In UCF’s themed experience graduate programs, strange new worlds are imagined every day. But it’s not every day that students get to explore them with Meow Wolf, a world leader in the creation of mind-bending, interactive art environments.
During the Fall 2022 semester, Meow Wolf is partnering with UCF’s themed experience master’s programs for the UCF/Meow Wolf Writer’s Workshop. The virtual and in-person series will explore storytelling through immersive, interactive environments. Students will write a proposal for a new themed experience based on their own, or public domain, intellectual property. Throughout the process, professional writers and producers from Meow Wolf will mentor students and share their expertise in creating cutting-edge realms.
As innovators in their respective fields, individuals from Meow Wolf and UCF’s themed experience program have a lot to learn together.
Recognized in Fast Company’s 2020 and 2022 list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies, Meow Wolf is a Santa Fe, New Mexico-based arts and entertainment company with interactive installations across the country. UCF’s themed experience programs house the first and only stand-alone degree program of its kind at a public university, leveraging the university’s diverse programs as well as its location in Orlando, the industry’s international hub.
“Themed experiences are having a bit of a renaissance period and understanding story and guest experience are at the heart of all of this,” says Todd Richins, Meow Wolf’s head of Creative Execution. “We want the best emerging talent, so it was natural to partner with the UCF themed experience program where they are placing students throughout the industry.”
Hands-on learning from industry leaders is a central part of UCF’s themed experience programs. Peter Weishar, director of the programs, believes this partnership is a great opportunity for students to explore new approaches to creating themed experiences.
“We are thrilled to be working with Meow Wolf,” Weishar says. “They have successfully incorporated the fine arts aesthetic into compelling themed experiences. Meow Wolf has a unique process and vision that, I believe, will help our students expand their definition of themed experience and develop new approaches to creative challenges.”
Beyond theme parks, UCF’s themed experience students are trained to design themed retail, exhibitions, dining, virtual worlds and more — any space that conveys a narrative through experience. Storytelling is also central to Meow Wolf’s work, often leading audiences to piece together puzzle-like narratives hidden inside its themed labyrinths.
“Writing for immersive experiences is so different than writing for the page or even a script,” says Meow Wolf Senior Story Editor Michael Wilson. “In our world, individual artists are creating short stories or poetry that are related to or additional to the larger story. Our worlds are novels with a ton of appendices. We wanted to attempt to mimic the experience of creating a world both visually and narratively at the same time. So, we are going to do a few rounds of share out and ideation with the whole group to help give that feeling of collaborative creation.”
Bryan McGowan says Meow Wolf was one of his inspirations for pursuing an MFA in themed experience, citing their ability to transport audiences from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
“One of the reasons I pursued my MFA in themed experience was my love of environmental and narrative-based storytelling. I’ve been a fan of Meow Wolf for years and are one of the reasons I pursued this program,” McGowan says. “I’ve always admired the organization’s commitment to not just creating an attraction but creating an entire experience. I am so unbelievably excited to be a part of this program and am grateful to the time that Meow Wolf is devoting to us.”
In late November 2022, the UCF/Meow Wolf Writer’s Workshop will culminate in a live critique of student proposals. One or two workshop participants will then be selected to travel to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a unique Meow Wolf experience.
Selected participants will visit The House of Eternal Return, Meow Wolf’s multidimensional mystery house with secret passages, portals to magical worlds and surreal art exhibits. They will also meet with creative and production leads at Meow Wolf’s main office, production facilities and design studios.