Archive for the ‘Author’ Category

Why Teachers Don’t Quit

May 24, 2019

Think about what quitting means to you. Then think about the adults that didn’t quit on you. Likely those adults were teachers or mentors of fine reputation.
Being a teacher means being earnest, being committed, and being dedicated. It means being able to get up every single day and willingly craft the tools for success every single time you have a conversation with a student.
In rationalizing and justifying words and actions, a teacher must study and assess, sometimes in nanoseconds.
I’ve had the opportunity in a variety of venues – from classrooms to stages – to deliver instructional educational content geared towards adults. My audiences have dramatically ranged in size.  This focus on application through experiential learning and interactive learning has varied results, largely depending on the receptiveness of your students. It’s an interesting thing teaching and facilitating to different groups. When your delivery process is the same but the reactive response is different, your audience and their participatory level runs the range from prodding to plodding to nodding to, when the pieces all come together, thoroughly actively engaged. Regardless, we are always professional and always committed, right?
Having delivered content in a variety of venues, on a variety of topics, I’m pleased with the fact I’ve become fairly adept at being able to read my audience and responsibly deliver and provide the necessary experience for them, allowing them to walk away being able to both ask and answer questions while building new solutions.

That’s what a good teacher and facilitator does. It’s a fascinating thing to watch a teacher at work. This is not a commentary on me. I’m good, but not worth marveling at. No, this is about teachers like my art teacher in eighth grade, Mrs. Smith. Or my history professor from Broward Community College, Ralph Clarke. And I cannot ever forget my literary professor and now friend, Dr. Peter Roundy. At Disney University it was Anthony Giffen, A teacher, trainer, and facilitator who made ‘yes and’ a way of life. What they all shared was the belief that I, as a student and a person, was worth the effort. They helped me discover a better version of myself.
I’ve had the good fortune of attending many career day events at schools, usually to talk about life on a film set. I marvel at the connectivity and bond and sense of guiding momentum dedicated teachers instill in their students. They literally have swung for the fence on behalf of students where other teachers gave up and called it a strike out.

My wife is one of these rarified teachers, a challenging force of nature in an environment where many are simply encouraged to simply just pass a test.  Once I had the great fortune and honor of being her date to a wedding. This wasn’t just any wedding. This was a celebration of nuptials between two former student of hers, students she had not taught in many years. Yet they felt so strongly about her they kept in contact with her. She was the only educator invited from the entire school. Think about that.
I once heard that we can easily name five adult figures, usually teachers, who had a positive impact in our lives, rattling those names off, rapid fire, where we would struggle to name five politicians as quickly. That says a lot about what it means to be a teacher.

Take the opportunity to appreciate what it means to be a teacher. If you have children and you send them to school, think about the tremendous outpouring and sacrifice teachers make with the single, simple focus of creating and molding a better person. We trust our educators to make the right choices, choices guided by integrity, and driven by character. If you are lucky enough, your kid, or you, have a teacher who are selfless and generous, and care enough to make a difference.
If you are a college student, or if you are signed up for continued education and learning through your place of employment, approach it as an opportunity. Your teacher, professor, or facilitator has already invested in you before you even begin your first assignment. Approach it as a chance to expand the boundaries of what you’re capable of as you add new tools to your tool kit. (As an adult learner, If you cannot do any of that, do everyone else who is in that learning environment a favor by leaving, or simply not attending in the first place). Everyone makes sacrifices by being there.

Be grateful for the teachers that care enough for your children to actually want to make a difference, hopefully as you were grateful and fortunate enough for the teachers that cared enough to make a difference in you. If you’re still in school and looking forward to your summer break, be sure to thank your teacher and professor. Maybe you can get them a gift card or take them out to lunch.  Trust me, they appreciate these gestures. Know that while you’re off enjoying your summer, they may very well be busy teaching, or beginning the very early prep work for the fall.  Being a teacher is in some ways the same as being a stay at home parent. It doesn’t typically pay very well, but it rewards in ways that are enduring for all involved. Remember your teachers who believed in you. Because they have likely helped you to discover the best version of yourself as well.

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Observations

May 1, 2019

An interesting series of things happened the other morning that cause me to elevate the mental acuity of my youngest yet again.
Already slightly exasperated because she forgot her book bag, I’m listening to her from the back seat engage in this long ball of yarn treatise on things that disappoint her, things that ran the gamut from shoes to the colors I liked and  how they were different from the colors she liked. Then, out of nowhere, she looks over and sees a dog in the back seat of the vehicle besides us. The first thing she says is, “Oh look, it’s a cute little puppy.”

It really wasn’t a puppy, but it’s a thing that we do and she has picked it up. Doesn’t matter how big or small or old the animal is, they’re still a puppy. Anyway, she looked at him and made that comment And then without missing a beat she said, “well, I hope he’s wearing a seatbelt.”  At the intersection I pull up just so she could see the puppy and we both look over at the same time and before I could say a word, Addison Rose at the top of her lungs yells, “oh my gosh! Hey! Put down your damn phone”  because the driver of the vehicle was on his phone.

First of all, full marks to the kid for being so safety-conscious. Second of all, full marks for using all of her words in that sentence correctly and in context. Now I could tell looking at the dings and bumps on this guy’s Cadillac that he probably wasn’t the best driver, and according to one nice big white scrape on his wheel well he probably tried to hug a wall or a parking pole too close for comfort and the wall was having none of it.

But her sheer Brilliance and understanding of what the guy was doing and recognizing that he wasn’t being safe was a thing to behold.
Luckily for the operator of the Cadillac, Addison’s voice carries. So he heard her and rolled down the window all the way. “Excuse me?” He asked the question more perturbed than indignantly. Before I could say a word Addison Rose said, “put down your phone!” And he looked at me and shook his head as he said, “your kid should mind her own business.”

I couldn’t help myself or stop the words that came out of my mouth as I said, “Maybe that’s why you have a dog instead of a kid, but it’s pretty bad when a five-year-old has more common sense than you. Maybe you should take the bus.” To which Addison said “yeah!”

Well, the fella told me I was number one but he used his middle finger to do so as he rolled up his window. He continued playing with his phone, probably updating his social media status, likely not to reflect that he had just been schooled by a 5 year old. Addison turned her attention to the dog in the back seat and just kept talking to him even though the window was up, just cooing over and over again about the cute  puppy.
So, that’s what life with Addison Rose looks like.  Don’t even get her started on not using your turn signal indicator.
On a more serious note, more serious than all of this, think about your actions and the examples they set as well as how much common sense is going into your decision making process. this isn’t just about driving, it’s about life in general.
Don’t be afraid to exercise common sense And make the right choices.  There’s nothing wrong with being a good example, just like there’s nothing wrong with saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
If a five-year-old can figure that out some of the time, then we’re simply making the  process too difficult for ourselves.

Why Being Authentic Matters

March 29, 2019

I’m currently on a ride and drive tour. I have learned a few interesting things during this tour. I continue to learn. I learned being authentic matters more than it ever has.

I learned courtesy, capacity, patience, and awareness. Above all else, I’ve grown to truly appreciate character and integrity.

With courtesy, I simply reinforced something that I’ve known, which is to be nice to everyone, even those who can’t be nice to anyone. And the reason why is because once in a while those people come around. It doesn’t happen often but when it does, you know you’ve left your mark.

Capacity. I learn to show up prepared to give 100% every single day. Sometimes that means creating a shield to protect yourself from the negativity. All you have to do is create a shield where your energy flows out but theirs does not flow in.

Patience. It’s a dangerous presumption that because you value your time and everyone else’s, that they will reciprocate. It’s a dangerous assumption to believe people will do what you ask them to in a teaching, training, or facilitation setting. Be patient and set limits, and for those who don’t want to come along, move the rest of the group forward and they will either catch up or be left behind. It is the 10-80-10 rule. Don’t waste your time on that 10%. There’s never a positive return. Not ever.

Awareness. Be aware that some people are going to come in and troll whatever experience it is you’re creating. They will bait you, either with talk of religion or politics, or simply by being demeaning to you and everyone around them. They will be course, they will be knuckle draggers, and they will know little of civility.
Be aware how you enter,  start, end and leave. Leave The space on a high point. What the individuals do with that is their business. But you don’t want to give them a reason to trash you. Those who will are likely to do so without a reason. Those who want are likely to extol the virtues of your ability, your skill, and your engagement. Leave them grateful for the experience.

Character and Integrity. Everyone has an idea of the latter. A colleague on a set once deliveried the perfect definition of Character. She said, “character is defined as making the right decision when the choice isn’t obvious.”

So, the next time you have a class, session, seminar, or event, be authentic, be energetic, and serve the people you are there to teach and train. The good ones will get it. They’ll feel your authenticity, and they will carry your message forward.

That is grace and elegance, and what truly matters.

Life With Epiphanies

July 14, 2018

While the title suggest time spent with a Greek philosopher, it truly is about that elusive boon: the Epiphany. Epiphanies are an interesting thing. For most of us they typically show up after the event or cycle of action, causing us somehow to adjust our perspective, if we’re paying attention.

Lost a night of sleep this week standing Sentinel over my youngest daughter’s 102.6 fever. Lost another night of sleep when I had to bury our dog at 3:30 in the morning, digging a hole to lay to rest the body of a creature we loved unconditionally. His passing has cast a dark Pall over the household, and a grieving aching sadness I couldn’t have possibly imagined. If those two things in a seven day period are not enough, my full-time employment came to an end.

That is a busy f****** week I don’t wish on my enemies.

I’ve learned a lot and had several epiphanies during my full-time gig.

I learned if you are not creating happiness at home and with those you love, it means little that you’re creating happiness anywhere else.

I learned I am not good at hiding my frustration. I learned I am pretty good at stepping on toes, sometimes upsetting people and bruising egos.

I learned I’m a failure when it comes to putting up with BS.

I learned it is not only important, it is necessary to have people in your corner.

I also learned I am still as passionate an advocate as I have ever been for the operation, the right people, and the right reasons. While I still believe more than ever that one should bloom where planted, do everything in your power to make sure the soil is firm and nutrient-rich, and you are surrounded by others that will help you shine and grow, and not be buried in the weeds.

I learned I loved that dog more than I could possibly have imagined. I discovered how much I missed the click click click of his toenails across the wooden floor. All the things I found annoying, like him jumping up on the couch and trying to nest through the leather, are things I would happily sacrifice just about anything to hear that sound and see the event one more time. He was the most food motivated creature I have ever known in my life, and that’s even considering me, who likes a good Buffet. Whenever anything dropped on the floor, which was a regular occurrence, all someone would have to say was “Uh oh Bucks,” and wherever he was even if he was in a deep REM-induced sleep, you would hear that tap tap tap of paws and claws as he would come to the kitchen. He often made it unnecessary to keep a broom and dustpan nearby.

Huckleberry didn’t have issues, he had subscriptions. To my account, he bit me four times. There is a permanent laminated sign with each of the dogs in the household. Next to his picture it says, “I look as sweet as an angel but I will bite. No matter what I do, whether I jump on you or wag my tail, don’t fall for it.” He couldn’t help it. Every time you did me, he would cry the most mournful cry, the saddest thing you ever heard come from a dog. It was as if he was being remorseful. He had been severely abused. That’s another conversation all together, but suffice it to say, Dante carved out of special ring for anyone who sees fit to abuse an animal. That is not your place or purpose in the world.

I was irritated and frustrated by all the puddles I had to clean up. I was certain it was my Orange Grove dog, who I’d literally found dying in an Orange Grove. With Huckleberry gone, so to have disappeared the never-ending scattering of those pools of various sizes. Was it possible I had been blaming the wrong dog? Yes it was. As a friend once remarked, “Huckleberry was the sweetest dog I never did pet.” If you did find yourself fortunate to hold and cuddle him, which happened every time there was a harmonic convergence of the planets, you would discover his fur smelled like hay, a pleasant smell indeed.

The vacuum is vast for space that had once been filled by 14 lbs of lovable sausage with legs. To quote Gibran, “Love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”

I learned a lot in a week. Above All Else, I reaffirmed my priorities.

I learned there’s no time like the present to show those you love whether they have two legs or four legs how much their presence in your life means to you. I learned that the same mindset holds true when you run a multi-tiered operation. I learned that no matter where you are and what you are doing, partnership makes the difference.

Most importantly, I’m reminded of something my neighbor once said. I once shared with him the crazy hours of my schedule and the fact that sometimes a day or two would go by and I’d only get a glimpse of my family.

He said, “Nobody ever gets to the end of their life and says, ‘I wish I would have worked more’.” That’s a wise man indeed.

I haven’t yet found anything I can’t do, but I’ve discovered a few things I won’t do. Sacrificing time with the people who matter most is one of them.

If you are not taking advantage of the time you have with your friends and family, whether they have two legs or four, you might consider adjusting your priorities.

Remember the parable about the two wolves? This Epiphany is all about feeding the right one, while taking care of both of them.

No matter what you do with it, ultimately your time is your own.

My daughter is better, my dog has crossed the Rainbow Bridge, and now it’s more important than ever to look forward.

 

Death of a Popular Poet

November 15, 2017

Working as an MBA candidate comes with a remarkable series of challenges and responsibilities. Most recently, one of my professors, who clearly was passionate about motivating his students, shared some deep and meaningful insights. He sent me an email in reply to mine in which he shared with me that the pessimist states death and taxes are the only two immovable objects that are a guaranteed certainty.
He then went on to share with me an optimist looks at change and time as certainties. I think he wanted to make certain that I understood the depth and value of both, and that how we launch our perception impacts the way we look at the world.

Yet my perception of the world has recently become a little hazy. Recently I have been forced to reckon with the mortal enemy that is death. In the past two weeks I have had to say goodbye to two people. The first one had given up a long time ago and tip what some might say was a brave choice and taking his own life. But the other, well he was a fighter. But even his optimism was not enough to Conquer Cancer.
Let me tell you a little bit about AJ.
I first met AJ years ago when I showed up for an interview on a radio show that he was one part of a partnership. He and Ernie, a mutual friend, invited me to come talk about a book that had just been released titled Confessions of a Transylvanian. This book, written by an old and dear friend and myself, detailed the experience of being part of a Rocky Horror Picture Show shadowcast.
The very first thing I noticed about AJ was his energy. He possessed this smile and a genuine eagerness to laugh and share.
We laughed a lot during that interview and at the end of that hour I knew I had made another friend.
But it wasn’t until I started working at Epcot with the entertainment team that he and I really started to connect. Everywhere I would have to track him down he was always on the go, eager to chat.

It was during one of these conversations that we both discovered one of our most favorite mutually appreciated holidays, Halloween, offered us no shortage of creative Outlets. I shared with him some of the things I had done when I designed haunted houses, many decidedly low, low Tech, and he shared with me Cutting Edge high-tech things that were either of his creation or off the shelf.
We talked repeatedly about combining forces to create a haunted experience like no other on a ranch for another mutual friend, Dave.

And when, in the process of producing a fairly sizable event, it came time for a DJ, I asked him for recommendations. Instead of a recommendation he suggested he do it.
I learned about AJ that almost like a good book, every few pages there was some new and incredible facet or skill he possessed. I was always learning something new with him.
At the event venue, we took the elevator. He gestured to the walls and said “velvet. ”
He sounded like an old crotchety guy, commenting on the quality of an inferior product. And the two times we were there, for the tech scout and the event, every damn time we rode the elevator, we’d both say, “velvet.” After a while we’d just randomly say “it’s velvet,” and it carried to EPCOT where it stood proxy for a normal greeting.
But that made sense. AJ was not normal. He transcended it.
He was a class all his own, always a pleasure to be around.

I used to bleed alone, keeping my grief and pain to myself. That ended the day I lost my brother, five years ago, and was clear and present when I lost my dad a year ago.
With AJ I have no regrets. I had the good fortune of seeing him damn near every day that I was at work, if you could call what we did work. And he always had time for me and I always made time for him and I am glad for that. Because I have regrets when it comes to my brother and I have regrets when it comes to my dad.
Maybe that’s the thing to take stock of now. If there someone in your life you’ve been meaning to reach out to, don’t wait. Regret is a deceptively heavy burden to shoulder.

I feel like I’ve been kicked in the stomach. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to catch my breath.
It is a callous thing to say, but I can think of a few people who are probably past their expiration date on planet Earth.
AJ was not one of them. He was one heck of an individual with a lot of light, love, and life still to give.
The world is little quieter today.

Speaking Well of Others Speaks Well of Ourselves

June 17, 2017
Be careful how you speak of others.
That sounds like the start of a stern lecture, so let me word that another way. Take care to think through what you say when you speak of others.
It doesn’t matter whether they are living or dead. The more negatively you speak of others, the more negative the reflection on you.
This stuff is called dirt for a reason.
I’ve always marveled at the interest of others have of drama not on the stage. Soap Operas, Reality TV, and a host of other things suck people in. This in addition to the drama we find ourselves facing on a daily basis. Speaking poorly of others only feeds that beast. How much is enough?
If you wish to speak of someone in a way that might warn others about their behavior, then consider the trust but verify approach. It carries more weight than muckraking.  An example I’ll share involves a referral. I was asked by a stunt coordinator about an individual she wanted to hire. The stunt side of the Film and Live Show entertainment business is different from the acting side. Where actors have to audition, stunt performers typically get their work through relationships and referrals. I was honest with her. I told her this particular performer had presented performance challenges on a previous project, and that I had to chase her for several weeks to get her info for a production I was coordinating, which ultimately opted not to hire her. It would have been easy to say, “the kid is lazy, immature, and unreliable” but there was a better way.
Find the better way.
A word when spoken is a bird taking wing for flight forever. The things you say you cannot undo, you cannot change, and you cannot take back.
This past week found me remembering my brother’s birthday, gone five years, and marking the passing of two people close to me. That qualifies as a pretty crappy trifecta in my book.
Neither who jumped ship this week was perfect, but both were worthy of stories that make us smile. In the one case, an old friend from my Rocky Horror days in the 80’s (and part of the then-famous Wild and Untamed Things) passed away after a lengthy battle with mental and physical health issues. At the memorial, my dear friend Jack and I both determined that stories to make people laugh was the order of the day. The Matriarch from my mother’s side of the family also shuffled her mortal coil. Her story to share (since I was and am still not ready to grieve openly) involved her walking up besides me, in the midst of a group of people we both knew, and rubbed my belly…as she looked at me and said, “Say it, honey. Lower and faster.” and then she walked away, laughing hysterically. In a rare case, I was left speechless.

When we are saddened by loss, someone more callous might observe and say, “boo hoo, people die.” That is not in the least bit mature, and we should not be those people. Nor should we pay any attention to those who demonstrate such ignorant temerity.

Speak well of others, living or dead, no matter how much the temptation to do otherwise. It’s better to be the better person than to live with regret because you said something in haste. Similarly, look for every opportunity to speak well and positively of those you know and those you love. Finding and extolling the good in others brings out the good in ourselves.
That’s how we should immortalize others; this, no doubt, is how we ourselves would want to be remembered.
Speaking of remembering, remember to call someone you love and remind them of how important they are to you.
Do it now. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Love, Greeting Card Style

May 9, 2017

It’s a funny thing, a greeting card.
If you walk through a store and happened to pass by the stationary and greeting cards section, take a look. Most people don’t even give that aisle a second look these days.
Why would we? We’ve got E cards, WhatsApp and Skype.

So I’m moved beyond measure when I receive a greeting card for my birthday. They’re just as special when one shows up ‘just because’. Sure, mom and dad usually will send the greeting card although they’re forgiven if they forget.
But when a friend sends a greeting card for your birthday? Think about the time it took out of their day to stop by a store and find that aisle, and then comb through every card until they found one that summarized and embraced their feelings for you.

That is a special person. Made even more so by the fact they feel the same way about you. now I’m not saying run out to your local hallmark and drop a couple a hundred on greeting cards for every occasion. But it might it not be a bad idea, proactively, to visit the card aisle next time you make a grocery run and stock up on a few cards that can be properly inscribed and dropped in the mail. Just keep them in the study, or on your pass through, and the next time you’re thinking of a friend, smiling about a family member you miss, scribe a few words and post.

Here is one way you do your level best to guarantee those people know how important they are to you. We must never forget in this digital age how important it is to do at least this much. They need to know. Emails, texts, messaging through the various forms are great, but this action elevates and enhances.

Consider this: when we receive that card, most of us on our best day might just be a shade better than half the person our family or friend thinks we are.

How We Change The Past

March 24, 2017
We Don’t. We can’t change the past.
I learned a great deal in the presence of my mom recently. Dad died a few months ago and she has managed to summon the strength necessary to move forward through the fog that besieged us all.
I mention we can’t change the past because I have spent so much of the recent past woefully lamenting how horrible a son, brother, or friend I have been I’ve managed to miss a few opportunities to do my level best in a situation.
There are several layers of danger in looking back. The obvious is you’re not looking forward. That’s bad because you don’t see what’s coming, and can’t prepare in the event something whacks, trips, or otherwise reaches out to influence your forwardly locomotion. It’s also not good because you are distracted. You’re so focused on the thing that already happened, and the “what-ifs” that surround it, you are fairly well insulated from anything happening in real time.
Many do this unintentionally. You’ll know it’s happening with someone else when you are sharing a story or insight and you get a “what’s that?” Or they nod absent-mindedly, and offer some form of affirmative answer in the hopes it is the correct one. Usually they’re thinking about something else, sometimes trying to connect the dots with a thought you just shared. Other times their mind is simply wandering.
But it is that other looking back, the one where you’ve lost the ability to move forward, breathe, or achieve on your own. That form of looking back can become a false comfort, providing a seductive darkness.
We miss out on opportunity when we continue to look back. We turn our back on the chance to experience in real time when we look back. People who live their entire holiday, or another event, through the lense of a camera suffer this fate.
An old friend hastened to advise me, with my love for photography, to try enjoying moments as they happened, and not through the view-finder. Another old dear friend, long passed, questioned why people couldn’t just enjoy the memories as they happened, since it was impossible to duplicate in a photo.
I have spent much time pondering how I was not the friend I should have been, that I was never truly there for those few who would have thrown themselves on the blade for me. My brother pointed out, years ago, it wasn’t possible for me to be an active participant in the ‘group thing’ because I was like Hans Solo in my Millenium Falcon (a 1972 Mach I with a 351 Cleveland, 4bblcarbs, and the destinct ability to both turn heads and cause whiplash). He told me I was running solo and had to because that was where I was in my life. It was a sort of Buddhist assessment. But it was also right.
My brother has also long sinced passed; at that moment death became a callous creature that reminded me of all the things we’d never get to do or share again, and of missed opportunities.
With my family the lament was similar. Holiday get-togethers. Phone calls. But it’s all in the past…
We can only influence the future.
Another wonderful and wise person told me the only reason you should look to the past is to see how far you’ve come, and hopefully, what you’ve learned. She’s right. We have to see where we’ve been to know where we’re going. The plus is we can change our behavor at any time.
In that case I think I’m doing ok. I just returned from a week in the mountains of Western North Carolina followed by a week in the coastal lowlands of South Carolina. Both places, rich in history, have residents whose sensibility is entrenched in the here-and-now. I worked hard to enjoy the moments as they came, and found myself living most of them. I spent much of my time around mom, doing work in and around the house, and simply being there without being suffocating. We scattered dad’s ashes in relative silence, hung his plaque, and did a bit of work around the area without somber reserve. Mom said to me, as we walked up the path from the garden, “I can’t imagine anyone else I would rather have done this with.” I didn’t take it as a commentary on how I was the favorite child: I am not; I viewed it instead couched in the context I believe it was meant: even if I devalued my own contributions to the family as a unit, I was appreciated in full and my value should not be be questioned.
Not looking back with regret will be tough, but I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
Perhaps you can do the same, and check in from time to time with your own procedural?

How to Live the Relevant Life

January 4, 2016

Take a look around. What do you see?
Seriously – When you drive to work, what do you see? When you drive to school, what do you see? When you’re running errands, going to the supermarket, or going to meet friends, what do you notice about your surroundings?

Are you taking in the beauty of everyday things? Are you taking delight in the little things?
If you live in a rural agricultural area, have you noticed new animals in a rancher’s field? If you live in a suburban area, have you counted the number of playgrounds?
If you live in a dense urban area, have you noticed the architecture that surrounds you with its evocative expressions and mood?

What about the people you encounter?

Look at the people in your life. Look at the ones who bring value, love, compassion, and respect. Are you reciprocating? You should be.

Take the time to look around… And this isn’t about texting and driving (although that certainly is a worthy topic for discussion, but maybe another time).

This isn’t about unnecessary distractions. It’s about life. It’s about the beauty in everyday things. It’s about noticing something for the first time. It’s about appreciating things that you’ve seen before. It’s about setting your mind, and your emotions up for the kind of supreme awareness that makes you sympathetic & empathetic to your world, to the people, and creatures of all kinds. To the plants and even the stones.

Let everyone in your life, everyone who matters, know they matter. Show them. Tell them. Share with them. Because life isn’t about how we start things, it is about how we sustain and polish things.
Take a look around.
Take the time to make your life one where quality lives in the present moment.
Do it now.

Leadership Lessons From the Rocky Horror Picture Show

August 7, 2015

Life, Leadership, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Mention the Rocky Horror Picture Show (RHPS) to people, and you’ll hear one of a few responses.
“Never saw it.”
“I knew people who used to perform in it.”
“I remember going to see it.”
“I used to perform in a cast.”
“I do perform in a cast from time to time. We’re called the ‘Rice Chucking Toast Eaters’ (Most casts adopt a phrase, expression, or song title as cast name).
Once, just once, I heard someone reply, “Rocky what?”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the film’s release, with no sign of it disappearing from movie screens anytime soon. Not bad for a film noteworthy enough to be recognized by the Library of Congress as a culturally relevant cinematic offering of the twentieth century.

The history of how I found myself at a showing, with cast performing in front of the screen, mimicking the movements of the actors they dressed to resemble, is a much longer story left to the pages of a certain non-fiction tome. Some of the lessons I took away? These key insights I’ll share.

So, how exactly does RHPS create Leadership, Collaborative, and Learning pieces?

The Learning Piece.
Remember why you are there, remember the story you’re telling, & invite others to be part of the story.
Most every cast has a protocol for entering the ranks of performers. It includes paying dues, beginning at the entry level position as a Transylvanian, and assembling said costume for the performance. The art of collaboration comes in handy here, as most newbies rarely show up with make up. One learns over time what is necessary to carry out the expected tasks for the job (or role, as it were).

One reason why just about every single RHPS shadow cast performer starts as a Transylvanian is the high attrition rate. If you’re not a good partner, or you discover dressing up at midnight isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll quietly slip away, as so many did and do. Another reason the role of Transylvanian is entry level is because it is the only role in the cast where one is not expected to match their onscreen persona. It was a great way to identify those participants who were a good fit or a right fit.
If you are a good partner, you learn the moves and choreography. You might even pick a cross section of onscreen Transylvanians on which to base your style or look. And you’ll pay close attention to the leads, knowing where they go, why they go there, and how to keep out of their way. You also pay attention because there will come a time when opportunity will beckon. a key tenet for highly effective leaders?The well-prepared know enough to recognize & seize opportunity the first time.

The best way to grow and foster growth in others as well as yourself is to make yourself vulnerable (not that you’re thinking any of this as a teenager). It’s hard to imagine being more vulnerable than to be standing practically stark naked in tighty whiteys (or bra and panties), or strutting in fishnet stockings. In this digitally connected world, where the line for what is permissible or acceptable for public consumption is intentionally blurred, no matter who you are, the first time your clothes are stripped down to near nakedness, you become supremely aware of notions such as how cold it is, how many people are staring – STARING – at you, and, with your mom’s admonishing tone in your ear, did you remember to wear clean underwear. Your success is predicated on learning to first lean on and then partner with others, leveraging their knowledge for continued success.

The Collaborative Piece.
Divergent viewpoints permit growth and expansion, improving both morale and performance.
During my very short tenure at the Florida Twin, a discordant undercurrent developed into an evenly heated boil. When it hit, it hit with a whiplash-inspired crack of lightning. The stage manager announced the excommunication of a few members of the cast under the guise of establishing a new theatre. What came next shocked everyone. Several other members (including yours truly) opted to leave as well. Our logic? If they’re leaving, so am I. En masse we left, as one, to the consternation, belittling, and heckling of the remaining cast. They were convinced that in a matter of weeks we’d come back, begging to be accepted into the poisoned bosom of the very same theatre from whence we had been unceremoniously evicted.
The action of displacement proved for us to be immediately cementing.

Once we’d found our stride and the cast had been established, more or less, we were motivated to change things up. To keep things fresh, we had shows like Switch Nights (guys did the female roles and vice versa). These ideas were sometimes crowd-sourced from the cast, on occasion solicited from our guests (the theatre goers), and, a time or two, broached by a stage manager. We even made clear to the world we were committed to each other and the enterprise by adopting the Nom de Guerre “Wild and Untamed Things”, performing at the Ultravision in Deerfield, Florida. The message here? The recipe for success and growth comes when no source for inspiration is discounted.

A couple of things struck the casual observer: we were a most acerbic group, a family with a host of issues, constantly giving each other grief. Yet no ‘outsider’ in their right mind would dare throw the gauntlet at any one of us. In doing so, you invited full scale war with the entire cast. In the rare event someone suffered a lapse of reason and chose this route, they were effectively verbally eviscerated. Usually by the female members of the cast.
Another important aspect of the Collaboration Piece was the keen awareness to maintain balance. For the core group of the cast, this meant staying together from Friday night until Sunday afternoon. Many a weekend was spent in close confines and cozy company. A few times we elected to do a one day road trip to Orlando and visit the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World; other times we went south, to Islamorada. These often took place after our Saturday night performance.

In any “conventional” Operation or Line of Business this might be referred to as a Team Outing, or a Team Building Exercise. For us, it was a necessary part of who we were: a wholly dysfunctional, yet highly capable family.

The Leadership Piece.
In the beginning, we cycled through a couple of stage managers who continued to remain with the cast in the roles they performed, no ill will borne towards either. Ultimately, we found a dedicated leader in a man affectionately known to the cast as Daddy Russ.

A strong leader with vision, patience, caring, and the ability to listen is critical to the survival and existence of any organization.
To put it another way, good leadership is about building bridges; great leadership is about maintaining them.

In the Wild and Untamed Things, presuming you’d made the cut, many began to look at taking on one of the principal roles. On occasion, the Stage Manager made the decision for you. Despite my objections, this is exactly what happened to me. In fact, the stage manager at the time, for the cast I’d been a member of for only a couple of weeks, in Hollywood, Florida gave me an ultimatum. When their principal performer for the role of Brad was a no-show, five minutes before show I was told, “You’re either doing the role of Brad, or you’re out of the cast.” While it terrified little teenager me at the time, it demonstrated a great example of critical, decisive leadership.

Yet no stage manager in my history of RHPS shadow casts demonstrated a more clear and consistent understanding of the nuances required to rein in a bunch of unruly teens while allowing enough lead to guarantee we were happy and professional than Russ. He cared enough to connect with each of us.
Over-managing was something he did without our knowing. He focused on the details most would overlook: generating revenue to maintain and acquire new props and costumes, marketing, and a succession plan. Every performer was an understudy for someone else. Even some of the regular Transylvanians were tapped into service. And to guarantee you knew your understudy role, you performed it once a month.
In this fashion, the Wild and Untamed Things became recognized as one of the greatest shadow casts of the time.
Any doubt was laid to rest when, at our 25th anniversary reunion, we performed to a packed house in a borrowed theatre. The resident cast, in an excellent display of collaborative partnership, welcomed those of us who wished to reprise our roles in their home.
The confirmation of Daddy Russ’s most excellent stage management skills were on full display when he was approached and asked if we’d be interested in coming to perform at least once a month.
I would tell you how that played out, but you’ll have to read the only book ever written about life in a Rocky Horror Shadow Cast, Confessions of a Transylvanian, to learn for yourself.

Russ was not the only person who managed to lead by unifying. Once in a while there comes a person with the kind of Zen personality that begs any within orbit to seek counsel and shelter from the storm.
In this case it was Donny. A quiet leader who observed everything, he was known to all of us as “Donny the Teddy Bear” until one night he demonstrated the kind of no-hesitation determination that earned him the moniker “Donny the Destroyer.” Yet Donny never greeted a member of his Rocky family with anything other than a warm smile and hug.
The key insight here? Leadership can happen anywhere, anytime, and be initiated by anyone.

Donny was so well loved that my dear friend (and co-author) Jack and I flirted with several incarnations of a book about our experiences, until we found the story line that had to be told. That book of course became Confessions of a Transylvanian. Whether you’re a leader, colleague, or part time contributor, such a disposition makes you indispensable.

So the next time you hear about someone going to participate in a Rocky Horror shadow cast, consider the over-arching commitment. there are worse places one could learn bad habits about managing, but not too many better where one can shine as a leader. Those willing to step out of their comfort zone are willing to take bold steps.
That’s some high-hanging fruit.

Interested in the book? check out http://www.RockyConfessions.com

…and remember: don’t Dream it. Be it.