Rethink attends SATE in Sarasota

Myself and a stout-hearted band of Rethinkers just returned from the TEA's SATE conference, this year held in Sarasota, Florida at the Ringling Museum on October 2 & 3. SATE stands for Storytelling, Architecture, Technology and Experience. I co-chaired the conference, alongside the venerable (and tall) Aram Ebben of exp. Here we are, on stage with their esteemed segment chairs. I probably could have leaned in a bit more, as it looks like I was photoshopped into the picture.

L to R: Stefan Lawrence, Al Cross, Aram Ebben, Mk Haley, Phil Hettema & Adam Bezark. Photo: Martin Palicki

L to R: Stefan Lawrence, Al Cross, Aram Ebben, Mk Haley, Phil Hettema & Adam Bezark. Photo: Martin Palicki

In the background there, you can see the Mertz theater, imported piece by piece from Dunfermline, Scotland, where it was built in 1903. It made for an amazing backdrop to the conference.

The two-day conference was a blast. Thursday began with Phil Hettema's Storytelling segment, which featured a barn-burning, paradigm-shifting presentation by Raul Fernandez – a fascinating designer who has worked on almost every interactive attraction you've ever heard of. He had an illuminating perspective on storytelling and how we think about it. He was followed by Denise Chapman Weston, a transmedia designer interested in the new ways we can interact with stories and technology. Closing out Storytelling was Phil Hettema's in-depth interview with Ken Feld, who runs Feld Entertainment.

Photo: Martin Palicki

Photo: Martin Palicki

Al Cross of PGAV was up next with Architecture. His segment came at the topic at an interesting angle – each of his speakers examined the different ways in which environmental space can make you feel. Dr. Timothy Parker, a professor at Norwich University in Vermont, focused on how cathedrals and temples throughout history have attempted to manipulate feeling through space. Zack Zanolli and Abigail Rosen Holmes, both New York-based lighting designers, talked about how lighting affects emotion. And Jeff Sugar, an Orlando-based landscape architect spoke about how emotions are evoked through carefully chosen plants, hardscape and rock work.

Mk Haley of Walt Disney Imagineering chaired Friday's Technology segment. 

Photo: Martin Palicki

Photo: Martin Palicki

Her session covered a wide expanse of topics, from Las Vegas (hosted by Martin Palicki of InPark Magazine) to sports (hosted by Mark Francis of BaAM Productions) to education (hosted by Dean Peter Weishar of Florida State University). 

Adam Bezark rounded out the day with his Experience segment – but not before cursing Phil Hettema who he claims tricked him into switching segments. You can't quite see it in the picture below, but that's Phil's face on a poster for The Con Artist. Also not shown is Phil as Maleficent.

Photo: Martin Palicki

Photo: Martin Palicki

Joe Garlington, formerly of Walt Disney Imagineering, gave an interesting talk, arguing that we all say that story comes first – when in reality, we tend to be called upon to solve a particular problem with an experience. Only after we've identified the experience can we begin to craft a story. Following Joe were James Anderson and Matthew Dawson of Forrec, who extolled the virtues of being Canadian when designing across cultures. And rounding out the day was Cory Rouse of WDI who told us a bit more about Legends of Frontierland, the live-action roleplaying experiment that just wrapped up at Disneyland. Interesting stuff – it'll be fun to see if that kind of an experience will trickle out into the wider theme park world. 

All told, it was a varied and exciting conference, with each segment giving us something to chew on afterward. Lots of food for thought.

After each day's programming, we were given access to the Circus Museum, which houses all sorts of amazing circus-related artifacts. Including, of course, this amazing model of the circus. 

My favorite artifact on display was this truck-mounted cannon used by the Zacchini family of human cannonballs. The firing mechanism was removed before its donation – it's a closely guarded Zacchini family secret. Upon seeing this, I finally realized why the Muppets had their Flying Zucchini Brothers. It all makes sense now!

Equally gorgeous was the Ca d'Zan (House of John), John Ringling's gothic Venetian mansion. Florida State University dean Peter Weishar hosted a reception there on Thursday evening, just as the sun was setting over the Gulf of Mexico. It could not have been more beautiful, and I believe I ate my weight in passed appetizers. If you're ever in the area and have the opportunity to check out the mansion, please do. It's incredible. Over the top.

Photo: Martin Palicki

Photo: Martin Palicki

In attendance from Rethink were Bobby Dragulescu, our Director of Graphic Design, seen here in extreme closeup:

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As well as Johanna Cypis, Interior Designer, myself and Mark Andrew, Concept Designer & Technical Director, here seen mid-lunch:

L to R: Johanna Cypis, Stefan Lawrence & Mark Andrew

L to R: Johanna Cypis, Stefan Lawrence & Mark Andrew

Our creative associates Kevin Kalbfeld and Emily Harley took a break from their studies at Savannah College of Art & Design to come check out the conference. They joined me on a rousing round of pirate-themed miniature golf. The golf was so exciting that our phones all died and we only managed to get one picture – a picture that proves how educational miniature golf can be: 

We learned a lot about baby alligators that night.

After the conference wrapped on Friday, it was time for karaoke at Captain Curt's Oyster Bar & Crab Shack. Fried oysters were eaten and tunes belted out. Johanna took a crack at Dusty Springfield's "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me."

Photo: Martin Palicki

Photo: Martin Palicki

I channeled Elvis's "Burning Love," as well as The White Stripes' "Denial Twist." 

Photo: Martin Palicki

Photo: Martin Palicki

And Kevin Kalbfeld brought the house down with his rendition of Aerosmith's "Dream On." That guy really loves him some Aerosmith. No, really.

Photo: Martin Palicki

Photo: Martin Palicki

Shortly afterwards, we all boarded planes and flew home, exhausted, happy and full of things to think about. This was my last year co-chairing SATE, and I look forward to seeing next year's. It was a lot of work, as most rewarding experiences are, but I wouldn't have traded it for the world. The end.