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Live Active Cultures

Seth Kubersky gets a peek behind the theme-park curtain at the Entertainment Designer Forum

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Some kids grow up wanting to be firemen, astronauts or reality-show stars. When I was small, I sat in the Livingston, N.J., library leafing through theme-park guidebooks, dreaming of becoming a designer for one of the attractions I was reading about. I never reached my brass ring, though I did labor as an employee in said attractions and have since written guidebooks about them.

Stephanie Girard, though, was someone who grabbed that ring and held tight until the very end. Girard was a freelance art director and scenic designer for films (Leatherheads, Ray) and theme parks (Universal's Halloween Horror Nights, Grinchmas and Harry Potter), but her biggest project was raising money for the American Cancer Society and its Relay for Life, a cause she took up in early 2010 after receiving a terminal prognosis in her six-year struggle with colon cancer. As always, Girard exceeded expectations on several counts: She collected $8,000 more than her ambitious fundraising goal of $25,000, and she lived months longer than doctors predicted before she passed away on December 30, 2010.

On April 22, many of Girard's friends and colleagues gathered at Mad Cow Theatre for the second annual Entertainment Designer Forum. The first such event, held last year, was organized by Girard with Universal's Kim Gromoll; it raised $5,000 for the fight against cancer. This year's event, which was dedicated to Girard, featured theme-park professionals engaged in two lively 90-minute Q&A sessions, as well as an auction of unique attraction memorabilia. More than $8,000 was raised in total. Auction items included a VIP Halloween Horror Nights tour and a signed Potter poster - both of which nabbed more than $300 each - and a Terra Cruentus prop medallion from Halloween Horror Nights that fetched $400. All of the evening's proceeds went to the Relay for Life.

Both sessions were hosted by Mike Aiello, a performer and playwright best known as writer of the popular Bill and Ted Halloween parody for most of the past decade. Guest panelists were:

Patrick Braillard, show director for Universal's Halloween Horror Nights and marquee events; T.J. Mannarino, Universal's director of art and design, and designer of the gross-out games for Nickelodeon's Double Dare; James Keaton, actor behind Universal's Jack the Clown and Disney's Turtle Talk with Crush; Mary Nesler, art designer for Universal and Disney; Eric Baker, props master for Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter; Rick Spencer, creative manager and writer/producer for Universal; Kim Gromoll, designer for Universal parades and Halloween Horror Nights; Doug Sauls, technical manager for Universal special events; Robbi Lepre, 36-year veteran of Busch Gardens Tampa, currently director of theatrical services; Ray Keim, model designer for Universal, and also a cancer survivor; Cindy White, concept artist and freelance designer for parades at Tokyo Disneyland and the Superbowl half-time shows; and David Hughes, senior designer 
of Universal's haunted houses, and former employee of the Mickey Mouse Club (with Britney).

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