The Mind Museum Receives Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement

April 09, 2014

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The Mind Museum - Taguig, Philippines

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Per our recent blog post, last week marked the 2014 TEA Summit and Thea Awards Gala, held at the Disneyland Resort. This weekend of events is produced by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), an international, non-profit business association representing the creators, developers, designers and producers of compelling experiences worldwide. Considered the Oscars of the themed entertainment industry, the Thea Awards Gala is celebrating its 20th year, and this year, the TEA honored The Mind Museum with the Award for Outstanding Achievement – Science Museum. Comprised of 4,900 square meters of “minds on” and “hands on” exhibits, The Mind Museum, located in Taguig’s Bonifacio Global City development, was masterplanned by JRA and is the first world-class science museum in the Philippines. The 2014 Thea Award marks the fifth time a JRA-designed project has received this distinguished honor and the first time an Asian science museum has been recognized.


The day before the bright lights, sharp tuxedos and sequined gowns of the Gala, each of the Thea Award recipients discussed the trials and triumphs of their projects in a case-study format. Representing The Mind Museum was its curator, Maribel Garcia, who stressed the importance of the project to a country rife with gifted scientists but somewhat lagging in general science education. Garcia explained that as they built the museum, she and her team of scientists also taught the exhibit teams the science that had to go into each and every exhibit. “When it came to building a science museum, the scale of which in terms of space and content, is first in our country, and that we were among the very last to do it in the world,” Garcia said, “we had a giant inferiority complex.” While JRA provided master planning, concept and schematic design for the project, 90% of the exhibits were designed and fabricated by Filipino designers, scientists and fabricators.

Throughout the fundraising, design and build process, Garcia learned (and offered) some valuable lessons:

  1. Don’t always trust the experts – particularly those who say it can’t be done and done only a certain way.
  2. When you are down to a shortlist of experts to work with, choose the ones you have great chemistry with.
  3. “Clumsy Curator’s Rule” – Be correct, clear and beautiful in that order. On that point, Garcia shared an amusing anecdote about a consultant who wanted to move hydrogen to the other end of the periodic table “so it would look nicer.”
  4. Trust your team, but carry a whistle. In other words, don’t micromanage on a day-to-day basis, but monitor your crew’s activities enough to keep things faithful to the vision, on time and on budget.
  5. Have a close ally who can translate your scientific language into something supporters (i.e., potential donors) can understand. Led by her Managing Diector Manny Blas II, VP and Head of Commercial Operation in Bonifacio Global City at Ayala Land, the Museum raised $27 million dollars in just three years.
  6. Never forget your story. It will always be your inspired banner to rally even the harshest skeptic. During construction of the facility, Garcia even went so far as to “dress up” the bulldozers as dinosaurs so that the people of Taguig and greater Manila could grasp the importance of what the museum’s team was creating. As opening day approached, her team gave the 1,000 construction workers tickets to the museum so that they and their families could enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Guided by these principles, Garcia and her team were able to create a “permanent place of wonder” for the Philippines and its people.

Photo courtesy InPark Magazine

In her acceptance speech Saturday night, Maribel touched on the hardships that have befallen the Philippines of late, but she held up The Mind Museum not just as a beautiful building and educational center, but as a beacon of hope for Filipinos:

The Philippines always breaks the record in many tragedies. We rank number three in the World Risk Index under Climate Change. Last year, we also landed the most destructive typhoon ever recorded in history. But tonight we break a happy one - we are the first science institution in the Philippines to receive a Thea and if am right, the first science museum in Asia to get one. So we would like to thank TEA for this honor.

We would like to thank our Board for trusting and actively supporting this dream. We would like to thank scientists in the Philippines and abroad for guiding our exhibits. I made cold calls and emails to "rock star" scientists everywhere, and they all answered my call. We would like to thank our artists for supporting our chosen approach. This project was created because the arts rescued the sciences.

Lastly we would like to thank our people, the Filipinos, who have come to the museum since we opened and have told us with their numbers and their reactions that "it's about time."

Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio , Project Spotlight

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Tiki Birds, Trains and Enchanted Tales: The 2014 TEA Summit and Thea Awards Gala

March 19, 2014

After this year’s never-ending polar vortex, any sign of spring is a welcome one here at JRA. But beyond the chirp of birds and bud of flowers is the springtime beacon we're most excited about, the annual TEA Summit and Thea Awards Gala, which take place at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California April 3 through 5.

The festivities begin with a full-day Executive Master Class. Targeted at industry C-suites and directors, the theme of the 2014 Summit Day One is “Sourcing Solutions”. Kicking off the program are Jill Bensley of JB Research and NormaLynn Cutler of CutlerEnterprises, who will introduce the audience to the “$1.1 trillion market they need to know about.” Attendees will then have the opportunity to participate in a peer group discussion of the unique challenges facing the industry with business consultant, Linda Feinholz, which will be shaped by the questions and concerns attendees submitted before the Summit. After recruiting specialist Camille Jenkins shares her perspectives on effective hiring practices, the dialogue shifts to global market and business trends, with informative presentations from TEA member compa AECOM, as well as Cynthia Torres of the US Department of Commerce, Marianne Hughes of the Export-Import Bank of the United States and Cesar Arellanes of the Center for International Trade Development.

Summit Day Two welcomes a broader audience and introduces this year’s distinguished roster of Thea Award recipients:

A representative from each of the Thea recipients will present their attraction or museum in case study fashion, highlighting the processes, discoveries and challenges they encountered along the way.

JRA CEO/Owner Keith James and his wife Patti at last year's Thea Awards Gala.

Saturday April 5th brings the 20th Annual Thea Awards Gala, the industry’s answer to the Oscars®. Sponsored by AECOM and Garner Holt Productions and produced by Patrick Roberge Productions, this black tie affair was created by the TEA to bring recognition to achievement, talent and personal excellence within the themed entertainment industry, and it ,will honor the recipients listed above in lavish fashion. Last year’s gala welcomed Bonnie Hunt and Tow Mater from Cars, Optimus Prime from Transformers, and the dementors from Harry Potter, so we can’t wait to see who will grace the stage this year!

We wanted a sneak peek of all that this year’s Summit and Theas have to offer, so we posed a few questions to the ladies of the TEA responsible for all of the magic: Summit Co-Chairs Roberta Perry and Pat MacKay, and TEA Director of Development/Event Producer Kathy Oliver.

JRA: Roberta and Pat - You are back as Co-Chairs! What have you learned from last year and what made you decide to co-chair again this year?

RP: Well in fact we both have a great deal of fun working together to come up with speakers and subjects that we think will make a difference in the way the TEA members think about the business, their business opportunities, and the future of the industry.

TEA Summit Co-Chairs, Pat MacKay (left) and Roberta Perry

JRA: What is your process for putting Summit Day One and Day Two together - how do you pick the speakers and sessions?

PM: We work together as a team, but I have primary responsibility for Day One, and Roberta has primary responsibility for Day Two. Day One is an Executive Master Class that is for the top execs in our member companies. That means it's a day where peers are talking with peers about business and industry challenges and solutions. Every year the "hot topics" are different. Roberta and I always have our ears to the ground and have a sixth sense about what the industry is talking about and interested in. Then we look around for experts in our industry as well as outside experts who are best suited to bring a fresh point of view to the Day One attendees.

RP: Day Two brings the case studies from the Thea Award recipients. I am always impressed with how much thought goes into these presentations. Each project's challenges and solutions present a raft of takeaways that every company and client in the industry can learn from.

JRA: Speaking of hot topics, what do you consider to be the "hot topics" this year in themed entertainment, and how are you addressing them in Day One and Day Two? Any sessions from either day that you are particularly excited about?

PM: Of course all the presentations are "hot topics". But I'm intrigued by how Jill Bensley and NormaLynn Culter's Baby Boomer presentation is going to tie in so closely with John Robinett and the AECOM’s presentation on the "Life and Times of Global Attractions." And the global trends that AECOM and new markets will present lead right into the full afternoon of presentations from the Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, the Export-Import Bank, and the SBDC's International Trade Development program. There are amazing services available to our industry to assist US companies working abroad as well as helping non-US companies work within the US. We think that these are really well kept secrets that have astonishing impact on the way we all do business and grow our businesses.

RP: Something new we're working on this year is to begin discussion among ourselves on the ongoing, never-get-solved problems we all face in this business. Whatever those elephants in the room might be, we hope we can begin talking about how to solve those.

TEA Director of Development/Event Producer, Kathy Oliver

JRA: Kathy, anything you can divulge about the Thea Awards? How are you involving the NextGen attendees in to the production process?

KO: Well, I can’t give away too much – you’ll just have to be there! I can tell you that the Thea Awards are being produced and directed for the 2nd year by TEA member and show creator extraordinaire Patrick Roberge of Patrick Roberge Productions in Vancouver. We are again asking our spirited NextGen members to provide vital event production support in roles such as stage manager, host, technical director, assistant to the producer and assistant to the co-chairs. Some of the team members assigned to our production crew have worked with us at previous TEA gatherings, while others are new to TEA. This volunteer opportunity helps our 21 NextGen volunteers “earn” their scholarships (generously provided by Walt Disney Imagineering), and receive valuable hands-on learning experience and professional training.

JRA: What would you like attendees to walk away with at the end of the Summit?

PM: I always hope that our Day One executives will come away with ideas, suggestions and approaches that will energize them to think differently about how we all do business.

RP: I would hope that our Day Two attendees will come away not only with a profound respect for the Thea recipients, but also some new approaches for dealing with the challenges they themselves face, as well as a renewed appreciation of the breadth and depth of talent in our Association and our industry.

For additional information on the TEA Summit and Thea Awards Gala, and to purchase tickets, click here.

Stay tuned to @JRATweets (as well as @TEA_Connect) and JRA’s Facebook page for up-to-the-minute coverage of the TEA Summit (#TEASummit) and Thea Awards Gala (#TEAtheas), and check back here April 9 for our favorite moments from the weekend.

Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio

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Defining Your Story, Conclusion: You Are The Storyteller

March 13, 2014

Recovering from a broken ankle, Keith James zooms through the conference center grounds.  We are now happy to report that he is walking around the office!

Recovering from a broken ankle, Keith James zooms through the conference center grounds. We are now happy to report that he is walking around the office!

 Through his IAAPA Leadership Conference presentation, “Defining Your Story”, our CEO Keith James has explained

  1.  Why stories are used to create compelling experiences.
  2. How different storytelling styles can be applied to your attraction.
  3. How to create stories from facts, or create "facts" through story.

In this concluding segment, Keith offers advice on to employ more abstract storylines, examples of how several storytelling types can be interwoven, and guidance on how to create a unique story for your facility.

Sometimes the most interesting attractions are those that are based upon the most abstract storylines.

Cirque du Soleil is a perfect example, in that the show is amazing, but you’d be hard pressed to explain what it was about. This is because it’s usually based upon an abstract statement. For example, from the show program: "Mystère is a voyage to the very heart of life--where past, present, and future merge, and all our emotions converge." 

The equally evocative Blue Man Group shows are based upon a storyline of “life, technology and the failure to communicate” (at least, I think).

The beautiful Ashes and Snow exhibit is based upon the man’s relationship with nature, and a fictional account of a man who, over the course of a yearlong journey, composes 365 letters to his wife.

But as is many cases, the storyline is only the foundation upon which an engaging experience is based and organized. The guest may never understand it, or notice it, but it’s nonetheless a critical part of the experience itself.

Other experiences are based upon a broader view of fact, by looking at entire genres and subjects,
Whether it’s a general topic such as animation,

Which is the theme for Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

Or rock and roll

Or football, again entire experiences can be built about exploring the stories of a genre.

More and more, entire theme parks, museums and attractions are being developed to tell the story of a brand, whether it’s Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi

Which features the world’s fastest rollercoaster

Or Volkswagen in Germany.

Or Coke in Atlanta

Heineken in Amsterdam

Jim Beam in Kentucky

Crayola in Pennsylvania

Or LEGO in Denmark and around the world

Guests around the world are willing to pay a lot of money to become immersed within the story of a brand.

As stated at the beginning of my talk today, while this was a quick look at a variety of story types, most story-based attractions are actually based upon a mix of many of these examples, and I’ll provide one more example to illustrate this.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is based upon a number of story approaches. First, it’s partly a zoo, meaning that it tells fact-based stories.

It also re-creates famous regions and places around the world, so it tells a Place-based story.

Within those regions, a variety of cultures are described.

These areas also feature rides,

Which are typically based upon pure Fantasy.

So, in one park, you have at least four story-types being used.

So, as you look to develop or enhance your attraction’s story, how do you find the right one? Well, the answer to that question is really the end result of a lot of thought and development. So that’s not something that I can answer for you in a simple slide.

However, I can list the questions that you should ask yourself as you begin this journey.

  • Will the story have appeal to the greater public and, specifically, your target audience?
  • Does the story provide numerous theming and experiential opportunities, such as rides, shows and attractions?
  • Is it unique to your location, or can it be easily replicated?
  • Is it based upon an authentic story that can be tied to your facility?
  • Is it marketable?
  • And finally, is it a story or theme than you can use for the long-term?

When you answer these questions, then you will answer the most important question of all – what’s your story?

And speaking of story-based experiences, next week on the blog, we're offering you a sneak peek at one of the year's biggest industry events!

Tags: Blog N Learn , JRA Journeys , JRA Team , Outside the Studio , Project Spotlight

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Defining Your Story, Part 3: A Place for Fact and Fiction

March 12, 2014

Through his IAAPA Leadership Conference presentation, “Defining Your Story”, JRA CEO/Owner Keith James has so far answered the question of why stories are used to create compelling experiences and offered examples of stories based on history and place. In part 3 of our excerpt, Keith takes us across the country and around the world to illustrate some attraction stories that are based in scientific fact, some drawn from cultural references, and others that are steeped in imagination.


Culture provides a great resource from which designers can develop a storyline and thematic approach. One of my favorite examples is Disney’s Aulani Resort in Hawai'i, which literally immerses guests within the art and culture of the Hawaiian people.

The resort features the largest private collection of Hawaiian art in the world, which can be found within its reception area.

Within its architectural details.

At each elevator lobby.

Within each room.


At the bar.

And even within its water attractions, where cultural icons are used as theming

As interactive elements

And are even used as part of a scavenger hunt.

Perhaps most importantly, guests can also learn more about Hawaiian culture through a variety of programs where the meet with native Hawaiians, who share stories.

Teach cultural art,


And dance 

One of the neater examples of using culture as a storyline and theme can be found just outside of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, where Suo Tien Amusement Park and Water Park is based upon the story of Buddha, which makes for some very elaborate theming.

Sometimes the storyline of a facility is a simple presentation of facts, conveyed in an interesting manner. One of the greatest examples of this is here in San Francisco at the Exploratorium, where Frank Oppenheimer’s vision for a place where art and science inspire guests has served as a model for the modern science museum. Here scientific fact and art is celebrated through exhibits


And even artistic installations such as this fog bridge.

The storyline at MSI’s Science Storms is based upon understanding the science behind nature’s power, and does so in an awe-inspiring manner.

Zoos are also based upon a fact-based storyline, whether its species, environments, conservation or man’s relationship with animals.

The same can be said for modern aquariums and sea parks.

Where even the attractions are based upon fact, such as at Turtle Trek

Or Empire of the Penguin at SeaWorld in Orlando.

At the other end of the spectrum, when we think about stories in attractions, especially at the large theme parks, we think about fantasy, where attractions are based upon the storylines created in popular movies

Television series

Comic books

And children’s toys

Whole areas, 


And rides can be based upon books, such as at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal,

Or Seuss Landing

And again, to illustrate how stories can impact your bottom line, this is a picture of a restaurant at Kings Island, where, until the late 90’s

was themed as a German beer garden. The per caps were good, but not great.

My firm was commissioned to turn this same building into a shrimp shack, based upon the Forrest Gump story.

And as guests wanted to be immersed in the story of Forrest Gump, revenue skyrocketed, to where it became one of the most profitable centers in the entire park.

In tomorrow’s concluding excerpt, Keith explains that storylines don’t always need to be complete, and that the lines between storytelling styles need not always be defined. He’ll then offer tips on how you can tell your own tale based on one (or several) story types.

Tags: Blog N Learn , JRA Journeys , JRA Team , Outside the Studio , Project Spotlight

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Defining Your Story, Part 2: Rooting Stories in Place and Time

March 11, 2014

JRA was a proud sponsor of the IAAPA Leadership Conference 2014.

JRA was a proud sponsor of the IAAPA Leadership Conference 2014.

Yesterday, we introduced Keith’s IAAPA Leadership Conference presentation on “Defining Your Story”. Today, Keith identifies the eight different types of stories. Today, we’ll get an in-depth look at two of those story types – Place and History.

While every attraction really uses a variety of story types, we’ve identified eight (8) basic types of stories, specifically those that are based upon:

  • • Place
  • • History (person, place, thing, brand, event)
  • • Culture
  • • Fact
  • • Fantasy
  • • Abstract
  • • Brand
  • • Genre

And these stories are conveyed in a variety of ways, including:

  • • Theming
  • • Rides, attractions, exhibits, etc.
  • • Music and shows
  • • Events and parades
  • • Food and retail
  • • Staff

Let’s begin with Place, which is really about creating an attraction based upon a geographic location or region.
A great example is Disney California Adventure, which by its very name immerses guests within the story of California.
From a nod to its historic piers and boardwalks

To its landscape


To taking guests Soarin’ over the state, including right here in San Francisco.

Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, is based upon the immersing guests within the stories of the Smoky Mountains, and does so in its theming, such where this ride is set within an agricultural theme,

or this rustic water play area

or this theatrical experience we created where Dolly Parton talks about how growing up in the Smokies was the primary influence on her life and music.

Living history museums are also primarily driven by the stories of their place, whether it’s the story of Gettysburg.

Plimouth Plantation

Or Colonial Williamsburg.

At these attractions, the story is as much about the place as it is the history that took place there.

Sometimes, an attraction is developed to take guest to another place, such as the New York New York Hotel in Las Vegas, which recreates Manhattan’s iconic skyline

and streetscape.

Or EPCOT’s 360 theaters, which immerse you within both China and Canada.


History provides a rich source of inspiration to create stories.

These stories can be about the history of a person, such as here at the Walt Disney Family Museum, which tells the story of the Disney family history... well as Walt’s dream for what would become one of the world’s most beloved theme parks.

An attraction can also be based upon the story of an event in history. For example, the National WWII Museum in New Orleans tells the story of not only an event, but a place in time, through exhibits


An amazing immersive theater created by The Hettema Group

And even a live show venue that immerses you in the history of the 1940’s

Great examples of using history as the basis for a storyline and theme can be found at historic piers, boardwalks and amusement parks both here in the US and around the world, from Santa Cruz

To Santa Monica, where even the rides are classic, as you’ll almost always see a Ferris Wheel

Or swing ride

Period signage and graphics are often retained to convey each location’s rich history. For example, Santa Monica’s iconic entrance has changed little in the past 100 years.

And place guests within an historic setting at the very beginning of their visit.

The leverage of the history story can even be found in the name of an attraction, such as at Galveston Island’s Historic Pier.

We hope you’ve enjoyed Keith’s journey through some of the world’s place and history-based experiences. Tomorrow, he’ll show us attractions based in either fantasy or fact, before wrapping up on Thursday with a discussion on how you can meld these different narrative styles to create your very own story.

Tags: Blog N Learn , JRA Journeys , JRA Team , Outside the Studio , Project Spotlight

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