The Pyramid in Practice – Front of House

In this post, I want to take another look at Imagineering Pyramid principles in practice, but in a slightly different way than in my previous “Pyramid in Practice” posts. Most of those posts look at fairly large-scale projects, including theme park attractions, Broadway musicals, or large-scale performing ensembles such as drum corps, but the principles outlined in The Imagineering Pyramid can also be applied to smaller projects as well. For example, let’s look at the “front of house” for a high school theater production.

Legally_Blonde

This past Spring, our high school theater department put on “Legally Blonde: The Musical” as their Spring Musical . My wife and I were part of a group of parents who were helping out with the “front of house” for the show (we’re the folks who sell tickets and concessions, hand out programs and help people to their seats, etc.).

For our “front of house” we took over half of the school’s cafeteria, and set up a make-shift theater lobby with the following:

  • Tables for ticket sales, including walk-up sales and Will Call
  • A concessions table where patrons can buy refreshments
  • A table where customers can purchase flowers and gifts that can be sent backstage to members of the cast
  • A Senior Gallery featuring photos of the seniors in the casts and essays written by their teachers
  • A table with a variety of baskets to be raffled off
  • A table where we sold 50/50 raffle tickets
  • Tables where we sold t-shirts and other items

In addition, the entire area was decorated with streamers and balloons. Not exactly a small project, but certainly nothing the scale of a theme park attraction or Broadway show.

Over the course of the three performance days, I had the chance to step back and look at our “front of house” through the lens of the Imagineering Pyramid, and found examples of several different principles at work. For example,

It All Begins with a Story: The show’s story was a major influence in many aspects of our theater lobby, particularly around its theming. Speaking of…

Theming: Our “front of house” was strongly themed based on the show.

  • Pink is a major color in this show (it’s the main character’s signature color). All of the decorations, including streamers, table clothes and balloons were pink.
  • The contents of the raffle baskets were each based on one of the main characters from the show.
  • There are two dogs in the show, and several of the items on sale were doggie-themed (including pink dog-shaped refrigerator magnets – double theming!)

Wienies: The layout of our theater lobby used visual elements to attract and draw attention across the room such as balloons on the raffle table at the far end of the lobby, and large signs directing patrons to the Senior Gallery.

Plussing: Each night, the person in charge (my friend Sandra) was looking for ways to tweak things a little bit to make them better. We moved several of the tables and re-arranged things to help the flow of people walking through the lobby and to help promote sales of certain items.

To be clear, I’m NOT suggesting that Sandra or any of the other parent helpers read The Imagineering Pyramid and were consciously applying ideas from it. Rather, I’m just pointing out that Imagineering Pyramid principles are often right in front of us, even if we don’t notice them right away. And the more sensitive we are to how these principles work and can be applied in different ways, the more likely we are to leverage them in our own creative projects.

Thoughts? Let me know what you think in the comments!

 

The Pyramid in Practice – Attention to Detail and Plussing in Drum Corps

This post looks at another example of Imagineering Pyramid principles in practice “beyond the berm”. This time I want to look at Attention to Detail and Plussing in Drum Corps.

Let’s start with a refresher on Attention to Detail and Plussing.

Attention to Detail is described on page 37 in The Imagineering Pyramid:

The principle underlying this tool is straightforward enough. This is all about paying attention to every detail.

Plussing is described on page 104 in The Imagineering Pyramid:

Plussing is consistently asking, “How do I make this better?” and constantly
evaluating and revising your work based on feedback.

Attention to Detail and Plussing are a natural combination (0r “Pyramid Pairing”); details are a great place to look for opportunities for constant and consistent improvement.

Drum corps provides an excellent example of these two principles at work. What’s drum corps, you ask? Put simply, it’s like an amped up version of high school marching band, or as a friend of mine describes it, “professional marching band for college kids”.

Drum corps include brass players, percussionists, and color guard members who march in intricate patterns and precise forms choreographed to complex and challenging music. It’s an activity that calls for extreme precision, and the top corps focus on detail to a level that’s difficult to believe if you’re not familiar with the activity (you can learn more about drum corps on the Drum Corps International website here).

[To be fair, drum corps also make use of other principles as well, but my focus for today is Attention to Detail and Plussing]

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My family and I recently had the opportunity to watch rehearsals of a pair world-class drum corps, specifically the Bluecoats and the Crossmen, and both corps practiced Attention to Detail and Plussing during both rehearsals.

Bluecoats_Logo

Crossmen_Logo

Some examples include:

Each major section (brass, marching percussion, front ensemble percussion, and color guard) rehearse separately before the entire ensemble comes together to rehearse. This allows each section to focus on the details of their own performance before joining the other sections on the field.

Every instrumental and color guard section has at least 1 staff member (and usually 2 or more) who works solely with that section. This allows those staff members to focus their attention on only a small section within the corps and help that section consistently and constantly improve what they do.

As the corps is warming up, staff members make minor/tiny adjustments in the posture and stance of individual members (in some cases, adjusting a member’s posture by as little as an inch) to make sure each member is able to perform at their absolute best.

During rehearsal, the corps practices small and “simple” things over and over and over until they get them right. No detail is too small or unimportant.

The corps rehearse short portions of the show (known as sets) multiple times to make sure everyone is performing in sync. During the rehearsals we watched, we watched one corps repeatedly rehearse sets as short as 8 counts (and one even as short as 1 count) until they got it right.

Every member of the ensemble has to be in a specific spot on the field by a specific time in the music. As the corps rehearse the sets of their show, they stop between sets so that members make any adjustments necessary to make sure they are in the correct spot, and also make any changes needed to their stride and pace to ensure they can arrive at that spot consistently.

All corps focus on plussing their show throughout the entire summer season. Corps perform and compete at dozens of shows through the summer, and it’s extremely rare that a corps’ show will remain unchanged. At each show each corps receive comments and feedback from judges, which the staff use to make small (and sometimes not so small) changes to various parts of the show, all with a focus on constant improvement. This continuous focus on plussing makes being a drum corps fan exciting and interesting, because you never know how your favorite corps’ shows will change during the season. One thing, however, is sure to be true: each time you see your favorite corps, they’ll be better than they were the last time.

Thoughts? Let me know what you think in the comments!

 

Review of The Imagineering Pyramid on Theme Parkology

Jerry Cornell has posted a great review of The Imagineering Pyramid on his Theme Parkology website. I’ve also talked to Jerry about possibly being a guest on Magical Day Radio. If that happens, I’ll be sure to post about it here.

Imagineering_Pyramid_Cover_Rev1

Have you read The Imagineering Pyramid? If so, I’d love to hear what you think! I’d also love it if you would consider posting a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Thanks!

The Pyramid in Practice – “Read”-ability in Hamilton

This post looks at another example of how the Imagineering Pyramid principles are practiced “beyond the berm” – specifically the use of “Read”-ability in Hamilton: An American Musical.

Let’s start with a refresher on “Read”-ability, described on pages 79-80 in The Imagineering Pyramid:

“Read”-ability is the practice of simplifying complex subjects. Whenever you need to communicate complex (or even not-that-complex) ideas, you should look for ways in which you can simplify your message to help your audience quickly and easily understand what you’re trying to tell them.

…It’s about making ideas easily understandable, which in turn makes them quickly understandable. Even in circumstances when you’re not constrained by time, it’s still a good idea to consider how to help your audience understand your subject matter.

The “Read”-ability chapter of The Imagineering Pyramid looks at a few specific tools to help with “read”-ability, including illustrations, examples, and metaphors. Another useful approach to communicating ideas is to use demonstrations in which you somehow depict the idea you’re trying to explain.

Demonstration is an important tool in storytelling, as it allows the storyteller a way to show their audience that a particular character has a particular skill or ability. Rather than simply telling the audience about a character, demonstrations allow the audience to see the character in action first-hand. For example, in the film The Wizard of Oz, the first appearance of the Wicked Witch of the West has her appearing and disappearing in clouds of smoke. This quickly communicates the witch’s magical power to the audience. We don’t need to be told that she’s a powerful witch. Her actions demonstrate that for us.

Hamilton-The-Revolution

But while physical or magical abilities can often be demonstrated visually, intellectual abilities are more challenging to demonstrate. One of the essays in Hamilton: The Revolution describes an example of this type of challenge, in which Lin-Manuel Miranda is faced with how to demonstrate Alexander Hamilton’s quick wit:

He … needed to depict the fiery brilliance of the young Alexander Hamilton. We’re going to demonstrate that he fights in the war, but how do we demonstrate that he’s quick-witted and fighting a war of ideas?”

(from Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, page 47)

How do you demonstrate a character’s “fiery brilliance” to your audience? How do you make a character’s skill with writing “read”-able?

The solution Lin-Manuel Miranda came up with to meet this challenge was the song “Farmer Refuted“, based on a pair of pamphlets that Hamilton published in 1775 to combat the pro-England efforts of Samuel Seabury, a leading loyalist of the time. You can find the song’s lyrics and listen to it here.

This song serves to make Hamiton’s intellect “read”-able to audiences. The song employs melodic counterpoints, lyrical counterpoints, and clever sound and word play to effectively demonstrate for the audience that Hamilton is quick-witted, is more than an intellectual match for Seabury, and fights the revolution as much with his wits as he does with weapons.

Thoughts? Let me know what you think in the comments!

My Imagineering Library -Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look At Making the Magic Real

Here is a look at the first item in My Imagineering Library:  Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look At Making the Magic Real.

Walt_Disney_Imagineering-Cover

This beautiful coffee table book is one of the first published about Imagineering (originally released in 1996). It provides an excellent overview of Imagineering and the Imagineering process, and features LOTS of amazing concept artwork. The book is credited to “The Imagineers” on the cover, however the contents page lists it as written by Kevin Rafferty with Bruce Gordon, with image selection and research by Randy Webster and David Mumford.

This book is what ignited the “one little spark” that eventually lead to The Imagineering Toolbox and The Imagineering Pyramid. This book first got me interested in understanding the process the Imagineers use to develop Disney parks, and how that process might be applied to other creative fields.

I wrote the following short review of this for a website I created back in the late 1990s about roleplaying games called The Oracle.

“This lavish coffee table book opens the doors on one of the most secret of divisions of The Walt Disney Company, namely Walt Disney Imagineering. These are the people that design, build, and create the various attractions at Disney Theme parks and other locations (such as The Disney Store and DisneyQuest). This book explores the process by which the Imagineers conceive, design, and create Disney Magic. Anyone interested in the creative process and imagination can benefit from reading this book, if for no other reason than as a source of inspiration for what is possible.”

Since that time there have been many more books written about Imagineering, but this was the first book to offer at how the Imagineers do what they do, and it belongs in the library of anyone interested in Disney theme parks and themed entertainment.