SATE (Storytelling, Architecture, Technology, Experience) is an annual, international gathering of themed entertainment and experience design creators, producers, owners and operators, organized by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). SATE ’14 took place Oct 2-3 at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida.
TEA’s SATE ’13 Conference was held at the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) in Savannah, GA. Peter Weishar is the former Dean of the School of Entertainment Arts at SCAD and is currently Dean of College of Visual Arts, Theatre, and Dance at Florida State University. The world of education is center stage at SATE this year – Peter will speaking as part of the Technology panel along with a number of other college educators. MiceChat sat down with Peter to discus his role as an educator in the themed entertainment industry.
TEA’s SATE ’13 Conference was held at the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) in Savannah, GA. Peter Weishar is the former Dean of the School of Entertainment Arts at SCAD and is currently Dean of College of Visual Arts, Theatre, and Dance at Florida State University. The world of education is center stage at SATE this year – Peter will be joining MK on the Technology panel along with a number of other college educators. MiceChat sat down with Peter to discus his role as an educator in the themed entertainment industry.
MiceChat – Hi Peter! Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for us today. How did you get involved in the themed entertainment industry and the TEA?
Peter Weishar – My own interest in themed entertainment came about from connecting the dots from different phases of my career and personal life. My father was a scenic and display designer. I became a digital artist working in the gaming industry. My first book was on designing digital sets (it came out the same year as the creation of the ETC). I later became a professor of computer animation professor at the NYU Film School. I started to study Disney in depth and saw the natural connection between storytelling in scenic design, game design and themed entertainment.
I hired George Head at SCAD. He suggested I go to a SATE conference. I found the conference unique and inspirational. I was not able to travel to Paris, but aside from that, I have attended every SATE since.
MC – What brought you to go into education?
PW – I love to teach, research and write. I just didn’t know that until I was in my 30’s and my team at a game development company was assigned to work on a commercial project with the Interactive Telecommunications Program graduate program at NYU. Red Burns, the chair of ITP offered me an adjunct professorship while I was working them. I owe a great deal to Red. My career would have been very different without her.
MC – The programs you’ve developed at Savannah College of Art & Design and Florida State University are pretty groundbreaking. Was this always a dream of yours? What made you realize the need for programs like these?
PW – I should give credit where it is due. The idea of an academic program inspired by the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University that was founded by Randy Pausch and Don Marinelli in 1998. When I came to SCAD the relatively close proximity to Orlando seemed like it would a good opportunity to partner with the themed entertainment industry there. After many attempts, I was able to connect with some of the extraordinary people at Imagineering (Thank you Patrick Brennan, Bernie Mosher, and Gary Landrum (among many others) and we developed an off-campus class in Imagineering. That class spawned the idea for the MFA. It took a few years to get a degree program approved at SCAD, but I can see how the concept might seem a little far out to upper administration who are not close to the themed entertainment industry. With that said, they seem to have fully embraced the major and I’m very proud of what it has become.
Florida State University is a major research institution with 43,000 students and National Science Foundation grants, etc.FSU is also part of a State University system. We tremendous support from the President and Provost. I have been able to bring on MK Haley (former professor and Associate Director of the ETC at CMU as well as an Imagineer). She is full time at FSU for half a year and WDI Research for the other half. At each institution I want to do something different. SCAD was an MFA design program focused on themed entertainment. FSU will focus on environmental storytelling in collaboration disciplines inside and outside the arts (social sciences, robotics, computer science, museum studies, fine art, design, etc.)
MC – From a company’s standpoint, is it important to make connections with colleges that are offering this type of specialized education?
PW – I can’t speak for the companies but we usually get very positive feedback from industry collaborative projects. I believe the most successful collaborative project with industry come with expectations that are clear and straightforward. There needs to be a good deal of education both ways when academia connects with industry. Industry should not expect students to serve in lieu of a design firm or a lab or classroom as a production facility. Academics should understand clear deliverables and best professional practices when working with professionals in the field.
With that said, connections with academia do not need to just mean sponsoring projects. Connections can be made without a formal business arrangement. There is a great deal we can and should learn from each other. Dealing with a CMU or SCAD or FSU may be easier than approaching some academic institutions because we already know the vernacular. We have an appreciation and knowledge of the field that enables better communication and more focused interactions.
MC – How important is it for students to seek out programs that are specific to themed entertainment rather than focus on something like theater or architecture?
PW – Themed entertainment is a complex and collaborative form of storytelling. To collaborate you need to bring specific and unique expertise to the table. My answer is first study architecture or theatre and then bring the knowledge and skill of those disciplines into themed entertainment.
MC – For a prospective student looking to enroll in a specialized program like this, what are some things they should focus on prior to applying? Are you looking for the right attitude? Passion? Skill?
PW – If you don’t love what you do for a living you have made a mistake in your career choice. So, “yes” passion and attitude matter. You should have a love for themed environments and experiences and a passion to be part of the creation of these environments. But, a love of the medium is not enough. There are many people who love film but should not be making movies. The same is true for themed entertainment. A good program will accept an applicant with an exceptional or experience and some knowledge of the industry.
It seems like both SCAD and FSU could be great places to start a career in themed entertainment. Thanks, Peter!
We hope you enjoyed this sneak peek at TEA’s SATE ’14 Conference! Be sure to stay tuned for the full article following the conclusion of SATE ’14.
SATE brings together creatives, producers, owners and operators in the visitor attractions industry. SATE explores issues, opportunities and possibilities relating to the creation of compelling guest experiences for entertainment, education, retail and branding. More information on SATE and TEA can be found on their website HERE.