June 10, 2016
Keith James accepts the Themed Entertainment Association's Buzz Price Award for a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievement
...they were all parts of what has been a banner year for JRA so far! From new projects that have literally reached for the stars, to a recognition for a lifetime of achievement, from the Arctic Circle to the Gulf of Mexico, JRA has enjoyed monumental success in the last six months. So take a trip in the wayback machine with us, as we recap 2016 to-date.
Space Center Houston opens its Independence Plaza exhibit, in which visitors are able to enter an original shuttle aircraft and experience the groundbreaking era of space exploration through educational exhibits.
"...it is rare that average citizens get to see, in person, the awesomeness of NASA's capabilities. That's one of the reasons that the new exhibit at Space Center Houston, featuring the Boeing 747 jetliner that ferried the space shuttles to and fro across the United States, is so important." - Space.com
LaunchPAD Chilldren’s Museum opens in Sioux City, Iowa. The museum’s 8,000 square feet of exhibits teach children basic STEAM principles through hands-on play on subjects such as agriculture, construction and health.
"Visitors young and old are impressed with the Museum's exhibits." - Sioux City Journal
JRA CEO Keith James provides the keynote address for “Designing for Extremes,” the Themed Entertainment Association’s SATE Academy Day in Rovaniemi, Finland. In his presentation, he discusses the opportunities and challenges of designing for extremes of climate, of client and of culture.
Keith James receives the Themed Entertainment Association’s Buzz Price Thea Award Recognizing a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievement. This award is considered one of the greatest honors in the themed entertainment industry, and JRA is the only consultant company to have two Buzz Price Thea Award recipients (Jack Rouse received the award in 2008). As part of the awards presentation, Keith's friends, family and colleagues were asked to sum up his life and character in one word. Here's what they had to say:
Here is the video of Keith's acceptance speech. Grab a tissue, and prepare for #allthefeels.
The Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History opens its new, JRA-designed H-E-B Science Center. The Center flows from micro to macro with hands-on, larger-than-life exhibits that include Chemistry, Particles, Cells, DNA, Engineering, Math, Physics, Space, Paleontology and a Planetarium.
"To have something of this level in Corpus Christi is amazing to see." - Corpus Christi Caller-Times
The Permian Basin Petroleum Museum opens its $18 million renovation. Through its use of interactives, immersive environments and game-based learning experiences, the Petroleum Museum takes guests on a journey through over 250 million years of Permian Basin history and celebrates the determination and inventiveness of its people.
"Easier to navigate, interactive and heavy on science and technology while still portraying the growth of what remains America’s largest oil province over time." - Odessa American
The SPAM® Museum opens in Austin, Minnesota. The 14,000-square-foot museum celebrates the 79-year history of the iconic SPAM® family of products and the 125-year history of Hormel Foods, housing a mix of galleries showcasing the iconic product’s popularity around the globe, its history with the military, and its presence today.
"The world's saltiest, most pork-forward museum" - Chicago Tribune
Kelly Carlin, daughter of famed comedian George Carlin, announces that she will be donating “eight to ten steamer trunks” of her father’s memorabilia to create an archive at the JRA-designed National Comedy Center.
“There comes a time in one’s life when it’s time to let go of our parent’s stuff. … I am truly excited that there will be a place for my dad’s stuff — permanently.” - Variety
For the eighth year, JRA sponsors the Association of Children's Museums Small Museum Financial Aid Program. The program offers scholarship recipients free registration to InterActivity, ACM's annual conference, and reflects JRA's desire to cultivate leaders at small museums for long-term careers in the children's museum field.
"ACM was thrilled when JRA approached us with the idea of the Small Museum Scholarship back in 2008, and we are happy that the scholarship has become one of the Association's most valued member benefits." - Laura Heurta Migus, ACM Executive Director.
Kids were the designers earlier this month, as Shawn McCoy led the Cincinanti Museum Center Summer Camp's first annual "Theme Park Wars!" Forty campers, ages 10 to 13, were split into groups of eight and tasked with 1) selecting a theme park site (lake, beach, mountain or farm), 2) choosing a guest circulation path (hub and spoke, loop or random), and 3) procuring rides, shows and attractions for their park. The catch? They had to stay within their $500M budget and achieve an hourly capacity of 20,000 visitors. At the end of the process, the groups voted on which of the theme parks was their favorite. While there could only be one winner ("Nintendo World!"), a good time was had by all.
We may have had a banner six months, but we're not stopping here! For a sneak peek of what's in store for the rest of 2016 and beyond, stop by Booth 1546 at the 2016 IAAPA Asian Attractions Expo. And set your blog dial to this station for the latest updates!
May 11, 2016
JRA Digital Engagement Director, Clara Rice (left) with the 2016 ACM InterActivity scholarship recipients (L to R) - Jessica Bickford-Manson, Holly Cheeseman, Traci Winscot and Lisa Phelps (Kathy Parham not pictured)
Last week, hundreds of children's museum professionals met for the Association of Children's Museums' InterActvity 2016: Collective Impact, in Stamford, Connecticut. During this three-day conference, participants could peruse the show floor at the Museum Marketplace, engage in roundtable discussions, connect at networking events, and soak in the knowledge offered by childhood education experts from across the country and round the world.
Since 2008, ACM has offered its Small Museums Financial Aid program to offset professional development expenses for museum staff at open children's museums with annual budgets under $500,000. And since 2008, JRA has been a proud sponsor of this program. Through the program, ACM and JRA wish to cultivate staff members at small museums for long-term careers in the children's museum field. The program offered scholarship recipients free registration to Interactivity 2016 and tickets to the Welcome Dinner and Opening Reception.
The scholarship also provided recipients complimentary admission to Collective Impact Live!, a new take on programming inspired by the Stepping Stones Museum for Children's take on collective impact. Collective Impact Live! was an opportunity for attendees to deeply engage in a critical issue facing children everywhere—the achievement gap. The program began with an interactive session modeled after a New England town meeting at the Norwalk Concert Hall and was followed by Norwalk’s Ultimate Block Party, a model demonstration of how children’s museums can leverage their expertise and relationships to prevent summer learning loss. The Block Party featured dance, music, Cinco de Mayo-inspired food for community members of all ages, as well as an exclusive opportunity for conference attendees to peruse the Museum.
"ACM was thrilled when JRA approached us with the idea of the Small Museum Scholarship back in 2008, and we are happy that the scholarship has become one of the Association's most valued member benefits," said Laura Heurta Migus, ACM Executive Director. "Through this program, 45 individuals from 40 ACM member museums have been able to participate in InterActivity, ACM's signatiure professional development event. Museums with annual budgets under $500,000 are valued members of the children's museum community, making up more than 50 percent of ACM's membership. They're doing innovative and important work in their communities, and JRA's continued support of the Small Museum Scholarship Program shows just how dedicated the firm is to the children's museum field!"
This year's recipients were:
Congratulations to the scholarship recipients, and we look forward to working with you in the future!
April 12, 2016
On April 27th and 28th, industry professionals from across the country will gather for the Themed Entertainment Association’s first-ever event in Texas, USA. This SATE Academy Day, entitled “Out in Space and Under the Sea” and hosted by the TEA’s Eastern North America Division, will feature three of Houston and Galveston’s most popular venues over two days and showcase never before seen technologies. Tickets for this one-of-a-kind experience are available now, and spots are limited.
About SATE and SATE Academy Days
The SATE acronym stands for Story + Architecture + Technology = Experience. TEA produces an annual SATE conference and, throughout the year, a series of SATE Academy Days. A popular SATE Academy Day format is the "day out" in a city with multiple attractions, such as Houston. These events are produced by industry professionals for industry professionals, introducing them to each other, the TEA and the great work that themed entertainment companies are creating and producing around the world.
“Houston, We Have a Shuttle” – Launching Day One at Independence Plaza
To begin the two days of events, guests will be shuttled via bus from the Moody Gardens Hotel in Galveston to spend an afternoon at Space Center Houston.
Since opening in 1992, Space Center Houston has welcomed more than 18 million visitors and currently hosts nearly 1 million visitors annually in its 183,000-square-foot educational entertainment complex. It is one of Houston’s top attractions, the area’s No. 1 attraction for international visitors, the Official Visitor Center of NASA Johnson Space Center and the only Smithsonian Affiliate in the greater Houston area.
This past January, Space Center Houston unveiled its largest project since that 1992 opening – the $14 million Independence Plaza. Visitors can enter the shuttle replica Independence, mounted on top of the historic and original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft (SCA), and then explore the giant plane. It is the world’s only shuttle mounted on an SCA and the only one allowing the public to enter both.
Images of Indpendence Plaza courtesy Space Center Houston
After enjoying a complimentary lunch in the Space Center’s café, SATE Academy Day guests will be given a tour of Independence Plaza, followed by a panel discussion with representatives from Space Center Houston and the Independence Plaza creative team, including JRA Senior Project Designer, Rick O’Connell. They will also have time to explore some of the Center’s more than 400 space artifacts, exhibits, attractions and theaters before heading back to Galveston for dine-arounds at restaurants throughout the city.
JRA is a proud sponsor of the TEA's visit to Space Center Houston, alongside our friends and colleagues at Boston Productions, Inc. (bpi).
To Infinity and Beyond – True8K™ Technology at the Burke Baker Planetarium
On March 11, the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Burke Baker Planetarium became the world’s first True8K™ planetarium, displaying full-dome star fields and movies with over 500 million pixels. To begin Day Two of Houston SATE Academy Day, guests will be treated to a private demonstration and discussion on this groundbreaking technology with Dr. Carolyn Sumners, HMNS President for Astronomy, and Michael Daut of Evans and Sutherland.
Produced by Evans and Sutherland, the Digistar 5, the world's premiere digital planetarium system, uses 20 state-of-the-art graphics processing computers to feed ten 4K projectors with the equivalent of 40 HD streams at 60 frames per second or faster. E&S has developed proprietary auto alignment and auto blending technology to combine images from the ten projectors into one seamless scene across the entire dome with no visible blends.
Image courtesy Evans and Sutherland
The Digistar projected image has a contrast ratio of up to 20,000:1. According to Dr. Sumners, "the system can produce a night sky as dark, clear and crisp as the skies of West Texas, the Rockies, or the African savannah, giving Houstonians the rich night sky experience that has been lost to city dwellers."
After the planetarium show and discussion, guests will tour the Museum’s Wiess Energy Hall and enjoy lunch on their own in the surrounding neighborhood.
This visit to the Houston Museum of Natural Science is made possible by Evans and Sutherland.
Pineapples Under the Sea – Moody Gardens and SpongeBob SubPants
Once they return to Moody Gardens, guests are free to explore the park on their own. Later in the afternoon, visitors will be treated to a complimentary, private screening of Moody Garden’s latest attraction, the SpongeBob SubPants Adventure. The SpongeBob SubPants Adventure at Moody Gardens combines 3D film, 4D effects, a live performer, and a real-time animated character who interacts with guests - all in an attraction which allows the audience to choose their destination on a delightful undersea journey.
Image courtesy Nickelodeon
Beginning with a preshow, which features touch tanks and educational interactive exhibits, guests soon enter the submarine "Le Plunger" (a 4D theater) to experience a simulated descent to Bikini Bottom, where an animated Patrick Starr from the SpongeBob SquarePants series helps them decide where they want to travel. SpongeBob SubPants was recently recognized with a 2016 Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement.
The different elements combine to evoke the world of SpongeBob SquarePants to quirky and comical effect, all in perfect sync with the characters and sensibility of the franchise. The attraction uses the new Geppetto Animation Control System (which also received a 2016 Thea Award) to achieve the seamless integration of the real time animated character in the show.
Following the show, members of the creative team will discuss their processes in putting together this first-of-its-kind media experience.
Texas Welcomes the TEA
To close Houston SATE Academy Day, Texas TEA companies will welcome guests with a mixer at the Moody Gardens Hotel.
“One of the most fun aspects of organizing this event has been engaging with representatives from TEA’s Texas companies,” said JRA's Clara Rice, Eastern Division Vice President and event co-organizer. “They are so excited to have TEA in the Lone Star State, and we look forward to introducing these companies to each other, our guests and the TEA at large.”
“As a long standing TEA member, who most commonly participates at events on the East or West Coast, we are extremely excited to have a SATE Academy Day and a TEA Mixer event coming to our home state of Texas,” said Grady Brown, President of iZone Imaging. “It's our pleasure and honor to help support this event, and we look forward to showing our infamous Texas hospitality.”
“I’m sure I speak for all regional TEA members in saying how excited we are to host SATE Academy Day in Houston,” added Joe Pedigo of Marilyn Systems, LLC. “We at Marilyn Systems hope that this is just the first of many TEA events and look forward to welcoming y’all to Texas!”
“The TEA’s strong growth over the past few years has greatly increased our membership outside of our traditional hubs in Orlando and Los Angeles,” said Scott Gill, TEA Eastern North America Division President. “Exploring groundbreaking projects in cities like Houston allows regional members to showcase their work and all of us to forge new relationships. As the number of regional members grows, regional events become more frequent, providing further opportunities for all of our members to connect.”
Register now by clicking here. Tickets are $50 and include admissions to Space Center Houston, Burke Baker Planetarium, HMNS and SpongeBob SubPants, all tours, Wednesday lunch, Thursday breakfast, mixer hors d’oeuvres and other treats. A discounted hotel rate of $149 is available at the Moody Gardens Hotel, and the bus will only service the host hotel.
April 09, 2016
“Who could have written this script?”
Forty-five years ago, JRA CEO Keith James took a summer job at Kings Island theme park with his friend and mentor, Jack Rouse. He could have never known the adventures, experiences and friendships that would follow, and the lives he would touch along the way.
Last weekend at the Disneyland Hotel, Keith James received one of the industry’s highest honors – the 2016 Buzz Price Thea Award for a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements.
This week, you've heard Jack Rouse and others recount the history and celebrate the character of Keith James. Today, in excerpts from his Summit Keynote address and Thea Award acceptance speech, Keith offers his lessons learned and thanks all those responsible for his “unbelievable life.”
On the Wisdom Gained from His Mother
On Lessons Learned from His Years as an Elite Swimmer in the 1960s
Keith shares his story with Season Pass Podcast.
On Education and the Early Influence of Jack Rouse
On Flying by the Seat of Your Pants
Keith shows what's under his famous hat.
On Providing a Great Guest Experience
Keith's many friends sum him up in one word.
The James Family
On Receiving the Buzz Price Thea Award for a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements
From left: Keith James, Shawn McCoy, Jack Rouse, Bob Ward, Nick Winslow, Chloe James Hausfeld
On Luck and Gratitude
On the Future
“That’s my story. Patti thought you all would be interested to hear it.”
Patti and Keith James
JRA congratulates all of the 2016 Thea Award recipients and thanks the TEA for a wonderful weekend of events.
About the Thea Awards and the Buzz Price Thea Award for a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements
The Thea Awards began in 1994 with a single Lifetime Achievement Award, and the first recipient was Harrison “Buzz” Price, pioneer in economic feasibility for entertainment projects. After Buzz passed away in 2010, the award was renamed in his honor.
April 05, 2016
Jack Rouse, Keith James and JRA COO Dan Schultz have worked together for over 40 years. Photo courtesy Themed Entertainment Association
Many friends, family and colleagues have lauded Keith James over the past few days in celebration of his Thea Lifetime Achievement Award from the Themed Entertainment Association. But perhaps the most heartfelt tribute came from the man who gave Keith his career and the 45 years of memories that have come with it. That man is Jack Rouse, founder of JRA and a Lifetime Achievement Award recipient in his own right.
Here is Jack's tribute to Keith as written in the Thea Awards program, which offers a history of the life and times of this respected leader.
If you are in the themed entertainment business or are in any way involved with the Themed Entertainment Association, then you know the name of Keith James. And if you are like many of your colleagues, the words that came to mind when describing Keith are likely to be: honest, great integrity, thoughtful, loyal, consummate businessman, straight as an arrow. And while those words are all true, they are also part of a TEA myth, because such was not always the case.
Jack Rouse and Keith James
When Keith was 17, he had his driver's license suspended for drag racing with his girlfriend in a buddy's Corvette. In 1970, he embraced then-prevalent hippie culture and - perhaps channeling Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper - embarked on a 10-week, 15,000-mile motorcycle trip across the United States. It was on that trip that Keith visited Disneyland - is that where the infatuation with themed entertainment began? Who knows?
In the 1960s, he was a fiercely competitive swimmer, garnering numerous regional and state awards for the Cincinnati Marlins, an elite swim team. (Yes, Keith was once an "elitist"). And while doing all that, he graduated from Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati, entered the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, where he did not study piano, but rather earned a BFA in technical theater. "Nervous nights lighting Man of La Mancha," his brother Sandy remembers. He graduated in 1970 and shortly thereafter went to work for Taft Broadcasting. Taft had recently acquired Coney Island in Cincinnati and Hanna-Barbera in Hollywood as foundational elements for a theme park they were just beginning to build in Ohio.
Patti and Keith James
There, he became production manager for the live shows program and later assistant director of operations. While auditioning performers for the first year of the live shows program, an aspiring young performer named Patti Schmitz entered his life. Mythology has it that she may have stretched the truth about her age to get the gig; in any case, she was hired and a few years later became Mrs. Harry Keithan James. During the early years of the Taft parks, Keith and some colleagues formed Kings Productions, which for many years was the creative division of the Taft family of theme parks.
ON THE ROAD!
A few years later, Taft's theme park expansion began. In 1979, Keith was re-assigned to Toronto as the Director of Planning and Development for Canada's Wonderland, later becoming Director of Park Operations.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN!!
In 1983, Keith trekked across the continent (this time not in a motorcycle) to Vancouver, where he became Vice President of Operations for Expo '86. More importantly, it was in Vancouver that Keith and Patti's eldest daughter, Alexis, was born.
Keith, Lexi, Patti and Chloe James
ON THE ROAD AGAIN, AGAIN!!!
Keith remained with the Expo organization only a short time - in 1983, Taft recruited him back to the fold and sent him to Sydney, Australia to become Managing Director of Australia's Wonderland. It was in Sydney that Keith and Patti's youngest daughter Chloe was born.
ONE MORE TIME ON THE ROAD AGAIN!!!! (IS THERE A THEME HERE?)
Wanderlust set in again in 1987, when Universal Studios hired Keith as Vice President of Show Production for Universal Studios Florida. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to Senior Vice President of Planning and Development.
ON THE ROAD - OMG, NOT AGAIN!
Then in 1992, Keith returned to Cincinnati to join Jack Rouse Associates. Now known as JRA, he remains there today as CEO/Owner.
Keith has spent his professional life moving from gig to gig. From Cincinnati to Toronto to Vancouver to Sydney to Orlando to Cincinnati:
Solving problems, creating a better place, taking the best from where he worked and leaving the rest behind. In view of that first, momentous 1970s motorcycle trip that started in Cincinnati, maybe there's some thematic symbolism here: shooting for the stars, aiming for the best, constantly learning, constantly improving...at least, that's what his sister Carrie remembers (full disclosure: brother Sandy and sister Carrie are twins - not relevant, but interesting).
Keith has always made the most of opportunities to be activiely involved with the important associations of the industry: the TEA (several years as president) and IAAPA (board of directors). And in spite of the revocation of his driver's license for drag racing, and in spite of a 1970s biker/hippie image, Keith has become one of the themed entertainment industry's most respected leaders. His entire professional career has been in themed entertainment, and his passion for the industry is evident to all who know him.
What might not be quite as evident, unless you know Keith well, is his passion for his wife and two daughters. That should probably earn him an award that recognizes a lifetime of achievements in supporting those whom he loves.
In our next blog post, Keith tells his story in his own words, imparting his wisdom along the way.