On a recent visit to Walt Disney's EPCOT, I happened to be in line at one of the more popular attractions with a little boy and his parents. On entering the facility, we were seated in small conveyances which then proceeded through serics of fantastic three-dimensional environments. Astronauts and spaccships drifted by as holographic metcors whizzed across the scene. From outer space, we descended into an undersea world filled with submarines and bizarre aquatic creatures. The almost complete darkness of the ride and the soundless operation of the cars created the sensation of floating free in a seemingly limitless void. As our vehicles emerged into the light again, the young boy said to his father in a serious voice, "I bet there's never been anything like that before!"
On the contrary, EPCOT is but the most recent in a long line of highly theatrical environmental entertainments commonly known as world's fairs. During the past century these festive assemblages of culture, commerce, and political posturing have developed into sophisticated entertainment complexes in which performance and theatrical techniques play vital roles in communicating cultural and political messages. In fact, these expositions consciously structurc and promotc themselves as theatrical events. Examining the two most noteworthy American world's fairs – Chicago's 1893 Columbian Exposition and the 1939 New York World's Fair – demonstrates that the complex performative attractions of EPCOT, for all their technological prowess, are the descendents of traditional world's fair presentations.