Spectrum Conference in March


I will be attending the Spectrum conference hosted by the Rochester chapter of the Society of Technical Communication in March.

I will be presenting two sessions at the conference, both based on The Imagineering Toolbox.

The first is a presentation entitled “Disneyland Then, Now, and Forever: What Disney Parks Can Teach Us About Technical Communication” which provides an overview of some of the practices, principles, and processes used by Walt Disney Imagineering in the design and construction of Disney parks and attractions, and how those practices, principles, and processes can be applied to technical communication and information development to help us create effective and engaging experiences for our audiences.

The second session is a workshop entitled “The Imagineering Toolbox: Using Disney Theme Park Design Principles to Develop and Enhance Your Technical Communication Projects” which is an interactive session that includes group and team discussions and activities where we apply Imagineering principles, practices, and processes to example projects offered by attendees. Come prepared to participate and share your ideas.

Hope to see some of you there!


The Imagineering Toolbox at InterChange 2018


On Saturday October 27, I will be delivering two presentations at InterChange 2018, a conference organized by the New England chapter of the Society for Technical Communication.

The first presentation is based on The Imagineering Pyramid, and the second based on The Imagineering Process.

Session 1: Imagineering and Technical Communication: A Match Made in Disneyland

Walt Disney Imagineering is the division of The Walt Disney Company responsible for designing and building Disney theme parks—engineering the magic that millions of experience each year at Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and other Disney parks around the world. This presentation explores an “Imagineering Pyramid” of 15 theme park design principles, and how those principles can be applied to technical communication and information development to help us create effective and engaging experiences for our audiences.

Session 2: Designing Your Experience the Walt Disney World Way

From the moment you enter a Disney park—whether it’s at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or other Disney resorts around the world—you are immersed in an experience specifically designed to transport you to another world. In the words of Walt Disney, “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.” But how does Disney create such incredible experiences? Through a process called Imagineering—”the blending of creative imagination and technical know-how.”

This presentation explores the process Disney’s Imagineers use to design and build Disney parks and attractions, and how technical communicators can apply that same process when designing engaging and effective user experiences for our audiences. This session will also include an interactive workshop where we apply the Imagineering Process to an example experience offered by one of the attendees, so come prepared to participate and share your ideas.


I’m looking forward to these sessions as they provide an opportunity to talk about how to apply the ideas in the Imagineering Toolbox to a new field.




Imagineering Broadway – Recap

A couple of weeks ago I posted a series of Imagineering Broadway posts, based on content that was cut from the final published version of The Imagineering Process. This post recaps the series, and provides links to all eights posts.

Imagineering Broadway looks at the process by which Broadway musicals are conceived, developed, and produced through the lens of the Imagineering Process, and how the stages of the Imagineering Process align with the development of two popular Broadway shows:  Wicked and Hamilton: An American Musical.

The Imagineering Broadway series includes:

Introduction – an introduction to the series

Part Two: Prologue – the Need behind each show, and how each show got its start

Part Three: Blue Sky – where the initial vision for each show was developed

Part Four: Concept Development – where the shows’ creative teams flesh out and develop the shows’ story, characters, songs, and other details

Part Five: Design – where various show designers begin their work of designing the stage and sets, costumes, makeup, sound, lighting, effects, and other aspects of the shows

Part Six: Construction – where all of the pieces of the shows are brought together so they can be staged and the shows can (eventually) open

Part Seven: Models – where we look at how models of different types are used during the development of a musical

Part Eight: Epilogue – when the shows opened for audiences


Thoughts? Reactions? Love it? Hate it? Please let me know in the comments!

Imagineering Broadway – Part Eight: Epilogue

This is the eighth and final part in an 8-part series that looks at the process by which Broadway musicals are conceived, developed, and produced through the lens of the Imagineering Process.

Epilogue: Openings, Evaluations, and Show Quality Standards

Present your project to your audience, allow them to experience it, and evaluate its success and effectiveness over time.

A common first type of opening for a Broadway show is the “out-of-town” tryout or preview. As David Cote explains the The Grimmerie:

“The out-of-town tryout is a time-honored ritual for the Broadway musical. In the tryouts, a show’s creative team can test the product out on audiences and get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. Tryouts can be exhausting but valuable periods in which the team fine-tunes a hit. Shows can literally be saved out of town, as the book writer feverishly tweaks scenes that don’t work or gags that fall flat. The composer, meanwhile, might find inspiration and pen a new song that goes on to be the show’s big hit.”

Following these types of preview openings, the shows are evaluated and tweaked, changed, and rewritten before moving to a main stage opening on Broadway. Once a show has been in production, minor changes to staging, lighting, and choreography take place as cast members change and producers looks for ways to save money and extend the show’s lifespan. If a show spawns a traveling production (which has happened with both Wicked and Hamilton), minor changes occur as needed to accommodate the different theaters in which the show is staged.


Wicked’s “out-of-town tryout” was at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco, officially opening on June 10, 2003 and running through June 29. The show’s reception was mixed, and several songs were changed and portions of the book were rewritten based on the feedback and reviews that followed. Interviewed years later, Schwartz recalled that “The show was well enough received that no one was panicking or feeling it was a disaster–no throwing of bathwater or babies… It was clear there was work to be done and revisions to be made in the book and the score. The critical community was, frankly, very helpful to us. We learned a lot from the reviews, which were honest and constructive in the aggregate, unlike New York, where the critics make up their minds before they come to the theatre.”

Wicked opened on Broadway three months later on October 30, 2003 at the Gershwin Theatre and it has remained there since. Wicked is one of the most successful shows in Broadway history, and there have been several other North American and International productions of the show.


Hamilton officially opened for previews at the The Public Theater in New York in February 2015. The production was extended twice, eventually ending in early May of that year. Following the preview, Miranda rewrote portions of some songs and the book, but the show remained largely the same when it moved to its current home at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway in August 2015.  The show has been a huge success, receiving extremely positive critical reception and having unprecedented box office sales. A Chicago production officially opened in October 2016, and the first US national tour began in March 2017, with a second tour set to begin performances in 2018.


Previous Imagineering Broadway installments:




Thoughts? Reactions? Love it? Hate it? Please let me know in the comments!

Imagineering Broadway – Part Seven: Models

This is the seventh in an 8-part series that looks at the process by which Broadway musicals are conceived, developed, and produced through the lens of the Imagineering Process.


Test and validate your design at each stage to help solve and/or prevent problems that may arise during the design and construction process.

Models can take many forms during the development of a musical, and include models of the sets, prototypes of props, and prototype costumes made of muslin and other inexpensive fabrics. Perhaps the most significant type of model used in musicals is what’s known as a workshop. In an article entitled How a Show Gets to Broadway on the Broadway Educators website, writer Paul Mroczka describes workshops as an integral part of the process when he writes:

“In a workshop, the musical is being developed in every way- the book, lyrics, and music may be changed, rewritten, cut and replaced. Dances are choreographed, scenes staged, and music, lines, and lyrics learned. As the show becomes refined, it will be performed for potential investors. The next step could be a production at a theatre in a large city, such as Chicago; a move to an Off-Broadway theatre, or a full Broadway production.”

As noted in earlier installments, both Wicked and Hamilton went through a series of workshops as the shows were developed from initial concepts into fully formed shows.


Eugene Lee, set designer for Wicked, “auditioned” for the job using a set model he constructed after reading a draft of the script. After building the model, he presented it first to the show’s director Joe Mantello, and later to the show’s writers and producers, talking them through the entire show. While many aspects of the show changed (Lee based his model on a draft script), he estimates that “a good 75 percent of what was in the model ended up in the show in some form.”

Another form of model used in the development of Wicked were Stephen Schwartz’s notebooks. As Cote writes “[E]ach song began the same simple way: with Stephen Schwartz scribbling ideas,s titles, rhymes, and snatches of lyrics in his many notebooks, then sitting at a piano in his home in Connecticut, plunking out various melodic lines.”


One type of model that Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alex Lacamoire used extensively during the development of Hamilton were demo recordings. Miranda “doesn’t record the musical ideas that swirl in his brain by notating them on lined sheets of paper with keys and sharps and flats. He used the music-recording program Logic Pro to create demos of most of the songs in Hamilton. He played chords on a keyboard plugged into his laptop, and created a rudimentary arrangement with sounds drawn from the program’s library of samples, adding vocals by singing or rapping into the little mic that’s attached to his headphones.”

These demo recordings helped Miranda convey his vision for the show with the creative team and actors, including scenic designer David Korins, costume designer Paul Tazewell, Renee Elise Goldsberry, the original actress who portrayed Angelica Schuyler, and Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public Theater, where Hamilton opened in previews. In addition, these demo recordings also played a direct role in the development of the show’s songs and music, as orchestrator and music arranger Alex Lacamoire “[translated] the demos into notated music (the keys, the sharps, the flats) that would allow them to be played by a 10-person band.”

Previous Imagineering Broadway installments:




Thoughts? Anyone? Bueller?

Imagineering Broadway – Part Six: Construction

This is the sixth in an 8-part series that looks at the process by which Broadway musicals are conceived, developed, and produced through the lens of the Imagineering Process.


Build the actual project, based on the design developed in the previous stages.

During the Construction stage, all of the pieces of the show are brought together so they can be staged and the show can (eventually) open. This includes set construction and build out, creation of costumes and props, and rehearsals.

As the various elements of the show are finalized, they are brought together through a series of technical rehearsals, rehearsals focused “on the technological aspects of the performance, in theatrical, musical, and filmed entertainment.” Some technical rehearsals (sometimes simply referred to as “tech”) involve a specific designer, such as the sound designer or lighting designer or production designer, running through their segment of the production while others use a “cue to cue” approach in which “the sound and lights are run with certain parts of scenes within the production. Usually a scene will start with the first few lines and then skip to the lines and staged blocking for the next cue.” Costumes can also be added during technical rehearsals, to test how the lighting works with the costumes, or in the case of elaborate costumes, to ensure that the actors are fully able to perform their roles, or in the case of a quick costume change, to confirm that the change fits within the timing of the scenes on stage.


Describing Hamiton’s technical rehearsals, McCarter notes that Hamilton is one of the most complex productions ever staged in the Newman Theater”, with 1,300 cues according to production stage manager James Latus. The Hamilton production team faced difficult circumstances during their technical rehearsals and had “only eight working days left to get the show ready for its first audience.” As McCarter puts it, “Tech is grueling in the best of circumstances, and these were not the best of circumstances”


Previous Imagineering Broadway installments:




Thoughts? Please let me know what you think!

Imagineering Broadway – Part Five: Design

This is the fifth in an 8-part series that looks at the process by which Broadway musicals are conceived, developed, and produced through the lens of the Imagineering Process.


Develop the plans and documents that describe and explain how your vision will be brought to life.

The Design stage of a Broadway show is where various show designers begin their work of designing the stage and sets, costumes, makeup, sound, lighting, effects, and other aspects of the show. The goal of these various design disciplines is to help bring the characters and story to life along with the show’s songs and book, which are often also still in process (as it relates to song and book writing, Broadway shows are examples of projects where the Concept Development stage merges with the Design stage, see How Many Steps? on page 126 of The Imagineering Process).


Some specific design elements in Wicked include:

  • The pre-show curtain and stage design featuring the Clock of the Time Dragon atop the stage, a map of the show’s main locations (some of which are familiar to those who have seen The Wizard and Oz film and some not), and tall clockwork towers covered with crawling vines on either side.
  • Costume design that brings a “twisted Edwardian” aesthetic to life, featuring “Edwardian-era suits and dresses, but asymmetrical – the collar might be off center, or the cut of the dress twists around crazily.”
  • Makeup design that features a specific emerald green color for Elphaba’s skin that is also easy to apply, refresh between acts, and remove.
  • Lighting design that balances a “light-costumed pink girl against a dark-costumed green girl” and uses an exact shade of green for Elphaba, who “always has a green light on her, by the way, to accentuate the makeup.”
  • Sound design that not only defines the sound of the show, but also defines the sound for the theater in which the show plays, which involved incorporating speakers into the clockwork towers that stand on either side of the stage.
  • Special effects design that include the Wizard head (the large animated head through which the wizard meets with his subjects), the transformation of the wizard’s monkeys into flying monkeys (the monkeys sprout wings on stage), and the “hydraulic lift and lots of black fabric” used to allow Elphaba to fly.



Some specific design elements in Hamilton include:

  • Set design that evokes both a young and growing New York City, but also the age of shipbuilding, featuring “lots of wood and masonry, all sorts of joists and beams. Part of it looks like scaffolding, part like the hull of a ship. There are burn marks on the wooden beams to mimic the effect of sawtooth friction. Coiled ropes are everywhere, along with details drawn from the corner of modern-day New York City that remain truest to Hamilton’s time.”
  • Costume design that combined fashion sensibilities of the past and present, resulting in an “intensely authentic design. ‘Period from the neck down, modern from the neck up.’” and that put “all of the actors in parchment-toned clothes…adding color only when they distinguished themselves as specific characters.”
  • A turntable stage that “add[s] energy and motion to the action…[and] create[s] more possibilities for the hurricane, the dual, and even the evocation of street life in New York.” The show uses two turntables that provide subtle effects: “Counterclockwise motion…suggested the passage of time; clockwise suggested resistance to the inevitable.”
  • Prop design that “carried verisimilitude as far as it could go”, including newspapers that featured “stories that ran in actual New York newspapers, drawn from the exact month the scene takes place”, real wax candles and personalized wax seals.


Previous Imagineering Broadway installments:




Thoughts? I’d love to hear what you think!

Imagineering Broadway – Part Four: Concept Development

This is the fourth in an 8-part series that looks at the process by which Broadway musicals are conceived, developed, and produced through the lens of the Imagineering Process.

Concept Development

Develop and flesh-out your vision with enough additional detail to explain what needs to be designed and built.

The Concept Development stage for a musical is where the creative team (including the composer, lyricist, book writer, and possibly director as well) fleshes out and develops the show’s story, characters, songs, and other details necessary to define what the show will eventually be. Much of this work overlaps into the Design stage and provides guidance for the show’s designers.


Concept Development for Wicked consisted of an extended period of time during which the story, songs, and other aspects of the show were worked out (in an initial version, the first act alone was two hours long). This process involved several readings of the script, and numerous workshops in which the story beats, music, and other aspects of the show were developed. As David Cote writes in The Grimmerie, “By May 28, 2001, when the curtain rose on Wicked’s first preview for a paying audience at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco, the material had been in development for three-and-a-half years. The script had gone through countless permutations, songs had been written, rewritten, and scrapped. Whole story lines had been built up and others trimmed back. And the work still wasn’t done.”


Concept Development for Hamilton was the period during which Miranda wrote additional songs and the book for the show. Unlike many shows in which songs are often written out of order and moved around as the show is developed, with a few exceptions the songs for Hamilton were written in show order. One exception was the song “The Schuyler Sisters,” which was inserted into the show as a means to introduce Eliza and Angelica Schuyler (and to a lesser extent, Peggy)  before they play key roles in the songs “Helpless” and “Satisfied” that portray how Hamilton met his future wife and sister-in-law. Concept Development also included a workshop production at Vassar College in 2013 comprising all of Act I and three songs from Act II. The workshop’s creative team featured Miranda as well as director Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and musical director/orchestrator Alex Lacamoire. As the show took form during this period, Miranda would also begin to gather the actors who would be in the show’s original cast, including Daveed Diggs who portrayed Marquis de Lafayette (in Act I) and Thomas Jefferson (in Act II), Chris Jackson who portrayed George Washington, and Leslie Odom, Jr., who portrayed Aaron Burr.


Previous Imagineering Broadway installments:




Thoughts? Tell me what you think in the comments!

Imagineering Broadway – Part Three: Blue Sky

This is the third in an 8-part series that looks at the process by which Broadway musicals are conceived, developed, and produced through the lens of the Imagineering Process.

Blue Sky

Create a vision with enough detail to be able to explain, present, and sell it to others.

When developing a musical, the Blue Sky stage is where the creative team develops a vision for what the show will be. This stage often starts with a single creator’s vision, be it a book writer, composer, lyricist, etc., but over time as the vision is developed, a creative team will often come together as the final form of the show is ironed out.


Wicked’s Blue Sky stage got its start when Schwartz was able to convince Platt, as well as author Gregory Maguire, that the best format for a theatrical version of the story was a stage musical.

One of the issues that Platt and the writers working with him faced was the difficulty of conveying the relationship between Glinda and Elphaba. As Platt says in The Grimmerie, “What are these two women doing in the same frame? The screenplay didn’t quite get at that…In order to get at that kind of story, we needed inner dialog, which is very hard to accomplish cinematically.” The solution to this challenge came when Platt met with Schwartz, and according to Platt

“Stephen asked ‘Have you ever thought about turning this into a musical?’ And a light bulb went on, and I thought ‘This is exactly what is missing from the screenplay.’ First, we all think of Oz as musical world: For many of us, the main reference point is the 1939 film. Second, music lends itself to the heightened nature of a fantasy world. Third, in a musical, a character can literally turn to the audience and sing about what he or she is feeling.”

Once the decision to go with a musical had been made, Schwartz and Platt brought in Winnie Holzman to write the book. From early in his thinking on the project, Schwartz knew how he wanted the show to begin and end, and he and Holzman worked out the basic overall story and themes of the show: Wicked would tell the story of two women and their relationship, and would explore the concepts of “good” and “bad”.


Hamilton’s Blue Sky stage started as Miranda began writing songs for “The Hamilton Mixtape” the name of his hip-hop concept album. By the time he first performed Alexander Hamilton, the show’s opening number, he had started working with music director and orchestrator Alex Lacamoire, who played piano for his initial White House performance. As he wrote more songs, Miranda would slowly gather a creative team around him, including Lacamoire, director Thomas Kail, and even author Ron Chernow who served as a historical consultant. As he developed more and more songs for his “mixtape” the team around him encouraged him to consider developing it as a musical rather than a concept album. Following a performance of songs from the “mixtape” at the Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series in 2010, the vision for the show eventually solidified as a musical.

Miranda’s show would follow the story of Alexander Hamilton from the early days of the Revolutionary War when he served as General George Washington’s secretary, through his courtship and marriage to Eliza Schuyler, through the birth (and death) of his son Phillip, through his appointment to Treasury Secretary, to his eventual death during a duel with Aaron Burr. In order to tell this story, Miranda’s songs would include both traditional musical selections and show tunes as well as hip-hop and rap, and the show’s cast would include African-Americans, Latinos, and other minorities in its portrayal of America’s Founding Fathers and other historical figures. As Miranda would describe it, Hamilton is “a story about America then, told by America now.”

Next: Concept Development!

Previous Imagineering Broadway installments:




Thoughts? Tell me what you think in the comments!

Imagineering Broadway – Part Two: Prologue

This is the second in an 8-part series that looks at the process by which Broadway musicals are conceived, developed, and produced through the lens of the Imagineering Process.

Prologue: Needs, Requirements, and Constraints

Define your overall objective, including what you can do, can’t do, and must do when developing and building your project.

The Need behind a Broadway musical often starts as an idea and desire to tell a specific story on stage through music and song. The majority of Broadway musicals are adaptations of other works, including both Wicked and Hamilton. Examples of other Broadway musicals adapted from other works include West Side Story (inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet), My Fair Lady (inspired by the novel Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw), Man of La Mancha (inspired by the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes) Phantom of the Opera (inspired by the French novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux), Les Miserables (inspired by the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo), Legally Blonde: The Musical (inspired by the novel Legally Blonde by Amanda Brown and the film of the same name), Matilda: The Musical (inspired by the novel by Roald Dahl), and many others. It’s the desire to retell these stories on stage that drives the rest of the process.


In the case of Hamilton, the Need was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s desire to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton through hip-music hop after he started reading Chernow’s biography. As Miranda described it when introducing the first song he wrote for the show at a cultural event at the White House in May of 2009, his initial idea was to write and produce “a hip-hop album – a concept album – about the life of someone who embodied hip-hop – Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.”


For Wicked, the Need was a desire on the part of a number of people to develop a theatrical adaptation of Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Universal had obtained the rights to the novel and producer Marc Platt was working to develop the story into a movie, struggling to get a workable screenplay written (Platt would eventually become the producer of the musical). After composer and song writer Stephen Schwartz read the novel, he felt it should be adapted into a musical and pursued obtaining the rights himself. He eventually contacted Platt with hopes of persuading him that the story was best told as a musical. The Requirements and Constraints of the project would be based largely on whether the project would end up as a movie or a musical, since both formats have their own types of requirements and constraints.

Next: Blue Sky!

Previous Imagineering Broadway installments:



Thoughts? Tell me what you think in the comments!