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by Ken Pellman (archives)
September 26, 2001
This month Ken reports on Tony Baxter receiving the Themed Entertainment Lifetime Achievement award, the Country Bears, September 11th and the role of entertainment.

Well, here we are again. It’s time for your monthly dose of the noises inside my head. It certainly has been a busy, eventful month on several levels.

Some of you have returned to school, the carefree fun of the Summer fading away as the days grow shorter. Some of you are celebrating a holy season. Some of you are getting impatient for Halloween - you can almost taste the sweets, can almost smell the fog. Some of you are still out of it, in a daze from certain recent events. Whatever your mood right now, whatever your pressing matters, you’re taking a moment to read this column, and I’m honored.

Speaking of Honors…
Saturday, September 22, 2001 - The night belonged to one man - Tony W. Baxter, an inspiration to hundreds of millions of people, whether they know his name or not. He’s certainly an inspiration to this writer.

This past Saturday night, Tony received a Lifetime Acheivement Award at the 8th Annual Thea Awards, the first of the second generation Imagineers to be so highly recognized. The awards are presented by the Themed Entertainment Association to recognize superior work in the industry that brings us theme parks, special events, expositions, and themed shops, restuarants, and casinos.

It is fitting that Tony Baxter was honored with this award the year the show was opened to the general public. He has been very accessible to the public, encouraging people, especially youngsters, who seek a future in designing theme parks. He shares their enthusiasm for fine theme park attractions, the history and culture of Disney, and has always been willing to talk about the potential in future of the industry. He is nostalgic for the attractions that made Disneyland Park a world famous place.

The ceremony was held at the Alex Theater in Glendale, a black-tie event with time to mingle, eat, and drink before and after the ceremony. Cars pulled up to be taken away by a valet. Limos stopped to deliver some of the attendees. Passerbys looked up at the marquee, read it, and asked "What are the Thea Awards? What is the Themed Entertainment Association?" While billions of people have enjoyed their work, the people who create this form of entertainment are still almost entirely unknown to the general public.

Those entering the courtyard were handed a copy of the quarterly publication of the TEA - Behind the Themes, this issue featuring Tony on the cover, along with a program.

On With the Show
The host for the third straight year was Tom Wilson. The Chris Hardin Band performed live during the entrances, exits, and performance numbers. It wasn't until the show was underway that I realized I knew the Show Director (Adam Bezark), some of the writers (Adam Bezark and Dave Cobb), and the Music Director (Andy Garfield). Heck, I didn't even recognize Andy when he was performing onstage.

To keep the acceptance speeches from running on too long, a replica of the Small World clock was used. If a speech ran over two minutes, you'd first hear that familiar "tick-tock" followed by the other sounds, the music, and then performers dressed in international costumes would parade across the stage to remove you. Very funny stuff, unless you had made the effort to travel all the way from Europe during this tough time in air travel and got cut off in the middle of your speech. When the clock started up during one particularly moving acceptance speech by a patriotic nonagenarian, the audience overruled the clock, and the full speech was delivered, to a standing ovation.

In addition to the Small World clock, there was comedy throughout the show, including jokes at the expense of Las Vegas, Legoland, Sea World, Universal, and Disney, and an interpretive dance performance depicting the life of a project.

The boys from Paramount even got what was coming to them. The second of two awards they accepted was for a coaster at one of their parks in which people on the ground can shoot water at riders and riders can drop water on those below. Since they had just given a speech, when they were accepting their second award, their speech was cut way too short by the "Small World" clock. This time, though, the "dolls" were armed with water, and soaked the guys!

One recipient from Europe received a strong ovation when he thanked all of innovative people who have provided great ideas for him to steal.

There were monolgues from the host and comedy bits to break up the ceremony, which mostly consisted of the announcement of the winner, complete with video of the winning park, attraction, or show, followed by the acceptance speech.

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