The Original Five

KO’s Five Tenets for the Creation of Compelling Experience

Two years in, and after presenting a brief presentation on Creating Compelling Experience at TEA’s SATE Education Day @ Ferrari World and another Master Class on the same subject at Dubai’s EMDI Institute, last week; I’m thinking this might be an appropriate juncture at which to reiterate the foundational tools of the work we do as I define and apply them.

These five Tenets (processes, steps, practices…tools) are the core of everything I do. Applied to differing degrees and at different times, often several times at throughout work on the same project, these techniques are the methodology through which I create Theatrical Experiences, Immersive Messaging Campaigns and Launches. It is with these tools I create Spectacle of Substance and successfully make emotional connection and shared intimate experience in audiences of any size.

These work, and they apply to virtually any Experience we seek to create; theatrical, show, parade, spectacle, dark ride…

I presented these when I first launched this blog, two years ago, and have not lain them out again, since. Thus, today’s edited reprint to refresh the Basics; as the audience for this site has grown as the conversation has continued.

You may already do these things and call them by other names. This is what I call ‘em. I share them in the spirit of supporting our universal commitment to audience experience. It is these components that help make vision reality.

Exploration of Assumption

Liberation of Preconception

Comfortable Disorientation

Successive Revelation

Subliminal Engagement


Exploration of Assumption

In my experience – probably in that of most all of us – Assumption can be found at the root of virtually all misunderstanding. The insidious thing about Assumption is that it is stealthy, pretty much ever-present and most often goes completely unidentified and unrecognized; thus calls for diligence.

It sounds and seems a simple and obvious maxim, yet the pervasiveness and profound effects can be easily missed until too late.

Assumption shows up, everywhere. Far more often than not, it can go unidentified while affecting nuance and substance or creative undertaking…holding us back from what is truly possible in the creation of something compelling.

From a simple difference between, for instance, the color of Blue envisioned by a Director when speaking of a set piece or lighting effect and the Blue that is heard by the Designer to whom he is speaking to greater, deeper and far more disparate differences that can grow from undetected Assumption; each and all of which can slow production, create unnecessary conflict between creatives, upset a producer (and we can’t have THAT!) contribute to cost overruns and – of the utmost importance – affect the resonance of the Experience that is ultimately created and produced.

Far from being a one-time practice or Moment in the course of development; This is, for me, a tool and practice appropriately and productively applied throughout any creative, collaborative process.

From inception:

▪What is the audience assuming when entering the theatre or space?

▪What am I assuming about that audience…and their assumptions, for that matter…?

▪How might I be limiting myself and the spectrum of explorable possibility?

▪What are other, subtle and subtextual or blatant options in the writing / reading of this script…

▪What are the possibilities inherent in a particular venue, theatre or space?

And here’s a thing to remember; sometimes discovered Assumption called for being circumvented or overcome, and at other times it carries the potential for leverage and enhancement to the Experience.

Assumption isn’t bad, as long as it’s recognized. Unrecognized and unappreciated, it can undermine. Awareness of it is always of value.

Throughout any process, from concept development through pre- and production – even through the run of a show or experience – pulling out the “What am I assuming” tool, examining the product or show and examining my own, ongoing decision-making has seldom failed to offer additional insight. Sometimes the smallest realization can be revelatory, and can change the tone of what is being created.

Liberation of Preconception

Preconception springs eternal; from the mounting of a production in a venue, theatre or location with which an audience is already familiar to telling a story the audience is inclined to think they already know…people think they know all the stories and how each is told.

Let ‘em think that…until they are in your control. Once under your influence; then, turn the proverbial tables. Sometimes this can be as simple as turning a room around and entering through an unforeseen doorway, entering a theatre through the stage door and across the stage, even seating on the stage with the performance coming from various parts of the auditorium.

The thing about Preconception is that it’s a Conversation, going on inside the head of an audience member, reassuring that s/he is, indeed, on top of this thing. It is a Conversation that can obstruct the story we are seeking to tell. This audience member believes s/he knows what’s going to happen and what’s next and what follows that…and within seconds of an experience launching, each member of the audience can be rapt in their own, individual reveries and not even paying attention to what you have produced.

Find ways to circumvent that preconception and communicate to the audience that they don’t know what’s going to happen…this’ll give an edge to your work and an intrigue to your Experience.

More on this in greater detail, here:

Comfortable Disorientation

At the core of my Five Tenets is this one, which would be my favorite were I to pick just one. In order of importance, it’s probably the most important; though, as with anything woven or interrelated, these all depend on the presence and exercise of the other four in order to be most fully effective.

Labeling the technique Comfortable Disorientation pretty much articulates, in those two words, the quality that I believe underlies the success achieved when the spectrum of these tenets are applied to best effect and the audience members or guests temporarily forget everything outside the Experience to find themselves fully immersed; given over to your control. Feeling safe in not knowing what’s next…

And, that’s the key; Feeling safe in not knowing what’s next.

To create, at one fell swoop, in one instant, both a sense of disorientation and the sense of being safe and taken care-of on the part of your audience: comfort without complacency. To virtually pull the rug from beneath them while assuring them of the presence of the safety net… Effectively executed, this technique results in an immediate, deeper level of trust on the part of the audience and an intangible yet greater willingness to suspend disbelief; to further quiet the left brain and allow us to wrangle their right lobes and take them further into fantasy, reverie, even camaraderie…

Once they know they don’t know; and know that they’re “safe” – the guests become more completely ours for the journey we host… The camaraderie comes from the fact that each individual is experiencing the instant dissolution of preconception and the concomitant reassurance that something possibly better and certainly more  interesting may await, and all are sharing this unique, yin/yang at precisely the same moment, in the same time and place.

This creates an immediate, deeper connection amongst the audience; as no longer is the experience simply a shared one, it is unique and happening only here, only now, only to us.

Theme parks strive for this all the time, often with what I call the Venice Effect; bringing guests through a queue that is often labyrinthine, usually feels a bit cramped — limited sightlines, low ceilings — to then be suddenly released into a space that seems vast by comparison.

This might be accomplished through a move so simple as that of bringing an audience into a theatre or venue via backstage, perhaps starting in an alley with no hint at the ultimate destination space, so there is no Preconception (we’ve Liberated them from that!). They’re backstage before they realize it’s an actual Backstage, then walking across the stage and into the auditorium in the same moment that they actually appreciate where they are… They then have the opportunity to see said auditorium or space, of which they may have a previous experience, from an entirely different perspective.

Disorientation. Comfort.

It’s different, every time and for every client or story to be told; it takes application of the previous two Tenets to get to the point of discovering how to Comfortably Disorient. I offer that it’s well worth the work…

Surprise sans Startle, Awe without Shock, Comfortable Disorientation.

More on this, here:

Successive Revelation

Don’t give it all away at once.

Similar to the nurturing of any relationship; one doesn’t want to pour it all out on the first date and risk overwhelm. Too much information, up front, can completely overload the audience early and virtually numb them to further sensation, empathy or inspiration; leaving them inured to subtlety and nuance as the Story or Experience unfolds.

They depart “blown away,” though quite likely not moved as deeply or impressed as compellingly as they might otherwise be, had a lighter hand been used.

I offer that we shape the arc of storytelling such that we share a little, create some curiosity, share a little bit more, pay off a bit of curiosity, share some more and with each, successive revelation ramp up the level of intimacy…enhance the depth of the Experience.

With this tool, audiences become more and more comfortable; gradually letting down their guard and giving themselves over to the experience through which we plan to lead them.

Sort of like cooking a lobster, I suppose! That virtual water gradually warms, their defenses dissolve and their emotions become mine to “devour” by manipulation. <evil laugh>

A well-crafted Experience can unfold through a number of such experiences, each and all created to reveal a piece of story, the answer to a previously-posed question, the solution to a practical riddle or dilemma; building on what has come before as the journey from curtain-up to curtain call continues.

I used to call this, “Gasp and Grasp” from the physical intake of breath as people recognize or appreciate the tidbit being revealed, compelling a subsequent, virtual “reaching-out” for the next morsel of story. Effective use of this technique engages the audience and creates a dynamic whereby they are in a subtle, constant cycle of anticipation and reward…and primed for maximum appreciation should there be an emotional or celebratory final Moment.

What I seek is to create experience that awaits my guests upon awakening, the following morning…for images and feelings to continue to wash and swirl within them as they kiss their partners Good Morning, remembering, feeling again, a bit about what they experienced, the evening before…

Don’t give it all away, at once.


Subliminal Engagement

Inviting the audience to participate in the creation of their own experience.

The adept constructing of an experience in such a way as to subliminally engage those immersed in it can make for an intimate and quite personal experience for each member of the audience, irrespective of theatre or audience size.

What is Subliminal Engagement?

Another way to put it is “to make the audience do some of the work.” Create an experience that is in some ways incomplete…leaving it to each audience member to “complete” for oneself. The set, a song, a word or conclusion…

Rather than hand it all to them, rather than to fully articulate each thing in any dimension, hint; lead them to something but don’t take them all the way… Allow for the journey or journeys to be completed in the imaginations of the audience members.

With finesse, something almost magical can happen. One can offer each person in the audience the discovery or rediscovery of something intensely personal. What ramps up the resonance, the intensity of the experience is that most every member of the audience can experience this personal epiphany at virtually the exact, same moment; offering a theatre-wide, palpable, almost physical rush that renders the experience exponentially more powerful.

The most universally-appreciated example of this would be Julie Taymor’s costume designs for “The Lion King.” These costumes evoke jungle animals rather than attempt to fully articulate them. Ergo, what happens in the mind of each audience member is the recognition of a hyena, a zebra, a gazelle…

Important to the personalization of the Experience; not just any hyena or zebra is perceived, however. Rather, each person recognizes a specific, individual personal experience of “zebra” – the animal that s/he knows or first saw or experienced.

It is a “shared, intimate experience;” exceptionally personal, the power of which cannot be overstated despite the virtual nature of it. Subliminal Engagement.

There is a sublime exultation that effervesces within each of us as we watch, engage and create the very experiences that we are appreciating and enjoying…in a sense, we are discovering.

I believe what gives this its power and effectiveness is the lushness or completeness of what is articulated in our minds, rendering what is missing that much more dissonant – and by that dissonance, that absence, calling forth more colorful and complete imagery and experience from the imagination.

There are myriad ways of creating experience that elicit Subliminal Engagement: observe, examine, invent, adopt…create.


And, with that, this concludes the re-introductory overview of my Five Tenets for the Creation of Compelling Experience.

Thanks for reading and, for some of you in this instance, re-reading.


PS: The eBook, “IMHO” remains a free download from iTunes and the eBook Store…

“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for?”

-Robert Browning