"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Living Worlds and Amateur Imagineering

This afternoon I came across disneylivingworlds.com, where I read this--

Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development wants to work with innovative storytellers willing to push the limits to create fully immersive worlds where guests can explore, play and discover deep narratives. To help us achieve this goal, we are excited to announce the Living Worlds program, through which we hope to support the development of a few unique concepts through collaborative project work.

Wow. Just wow. How exciting is that?

They used the term "transmedia" to describe a method of storytelling that takes the audience inside the story where they can interact with, and sometimes change, the story itself through the use of a variety of media and environments. This is what Walt Disney set out to do with his theme parks, tell a story in a fully immersive way. Everything in the Disney parks is about storytelling, even the rides start as storyboards, like a movie would. Walt Disney Imagineering is first and foremost a storytelling outfit. More from the website--

At Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development, storytelling is in our DNA and we are always looking to advance this art form. We have developed the Living Worlds program to catalyze and support the transmedia community and continue to push the limits of immersive storytelling.

Apparently, there is a "transmedia community," who knew?  The closest thing I've seen to Disney-type immersive entertainment is the MagiQuest attraction in Myrtle Beach, and it was developed by former Imagineers from Disney. It looks like WDI is trying to draw out anyone else exploring this area and perhaps give them a hand, perhaps recruit them? It sounds like a recruitment tool to me, anyhow. And more power to them, I'd love to see what comes from this project. Participants must apply with an idea, then a few are selected for further fleshing out and development. The winner or winners, such as they are (this isn't billed as a contest by any means) will benefit from the brain trust at Walt Disney Imagineering to help bring their idea to life. Not financial help, but coaching and support, which coming from the Imagineers could be worth more than money. It's all very cool. I mean, "Living Worlds" has a ring to it without any explaination at all.

Of course my first glimpse at this program triggered my imagination and my sizable ego drove me to look at the submission guidelines right off the bat. Surely I could come up with an idea worthy of Walt Disney Imagineering. I got nuthin' if not ideas. Well, maybe this one's not so much for me. They want interactivity with ipods and smartphones and such and they want you to have a venue and resources and experience and be able to carry the whole thing off inside of a year. Reality popped that ego bubble. But I'm still very excited about this project and I hope there will be some way to find out how it turns out, if not follow along. I think that would be fascinating.

In the meantime, I'm not going to be disappointed I can't play in the majors with the Imagineers because I have my own bit of "immersive storytelling" coming up right here at home with my friends and neighbors. The next town over, Southport, is hosting a Charles Dickens Christmas Festival this year in honor of the author's 200th birthday. As I understand it, the idea is to turn the historic downtown into a Victorian Christmas village. The Brunsick Arts Council is organizing this whole thing and has gone whole hog, bringing in shows of every kind, from dance to theatre to concerts. They also promise "clowns, town criers, carolers, Dickens characters, puppet shows, story-telling, children's Victorian games and food!" It's going to be quite immersive, and I'm going to be immersed in it as a "cast member" so to speak :)

Our friend Jen, the same one who gave us our introduction to theatre work with the Wizard of Oz this past summer, was asked to organize a recreation of Fezziwig's Ball from A Christmas Carol, and Lisa and I will be party guests. The ball will be an on-going party that festival goers can visit and even participate in if they'd like. There will be dancing of a reel, caroling, and general Victorian merry-making. I'm taking a couple days off work to be able to help with the set-up and decorating and be able to participate both Friday and Saturday. We'll need to decorate our space, an old visitor center, and we may be selling refreshments. Lisa and I get to dress up and learn a dance (we have our first rehearsal Saturday) and be a part of the show. I'm excited to do something "theatrical" again and doubly so because Jen is such fun to work with. She's the closest thing to an Imagineer I've ever met.

But wait, that's not all! I mentioned "Dickens characters" a bit ago right? Well, I'm also going to be one of them--Uriah Heep, the villain of David Copperfield (Wikipedia calls him an "antagonist," but "Villain" sounds better, and more Disney). Jen was asked to help find someone "tall and gangly" for this role, and apparently I fit the bill. I'm not an actor by any means, but Jen tells me I'll just need to learn a few lines of script and ad-lib the rest as I interact with festival goers. We attended a few murder mystery parties Jen put together as fundraisers, and she says it will be a lot like that. We'll see. I've not read David Copperfield, nor even seen the movie, so I was at a bit of a loss as to who this Uriah Heep is. So I did what any responsible person would do and turned to Google. I found out that he is utterly repulsive physically and even worse personally. I found that on a list of male English literary characters rated on their "bangability" my man Uriah came in 110 out of 111. He was just one better than Frankenstein's monster. Uriah apparently goes on about his humbleness while stabbing everyone in the back to get ahead. I hope I'm not being typecast, but this guy sounds like he could be a lot of fun.

So I'm not going to be chosen to work with Walt Disney Imagineering to make the products of my fevered imagination come to life, but that's fine. Maybe I won't be discovered and hired to spend my life living my Disney dreams. But that doesn't mean I can't be my own Imagineer, helping to make a story come to life for friends and strangers in my way and in my own community. It's all about the story after all, and not just the stories we tell. I like to think of life as a story, one I can add to and embellish everyday. It's the ultimate immersive experience, and this story is getting better all the time.

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