There are a lot of misconceptions about what constitutes Story and how that differentiates Theme, and that both are entirely different from Plot. Typically, I try not to be contrary but as this is my documented area of study it is hard not to want to clear a few things up. Consider this your crash course in Theatre Theory studies, keeping in mind that what follows is merely a primer.
First, let us clarify the basics of which we are speaking. Theatre, a form of expression in existence for thousands of year, comes in multiple forms and styles, many of which the modern American has never encountered. It can be expressionistic, abstract, or realistic. It can be experimental and performative, or literal and explicit. I ask you to remember the openness of possibilities in basics of theatre.
Second, what is it that is being told, also know as the Content or Story. All forms of theatre are storytelling; movies are storytelling; epic poems are storytelling; musicals are storytelling; circuses are storytelling; and yes, theme parks are storytelling. Now remember, keep that open mind about possibilities. Content involves fiction or elaboration of truth, going beyond actuality into a realm of “if”s. Story may be based on truth, attempting to recreate something that is not really there. It may be entirely based on creation of the mind, or any combination in between.
Last, let us look at how the story is told, also known as Plot. Three major forms apply to our study. Plot is the term describing the style by which a story is conveyed. This returns again to the idea of possibilities. Most Americans were introduced to Linear, or Climatic, plot structure in high school. It is the idea that a character or situation is introduced, small incidences build, and mountain top of climatic action occurs, and finally a resolution. This is only one possible form of plot to tell a story. Another, Episodic, follows a series of related events without distinct resolution or differentiation between time periods. Marathon viewing of seasons of “Friends” or “How I Met Your Mother” demonstrates this well, although time passes and both up and down events occur, the situations of the characters and settings only slightly change. Third, Cyclical plot creates a story in which the characters have events occur but in the end they return to the same starting point, possibility to reoccur. Have you heard “This is the Song that Never Ends?”
Consider, if you will, how your theme park trips fit into any number of these possibilities. Do you wander into a new land, only to be emotionally or mental changed – Linear. Have you retuned to the same park again and again, visiting different attractions but generally repeating a formula – Episodic. Wandering the Living Seas for hours upon hours on end – might just be Cyclical. Experiences most definitely fit into these basic theatre tenants, all of them. Ask yourself, how does an experience change or affect you?