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TheThemed Entertainment Association: What’s In a Name?

For several years, the Themed Entertainment Association eschewed using the words "themed entertainment" in its title. Instead of the Themed Entertainment Association, it was simply known – or tried to be known – as TEA. There was debate within the Themed Entertainment Association – on the board and among the membership – as to whether the initials that had originally designated Themed Entertainment Association ought to be reassigned to new words, if new words could be found to work, or whether the former Themed Entertainment Association ought to be renamed altogether.

Recently, the Association polled its membership, reversed its decision, and readopted its full name. This makes it much simpler to explain what TEA is all about. Because even when it wasn’t using the words "themed entertainment" as part of the official name, it was still about themed entertainment. The reason for rejecting the use of the words "themed entertainment" was that the markets for themed entertainment designers and suppliers, who constitute most of the members of the Themed Entertainment Association, were shifting from being primarily theme parks and amusement parks, to including educational venues of various kinds, as well as retail and corporate venues. Educational venues such as museums didn’t at first take to the phrase "themed entertainment" because they resisted the concept of adopting themed entertainment methods, as possibly pandering to their family audiences, and thinking that it might dumb down their exhibits and be contrary to mission.

An outstanding example of this culture clash could be seen when the Disney company sought to create a historical village in a region associated with certain key clashes of the American Civil War. Historians, academics and the press were outraged. In fact themed entertainment providers have a solid foundation in theater – the most famous examples of groundbreaking, legendary themed entertainment in theme parks are theatrical experiences that use time-honored theatrical techniques, and a good many themed entertainment companies have roots in theater, are headed by people who studied theater crafts and who began their careers in theater.

The stigma of "themed entertainment" has for the most part now worn off as themed entertainment professionals have turned out a powerful body of work over the past 15 years that has to a great extent done away with any reservations about the value of applying the tools and techniques of themed entertainment storytelling to the creation of effective educational experiences.

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