How to Staff a 4D Theater by Paul Parrie

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The Solomon Victory Theater at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans provides a multisensory, 4-D experience crafted with 21st century technology. It’s a venue unlike any other ever built. Aside from the massive design issues and decisions to be made during its development and construction, a staff to operate and maintain the facilities had to be assembled. The theater has several disparate technologies – Show Action Equipment, Lighting, Audio, Mechanics, Pneumatics, Moving Sets, and Media Projection - that must operate seamlessly together in order to create the proper visitor experience.

All of the technologies were eventually made to play nice with each other through several IP networks, but then IT skills needed to be added to the mix. Where does one go to find an operations manager with enough knowledge to keep the theater – the first of its kind - in top operating condition 7 days a week? This challenge truly stretched the Technology Department’s comfort zone. I quickly came to the conclusion that the chance of finding someone with expertise in all of these disciplines was going to be slim. So my first step was to create a Criticality Matrix of the technologies and what they controlled. This matrix gave me a good idea of what was absolutely critical to running the show (i.e. what would stop the show if it went down?) and what would be “only” annoying if it went down, but wouldn’t ruin the visitor experience. This process assisted me in ranking the skills that would be required in an Operations Manager.

The Solomon Victory Theater (showing Beyond All Boundaries) relies heavily on Show Action Equipment and moving sets – a B17 nosecone, German guard tower, anti-aircraft gun, projection screens, tank traps. With this in mind, I focused on finding an individual with expertise in these two areas, with the intention of building the remainder of the team with technicians having expertise in lighting, audio, mechanics, pneumatics and projection.

To date this plan has worked well. The Operations Manager comes from the Theme Park world, with experience in operating live shows, multi-sensory experiences, and theater. A working knowledge of the technologies utilized in the Beyond All Boundaries experience and expertise in Show Action has proven invaluable in starting up a new theater in a new facility – where there have been plenty of design kinks to work out.

Once the Operations Manager was in place, we referred again to the Criticality Matrix and began the process of creating and filling the remainder of the technical staff positions. We now have at least one person on staff that we consider an “expert” in each of the Critical Areas. Though there has to be a managerial hierarchy, the expert in each critical area is deferred to when issues arise.

With a little over 800 shows under our belts, 75,000+ visitors have experienced WWII ”up close and personal” and have left the Solomon Victory Theater with “Wow!” expressions.

Paul Parrie is the Associate Vice President of Technology at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, LA. Paul has over 25 years experience in Broadcast Media, Information Technology, and Media Creation.


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