Heather Lea Birdsall

Heather Lea Birdsall

Ph.D student

Birdsall’s current research traces the dynamic relationships between film, television, and video games and the American theme park. Her dissertation considers how modern-day theme parks are increasingly becoming “media parks,” or physically and virtually immersive cinematic, televisual, and game spaces. Taking the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif., as a paradigmatic case study, she examines these spaces and their story worlds as significant sites of spatial and narrative exchange, of cinematic and televisual presence, and of corporeal and interactive experience.

Research Interests

Theme parks and other interactive, haptic, immersive, and site-based media; phenomenology; genre studies; video game studies; television studies; the intersections between film and the other arts

Education and Training

M.A., History of Art and Archaeology, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
B.A., Fine Arts, New York University

Selected Publication

“The Happiest Plays on Earth: Theme Park Franchising in Disneyland Video Games.” In The Franchise Era: Managing Media in the Digital Economy, edited by James Fleury, Bryan Hikari Hartzheim, and Stephen Mamber, 77-104. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019.


“Live Your Star Wars Story: Geographical Storytelling, Immersion, and Interactivity in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge,” Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Virtual conference, March 17-21, 2021.

“Looking Into the Eyes of Mara: Kinetic Narratives in Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure.” Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Seattle, WA, March 13-17, 2019.

“You’ve Just Crossed Over Into…the Abyss: Mise en abyme as a Spatial Narrative Strategy in The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.” Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Chicago, IL, March 22-26, 2017.

“Of Backlots and Genres: Disneyland's Industrial and Conceptual Origins in Film and Television.” Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Atlanta, GA, March 30-April 3, 2016.

“Context as Content: Captain EO, Intertextuality, and the Immersive Theme Park Experience.” Society for Cinema and Media Studies, Montreal, Canada, March 25-29, 2015.