Written by Rich Procter
In October 2016, I was asked to help create the proposed story narrative for the United States Pavilion at Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan that opened in June 2017. Our proposal was a joint effort with APCO Worldwide and the Eurasian Foundation.
If we won the job it meant eight months... eight months to… to raise the funds necessary to kick-off the project…create a theatrical interpretation of that narrative and design an experience around that interpretation
...create the media that would become central to the experience
…design purchase and test show equipment…
...design and fabricate show sets and exhibits
...and create the interior construction to house it all (including all sub-distribution of systems, power and mechanical)
Of these tasks, the second is by far the hardest. World Expos welcome people from around the world: young people, families, tourists, Expo veterans, dignitaries and diplomats, corporate representatives, and government officials. It must please everyone, especially local residents, and citizens of the sponsoring country. Whatever story the Expo pavilion tells must fascinate every guest who walks in the door. More than that, it must change them. If no change occurs, why bother doing the pavilion?
Eight months was the starting line. By the time we raised the required funding and received the green light from the State Department we had 100 days to finish design detail, construction documents, get all necessary expo approvals, build the interiors (which included a VIP space in a different part of the pavilion structure) and produce the entire experience. At an world expo, there’s no room for error. We needed to make opening day.
The average feature film (no theater building involved) takes two years. Pixar films take six years from the beginning of the story process to the release of the film. In Astana, we came up with a compelling story, designed a one-of-a-kind theater to show it, created a building to showcase it, filmed it, tested it, trained a staff to welcome guests with the utmost hospitality, and opened it on time and on budget.
Did I say eight months and 100 days from official green light? That’s not quite true. This process really took 36 years.
The most important decisions about a World Expo pavilion all take place before the first cement is poured and the first steel is put in the ground. What is the right story for these guests at this exact moment in time, in this specific place? These are guests who have experienced tens of thousands of stories in their lives. What’s the story that will make them happy and grateful when they walk out, and tell their friends, “You MUST see the USA Pavilion!”
Our story is called “The Source of Infinite Energy.” The theme of our story is:
“The Source of Infinite Energy is within all of us. It’s the energy that fuels our dreams and brings us together to do amazing things. It’s the Energy of Life.”
This theme holds the DNA of 36 years of BRC storytelling. Here’s what it tells us:
- “The Source of Infinite Energy…” Many Astana Expo pavilions will be about the future of energy. Will it be solar? Wind? Nuclear? All of these are finite. Only one source is infinite. The energy of life.
- “…within all of us.” The star of our show isn’t the United States of America. The USA is just the cheerful steward of the message. The star of the show is every guest in the audience, from every country in the world.
- “It’s the energy that fuels our dreams and brings us together to do amazing things.” Every guest has dreams. Every guest wants to do amazing things. Our presentation shows how the energy of life, within every guest, can make those dreams come true.
36 years of storytelling showed us what to do. Aim for the heart of every guest. Speak to the hopes, dreams and desires of this guest. Take that guest on an emotional journey that inspires and transforms guests. Guests that walk in consumed by worries about the state of the world walk out with a new confidence that they can find in themselves.
The USA Pavilion at Expo 2017 belongs to the world now. Our success will be measured by the smiles of guests as they leave… and by the energy they devote to making the world a better place.