Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Themes Can Ruin Your Day

It's an axiom in my business that theme development is vital for creating interpretive programs. They're tough for me many times, and not so easy to explain sometimes, but here is the gist:
A theme is a single sentence (like a thesis statement, sort of) that powerfully or provocatively states the desired effect or outcome of an interpretive program. Put another way, it is the key message that the interpreter hopes to communicate to the visitor.
Themes are amazing. When I've developed a good theme, even related to subjects \that I'm not very familiar with, the program outline seems to cascade downward from the theme as we explore the idea, and it's a marvel to behold.
Right now I'm training an intern, or attempting to. This young person has one of the worst cases of knowing more than older people than anyone I've seen.
So we worked through an NPS training module about theme development, and this young person seems to understand the difference between a sentence and a paragraph. He also seems to have normal hearing, but he doesn't think that a theme needs to be limited to a sentence. As I'm learning, he wants to throw virtually everything I say aside in favor of his 19 year old opinion. He does not accept that a theme can be confined to a sentence. In order to make progress, I analogize a theme to a sound bite, just to keep going. He still disagrees that they need to be only a single sentence. Why?
I'm paraphrasing here, but in essence he said that he hoped to find a more intelligent public that can understand more complex ideas than can be expressed in a single sentence.
Sigh. Some of these days seem very long right now.