Theme Park Magic - The Suspension of Disbelief

I’ve been lucky in my career to hang with some interesting characters: George Roose & Bob Munger who saved Cedar Point from becoming a housing complex and turned it into one of the great amusement parks of all time, August A. Busch III whose passion for quality and excellence remain unparalleled to this day, Dick Kinzel who shepherded the growth of CedarFair and a litany of other folks: Jack Aldrich, Dan Brown, Mike Cross, John Roberts, Elaine College, Mel Bilbo and others who understood that the theme park business is a people business; that the best of the best are the folks who manage their teams in the trenches day in and day out; make it safe – make it quality – make it memorable. They had a vision and supported and trusted their teams to make it so; more than that they had the ability to inspire you to greatness – to stay focused on the mission at hand; to make it inconceivable that you would not deliver excellence.

As a Freshman music major at Depauw University I had the incredible experience of playing bass in a rhythm section with Judson Green and Steve Hanna. Steve went on to greatness with Henry Mancini and other brilliant purveyors of modern music and Judson went on to become the President of Disney Parks and Resorts. I will never forget how I felt the moment I first performed with great musicians. They elevated me to a place I had never been; my heart pounded and my spirits soared. To this day it was one of the most magical transformations of my life. So it is with greatness in stagecraft and theme parks.

In theatrical terms this is a “suspension of disbelief”. That moment when you “buy it” - subconsciously or at the tip of your brain it is the moment when everything falls away except for the essence of the moment. It can happen in a movie or theater but it can also happen during a business presentation, on the downhill of a roller coaster, in the midst of a great novel or if you’re really lucky when you hug someone you love.

“The suspension of disbelief” - that quintessential moment when the clock stops and nothing else matters. This is the power that makes themed attractions “tick”.

The full immersion of mind and body in a ride or attraction: an encounter with a Beluga Whale, the first inversion on a coaster, a fireworks show, cultural exhibit, a masterpiece at the Met or the coal mine at The Museum of Science and Industry, each of these has the same power to transport us to another place and time, to a different state of mind. This “suspension of disbelief” or more simply the power to suddenly and convincingly believe is magical and it can change lives.

A few years ago I was watching a Sesame character show that I produced for a park; a young Mom, watching with her kids leaned over and asked one my team members: “Is that the real Big Bird or just someone in a costume?”

That ladies and gentlemen is “suspension of disbelief”.

Make your work so compelling, so heartfelt, so honest and so passionate that your audience is taken to a different place. This is the magic of what we do and the power of those I’ve mentioned above, to inspire each of us to great things that make memories to last a lifetime. Let’s make it so.

 ©2015 Minerd Music Works LLC