all that matters. Right??

Finished off the day with a stroll through the area surrounding our hotel, and another fantastic meal at BOCINQ.

BOCINQ – Concierge = 2 for 2

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Day 1 of IAAPA EAS ☺

The day began with the Opening Reception that featured an unforgettable video featuring Karen Staley, Vice President of IAAPA Europe.

Opening Ceremony – Lookin’ good, Karen!!


Dad and I ready to greet people at the JRA booth.

Surrounded by two of my favorite men; Keith James (JRA Owner/CEO, and my preferred title…DAD) & Jim Pattison, Jr. (President of Ripley Entertainment)

Day 1 ended with the floor emptying out into a great luau Opening Reception.

Opening Reception – Partyin’ out with my girls; Genevieve Norris of Seabreeze Amusement Park, and Lauren Wood Weaver of Sally Corporation.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Day 2 began with the IAAPA Leadership Breakfast.

Leadership Breakfast – COOOOOOFFFFFFEEEEEE

Another great day at EAS had begun…

Dan Schultz, JRA COO and I are all smiles and ready to go.

The TEA event was held at Madame Tussaud’s after Day 2.

Shawn McCoy, JRA Vice President, Marketing & Business Development, poses with my hubby, Edward Cullen (AKA Robert Pattinson).

IAAPA’s Young Professionals Event was held at The Heineken Experience. Cheers to the next generation of industry junkies!

Heineken Horses – Beautiful stables

We’re hungry now…The Marriott Hotel concierge did it again!!! Who can find a place open for dinner at 10:30PM for 17 people??

Great lap dinner, of delicious steaks, with fantastic people from JRA, Premier Rides, IRG Intermark Ride Group, Ralph S. Alberts Company, Ripley Entertainment, Harbour Park, Sally Corporation, Universal Studios Singapore, and JN Entertainment & Leisure Consultancy.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Day 3 was another success. It’s always bittersweet to end a show.

Had a great impromptu get together with several of the stragglers yet to go home at the “hoppin’” Palladium.



Until next time, Ms. Weaver...

Friday, September 26, 2014

I was lucky enough to have my husband, Eric Hausfeld (Assistant Controller for David J. Joseph Company), come over for the weekend. Dad and Shawn were still in town for the day, so the four of us went back to The Heineken Experience.


We had phenomenal food all week, but there’s nothing like a great burger when your stomach is craving home…

Hello, Hard Rock Café!

After a much needed nap, we hit the streets again.

Reminded me of The Lock Bridge in Paris from EAS 2013.

And, of course, why not finish Keith and Shawn’s Amsterdam trip in the Red Light District?!

The always busy, Old Sailor.

Always a fun night with Roger Berry (Ralph S. Alberts Company).

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Brunch, followed by a tour of the city…what better way to see it, than on one of the famous canal boat tours??

Amstel Hotel – Famous hotel for prestigious clientele.

The bell tower that Anne Frank heard day in, and day out.

Beautiful houses on the water…they don’t just look like they’re leaning…they were built that way!!


Eye Film Museum – Interesting architecture.

Maritime Museum – LOVED the ship!

Decided to stop at the ever-appropriate “Stoop & Stoop”...Eric and my endearing pet name for one another ☺

And boy was everyone right in saying that the line was well worth the wait at the moving Anne Frank Haus.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Our last day was spent with more walking throughout the incredible city.

Vondel Park – Right next to our hotel…not a bad morning stroll.

Vondel Park Café – “Wish we had some of these in the parks by our house back home!

Van Gogh Museum


Loved the street are in Dam Square.

Pretty much impossible to see, but the most brilliant “patio” I have ever seen is in this picture. If you don’t have a yard/porch/etc., why not create one in the form of a drawbridge door?

Finished our trip with an impeccable dinner at De Waag.


Monday, September 29, 2014
Made it home sweet home…

I think Milton was happy to see me.

I am still impressed that I am alive because a week was spent literally tempting fate while dodging all of the different forms of transportation…but, BOY WAS IT WORTH IT!!! Amsterdam is a great city, and I can’t wait to get back there!!!

See you in Orlando!

Tags: Guest Blog , JRA Team , Outside the Studio

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The 2013 SATE Conference: Discovering “What’s Next” for Themed Entertainment

September 23, 2013

All images courtesy TEA

All images courtesy TEA

Next week, the doors of Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) will open not just to its students, but also to the 200 attendees of the 9th Annual SATE Conference, produced by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). According to TEA President, Christine Kerr, the original intent of SATE was to create a forum for dialogue on the four fundamentals of themed entertainment – Storytelling, Architecture, Technology and Experience – and how they interact to forge compelling themed entertainment. Kerr attended the initial SATE brainstorming session in Orlando 9 years ago and is thrilled to see it become an annual and international tradition for the TEA.

Savannah College of Art and Design

The theme of this year’s SATE is “What’s Next”, and it arose from a series of discussions between Kerr, TEA NextGen Committee Chair, Kile Ozier and TEA Past President, Rick Rothschild. They felt that the conference’s focus on the future coincided nicely with locale – the first school in the world to offer an MFA in themed entertainment design. “We wanted to leverage the inspiring setting - an academic institution dedicated to training the next generation of creative talent for our industry – while retaining our focus on this being a business conference,” said Kerr. NextGen members – defined as students and recent graduates – are the fastest growing segment of TEA’s membership, and these young leaders will participate at SATE along with the more seasoned veterans. According to TEA Signature Event Producer, Kathy Oliver, students will not only sit in the audience, they will also have the opportunity to work with her on the production of the event in such capacities as greeters, photographers and technical managers. Because of the locale, student registration is higher than previous years, and Kerr looks forward to the new energy they will bring to the proceedings.

Co-chairing this year’s SATE at SCAD are Aram Ebben, Principal in charge of lighting design at exp, Inc., and graphic designer/show writer Stefan Lawrence of Stefan Rules! Kerr hand picked them as chairs because she felt that they had a perfect blend of passion and experience for the job and knowledge of the TEA and its mission. Ebben has been on the planning committee for the International Alliance of Lighting Designer’s Light Fair for the past two years and currently serves on the TEA International Board. Lawrence has worked for such TEA members as Disney Imagineering, the Hettema Group and Rethink Attractions. Kerr wasted no time in recruiting these industry leaders: “often the primary reason that people don’t get involved is because they are not asked!”

Ebben and Lawrence gladly accepted Kerr’s call. “SATE is THE creative conference for our industry,” said Ebben. “Nowhere else will you be able to see and hear Don Marinelli (founder of Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Design Center), Chuck Hoberman (Hoberman Associates), Liz Gazzano and Roger Gould (Pixar) all on the same stage.” Lawrence got the call after casually offering his help at last Spring’s TEA Summit: “I was obviously interested. Who wouldn’t be? It’s an amazing opportunity to hear about new ideas, processes and technologies that will be shaping all of our professional lives.”

SATE’s two MCs have recruited dynamic segment leaders to propel discussions on S, A, T and E. They are Adam Bezark of The Bezark Company (Storytelling), Al Cross of PGAV (Architecture), Mk Haley of Disney Research (Technology) and Phil Hettema of The Hettema Group (Experience). The segment chairs have in turn selected industry professionals to speak on such topics as “The Now and Next in Interactive Technology”, “Cosplay Colonists” and “Creating Meaning Together”. “Each of our segment chairs are rockstars in their own right,” said Ebben. They are creative visionaries leading the way in our industry.” Lawrence agreed: “Adam, Al, Mk and Phil have all brought their passion and love for this industry. They’re bringing their natural curiosity and putting it on display. Honestly, working with them felt like play.”

As to what attendees can expect at SATE 2013, Ebben and Lawrence said they should expect to be challenged, to share new ideas and to network with their peers. In addition to the more structured informational exchanges during the main program, “they should expect some really interesting conversations at the parties afterward,” said Lawrence. When asked what aspects of the conference Kerr was particularly excited about, she replied that there are often “gems” of ideas that surprise the entire group – little nuggets of thought that seem to appear out of nowhere. “Often they apply to life as well as work,” said Kerr. “That is one of the best things about SATE. There are definitely more of those ‘aha’ moments.”

Ebben and Lawrence would like the conference attendees to walk away with a few key messages and marching orders. “I would like people to come away feeling totally psyched about what’s new in the business and continue to blow the world’s mind by creating the best entertainment experiences to be found anywhere,” said Ebben. “Our world is changing. Working together we can embrace those changes and collectively guide our industry, and to some degree our culture, the way we want it to go.” Lawrence wants attendees to walk away with the confidence to create “the next big thing” and to feel empowered to shape the industry’s future. “Our bag of tricks is ever-expanding, as is the arena for using those tricks,” said Lawrence. “It’s no longer about the latest simulator or the highest drop. People are enjoying themed entertainment techniques to explore the deepest human emotions and biggest human events. It’s an exciting time for the industry, and we’d like attendees to come away feeling like they have something new to take with them.”

TEA President, Christine Kerr

So, “what’s next” for TEA and the SATE conference? In the wake of Gene Jeffers retirement, the search for TEA’s new Executive Director is in “full force”. Kerr hopes to introduce the association’s new leader to the group in Savannah, launching the TEA into an exciting period of transition. As for SATE: “next year will be our tenth year,” said Kerr. “I would like to see us build on the content we develop for the main SATE conference and make it ‘portable’, so we can curate and present variations on the theme in locations around the world with less effort. This is especially important to us – to truly be more global.”

For more information on SATE, visit and follow the Twitter hashtag #SATE2013.

Tags: Guest Blog , Outside the Studio

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Blog N' Learn: Gathering STEAM Part 2 - Full STEAM Ahead

August 28, 2013

California Science Center

California Science Center

In Part 2 of my interview with The STEAM Journal Editor, Sara Kapadia, Sara actually becomes the interviewer, asking a few of her own questions of Dr. Ron Rohovit of California Science Center.

Clara Rice: Do you think STEAM activities will become more prevalent in children's museums moving forward? Is it a fad, or is it here to stay?

Sara Kapadia: I had the honor of leaning on a museum expert to help me answer this question. I turned to Dr. Ron Rohovit who is the Deputy Director of Education at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Prior to his current position, Ron was the Director of Education at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. He has been in the informal science learning field for over 20 years, managing education departments; researching learning experiences; and developing and delivering programs for educators, school groups and the general public. Before getting into the science museum field, Ron taught in public schools for three years. Ron has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a master’s degree in secondary science education and museum studies, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership.

You can find the complete text of Sara's interview with Dr. Rohovit in Part Two of our article in InPark Magazine. Many thanks again to Sara and to Dr. Rohovit for their time and insights.

We'd love to hear your comments on how STEAM principles have impacted your museum or attraction, so please feel free to add them below.  Next week, we'll revisit a treasured JRA project on its tenth anniversary.


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