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Learning from the historic narrative of 2020

The Incredible Hulk Coaster Universal

There has never been a year more full of narrative than 2020. Every day we have all been avidly following this new world, the twists and turns in the plot and listening to and engaging with some of the key players. Sometimes, this real-world narrative has even seemed like fiction.

By Kelly HerrickKatapult

None of us would have predicted the stories that have dominated this year. And yet, every step of the way they have informed our lives. We have been fully immersed in the narrative of 2020 like no other year in my adult life.

Woman visitor wearing an antivirus mask in the historical museum looking at pictures.
The pandemic has changed our behaviour

I’m not saying that the narrative of 2020 has been positive or enjoyable but it has been powerful. We have taken practical steps because of it, we have changed behaviours, purchased new products, managed our relationships differently. Sometimes we have taken these steps, not because of fact, but because of belief in the narrative we are being told.

What can we learn about the power of narrative?

So, what can we learn from this challenging year about the power of narrative? Without taking the negative aspects of 2020’s stories forward, how do we use similar tools to develop positive narratives? Ones that enhance lives through our attractions?

Here are my key takeaways for us in the attractions industry.

Drama can be used to elevate

2020 has been a hugely dramatic year and the drama has reached everyone. It’s been showstopping, jaw-dropping and life-changing. The drama we have faced this year has been beyond what many of us could or would want to imagine. It’s been serious and traumatic and I know it has left many of us feeling weighed down.

Drama can also elevate us, it can be the power behind positive narratives

Threatening and negative drama can increase our feelings of fear, uncertainty and doubt. It can feel like a downward spiral. Yet, on the flipside, drama can also elevate us, it can be the power behind positive narratives.

All our best celebrations use uplifting dramatic and theatrical elements, think of the spectacular fireworks at the end of the theme park day, or the Olympic opening ceremonies. Positive drama helps us feel elevated and elevation enhances our feelings of joy. So we can intentionally use dramatic storytelling to make ourselves feel good. And when we feel good we do incredible things, like running the 100m in 9.58 seconds…

Rainbow Productions London 2012 Mascot meets Usain Bolt narrative

World building is vital

The pandemic world has included every one of us. Sure, we have splintered off into different groups and countries, but we are now in the world of ‘new normal’.

Diagon Alley Universal Studios - an example of creating an immersive narrative experience using IP
Universal Studios have recreated Harry Potter’s world in Diagon Alley

There are set rules of engagement and lines of communications; we all have our roles to play. This is incredibly important in creating a fully-fledged world. Think about what physically happens under the sea or in space; worlds have rules. World building is about populating a created space with people, behaviours, stories and choices.

People need a sense of personal agency

Our role and what is expected of us is pivotal to us accepting this new world. We all want purpose and meaning and we all need to feel that we are part of something. In the UK during the lockdown, we established a clap for key workers at the same time each week. We all felt we could add something by taking part.

Evermore narrative
Evermore puts the guest at the heart of their narrative

Having a sense of personal agency in a narrative establishes active participation. The passive idea of watching a story unfold is less appealing than those we can get actively immersed in.

We always see heroes and villains

Whatever our viewpoint, we need to propose and oppose an idea as part of the narrative. We need someone to carry our hopes and dreams (the hero) and someone to battle with (the villain).

kylo ren rise of the resistance star wars.
Star Wars’ Kylo Ren blurs the lines between villain and hero

We can even cast ourselves in these roles and become totally immersed in the story. This light and shade are what gives a story pace and drama.

Community around narrative breeds connection

People unite over their shared narrative. Story and experience build community. How does our narrative build connection and who is it talking to? How we get new fans and guests to engage with our narrative is vital too. People have a tendency to look for self-supporting stories, stories that fulfil their own set beliefs.

burning-man narrative
Festivals like Burning Man create a strong sense of identity and community

So we can capitalise on those beliefs aligned to our narrative, or offer people another point of view. Above all the connection has to be authentic or it will get spotted faster than you can say lockdown.

And then what happened?

Disney Twisted Tales narrative
Disney Twisted Tales tell our favourite stories from new perspectives

Narrative needs to evolve and story development is a key part of this. We have heard the phrase ‘new normal’ so many times this year and all that really means is change.

Even beloved stories get reimagined, we want to know what happens after the book ends or ‘what if’ from a different character’s point of view. How you move your narrative on over time and stay connected to your guests takes real thought and intention. So, tell me, what happens next at your attraction?

There is so much to learn in how the world is moving through these challenging times, we just have to notice the lessons and implement them. Be intentional about your narrative and write your attraction’s future.

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Kelly Herrick Katapult

Kelly Herrick

Kelly Herrick is Strategy & Development Director at Katapult, the themed attraction and experience design agency. Heading up the Insights & Strategy team, she drives strategic explorations, facilitating research, narrative concept development and strategic goal setting.

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