Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

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.

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Peace on Earth, or I guess I Don’t Own That Anymore

November 24, 2009

I’m relaxing this morning at the Lodge.  My escape has been 
for the time catching up on all seasons of The West Wing: intelligent, well written and a nice diversion from the real world. Although I must say it is still earily topical, on point with  a remarkable sense of prescient timing.

It’s not yet Thanksgiving and the Christmas tree is up, all six stories of it, and the holiday decor abounds.  An elegant selection of music specific to the season – currently as I write, “what child is this” plays in the background.

And I think about my computer being stolen.  It happened recently while I was visiting out of town relatives.
Do you have any idea how difficult it is to be a writer without a computer? I was old school once upon a time with a typewriter and a less than graceful hunt and peck method to serve me. 

Several books and scripts as well as other projects on commission later and the tool of my trade is nowhere to be found, thoughtfully misappropriated by someone who must need it more than I.

I should be really upset. It has been an interesting year.  I think this is a minor test of our ability to be measured by our ability to rise when we stumble, fall, or overcome obstacles.  Or someone’s idea of a joke.

I’m disappointed.  Myself a card holding member, I’m at a loss for words when it comes to understanding the human race.   I want to have faith in the good I believe to be out there.

White Christmas is now playing. I’ll allow the music to have its soothing effect on me, just as the good knight sir Congreve recognized it does for us, savages all.

Peace on Earth. I’d like a little of that to bless us all. Maybe compassion and tolerance and understanding might come with it, and along with these noble truths, the sense to know right from wrong, and the strength of character without tilting to make those choices. Whomever has my computer; take care of it. It was new when I got it and still has that “new car smell.”
Peace on Earth.

The three P method to Entertainment

July 13, 2009

For a friend’s 40th birthday his wife threw the Bash of a lifetime.  Eddie has been a KISS fan since he was knee high to a grasshopper.  His loving spouse found a KISS tribute band and booked them to play the common space on the first floor of the beach-side condo they share.  The space was two enormous rooms, and in one the band set up, and in the other was a cornucopia of food offerings.

I arrived early to help her set up the room.  Every kind of KISS paraphernalia from concert one-sheets to dolls and limited collectors items filled every possible space.  As we worked to ready the one room the band worked in the other to ready their equipment.  They checked their play list, went over sound checks, and played several songs.  From the other room they sounded awesome.  I went over to watch and saw the band in ordinary street clothes working through their sound check.  They were thorough, though, and took great effort to make certain nothing was left to chance on the technical side of things.

That night when Storme went upstairs to get Eddie (under the guise of going to a wedding), the tribute band finished last looks before making their appearance.

Eddie appeared to thunderous applause with a very surprised look on his face.  As soon as the camera flashes subsided the band appeared.  Already surprised by the party he was completely floored by the band.

We all were.  Myself especially.  The transformation was incredible.  These guys looked like KISS.  They sounded like KISS.  They had the mannerisms and affectations down.  We were watching Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss make their magic.

Between their two sets they made themselves available for photographs, autographs, and being present to add to an already electric atmosphere.  Gene Simmons stepped outside to do some fire eating which had people eating out of his hands.  And after their break they played their second set.

The band is called DESTROYER.  I believe they are based out of South Florida and they are absolutely dynamite all the way around.

The reason I mention this experience is they epitomized certain critical aspects of entertainment, aspects that are easily transferred to almost any other business model in the world.

Their focus on Preparation, Presentation, and Professionalism showed a consummate sense of effort to their final product.

Preparation:  they came in with their equipment and went to work immediately on identifying the show/concert space and the logistics of their performance.  They set up their equipment and made several adjustments as they worked alongside their technical crew.  They checked their instruments and gear, speakers and mics and made sure there were no surprises.  They played several songs to make sure sounds were crisp and feedbakc issues would be minimized.

Presentation:  They made their appearance striding into the room as if they owned the place.  They picked up their guitars and drumsticks and began to play.  And they had everyone entranced.  Eddie’s mouth was open for the first ten minutes as he watched like a kid locked inside a candy store with his favorite chocolate.  The band members acknowledged Eddie several times, and got the audience involved as well.  They had taken great care in their costumes, make-up, and musical ability to present something that was a turn-key package. Each member of the band had taken the time to study and understand the person whose work they were recreating.  It was truly a visual feast.

Professionalism:  The members of the band behaved like veteran performers who understood their obligations to themselves and others.  Like a well-oiled machine, they knew what needed to happen, and when it needed to happen.  Their timing was impeccable.  They were KISS, and left little doubt to the others who gathered to watch.

The lessons here are simple:

Whether one is preparing for an audition, a table read, or the first day on a set, whether a supernumerary or a principal player, the necessary demands on self should be the same.  Be prepared, be ready to present what you are arriving to present, do your research, and be totally professional with your finished product.

These apply to anyone, anywhere.  These can be applied to our personal as well as professional lives.  It requires time and effort, but the end result is worth it when we realize our goals.

It’s simple: We stand to benefit greatly when we are willing to give more than those around us expect.  Do the absolute best.  Be willing to listen and learn.  This applies across the board and is good to remember as we find our way down life’s river and encounter others doing the same.

The civic obligations of being an actor

July 11, 2009

I’ve mentioned in other venues the responsibility one has to one’s self when it comes to the path of pursuing entertainment as a career. Along with this sense of being and direction is the important culpability of always doing: -What feels right (morally, ethically, & professionally) – is the thing that defines you. I recall a friend in the industry once telling me, years ago, that “character is what defines our choices when the choices aren’t obvious.”

 When I first began to learn the stunt side of the business (and am, as actor, stuntman, coordinator, and director ALWAYS learning) I said to the person who had taken me under his wing that I had no idea what to do to thank him. He told me that in time I would be doing the same thing, offering people guidance and instructing people on how to approach a stunt or improve on something they were already doing. An old friend came to visit and brought his daughter to the show. Afterwards I brought them back stage and gave them a tour of the facility. The talk shifted to one of our loves, live shows and live and interactive performance. He reminded me of a stunt show we were both involved in and how I wound up teaching an impromptu high fall class. Two things happened: One – I helped people fine tune the skill they already had, or in other cases showed them the basic mechanics of what a high fall entailed. Two – I taught people.

I am not an expert, but believe in offering insight when approached. We all have the obligation to offer guidance to others who enter the realm of entertainment. To expand on this posit, it behooves us to offer guidance and insight to any person seeking to gain footing in our area of expertise.  This ought to not be confused with telling people how to do things.

For me, no matter how star struck or rooted in reality the person is, I always offer the same information, though often slightly tailored to their specific concerns or issues. I have also taken to writing letters, or emails, when issues concerning our industry come frothing to the surface. If we don’t offer contrasting, counterpoint insight to news reports or topical concerns, then at the end of the day we don’t deserve to say anything. This applies across the board to anything.

Example – I heard a report on the tax incentive program and how economists stated “states were lucky to break even,” and “the jobs were temporary.” I live in a state that offers a tax incentive to film production, and have worked in other states where those states offer tax incentives to film production.

The reality? For every dollar spent to bring a film project to a location that film project spends on average 5.50 to 6.00 dollars. That is a remarkable return. Those temporary jobs? A lot of your below the line folks move from project to project, making a great living while supporting both the industry and their families. But people don’t know unless you educate them.

My point to this is if you have to question the veritas of a statement, then by all means do the research. If the information is not correct, then become a voice and offer another perspective. This not only makes you more aware, it makes you more efficacious. And if you take the time to do the research, it makes you knowledgeable.

It makes you a responsible member of the community, no matter what that community is.

Knowledge is power only when properly wielded.

Ronald Fox Actor / Author / Stuntman

http://www.RonaldFox.com

feed your mind; feed the world http://www.freerice.com

writing, acting, flying, and focus

May 22, 2009

Much to the chagrin of a couple of my closest friends, who are also heavily skewed fans (In my opinion), I have taken on yet another sporadic writing project. The first link follows.
EzineArticles.com: http://EzineArticles.com/?id=2346834
I simply decided to share a bit of the history and experience I’ve amassed in the entertainment industry, and it made me realize how critical focus is in our lives.
I mentioned in a previous blog / article the eagerness I have in getting my private (pilot’s license) and getting my ticket punched (another way of referring to the certificate for the specific certification) and have spent time working on the writing portion, prepping for the written FAA Airmen’s exam. I realize I need to get that out of the way before I can move on unfettered to the practical aspect.
Plus, I have taken on another business enterprise, as well as begun the outlay for something that may enter the realm of the physical down the road. Sounds cryptic, I know, but until I’ve got the necessary things in place for the latter it does little good to elaborate.
The first thing I refer to is simply a business enterprise I’ve entered with a colleague with the sole purpose of creating a self-sustaining vehicle. I’ve discovered as I talk to people who areinvestors, and with my own experience, the truly successful people have several projects going at once. It’s doesn’t dilute their efforts as much as as fuel the fire to grow and create. Every person with a measure of success has their focus on several things at once; whether those things are physical, emotional, business, spiritual, or religious, direction guides decision.
I once heard a good friend talk about how pursuits are like a ladder on a wall. A goal might be beyond reach because the ladder is on the wrong wall. I put forth another possibility: why not create more than one ladder?
I truly believe dreams become goals when you touch them with your mind.
My focus on writing, flying, and the cornucopia of other things that take my attention are simply ways of direction.
For all of us, guided direction should guide decision.

Actor / Author / Stuntman & really qualified candidate?

March 13, 2009

Got the following:

Continental Who’s Who
March 11th, 2009
Ron, Welcome to our Inner Circle.
Inclusion in our prestigious organization is a career milestone only available to those who have demonstrated exceptional professional knowledge, expertise and client service- and I think you quintessentially meet those standards. Our forum enables you to be reached by thousands of professionals and your peers with the purpose of doing business with you. Simply put- Members are friends you haven’t met yet.
I want to thank you for helping us to create a stronger platform.
Much Continued Success…

I thought as an author I ranked among the who’s who when I received that most coveted plug, the props from Oprah;
As an Actor when I’ve worked as a a co-star with Jason Statham, Kevin Costner, Harrison Ford, Geena Davis, or Sigourney Weaver;
And as a Stuntman when I’ve been nominated for the Taurus Awards.

Haven’t yet heard from Oprah’s show (have heard from Dr. Phil, however, but his recommendations are not as highly regarded for whatever reason),
Haven’t heard from Harrison Ford with an invite to fly with him in one of his planes,
And have only known folks who have been nominated or have gone to the Taurus Awards.
But I suppose there’s an alternative universe out there where I must be all that.
I had no idea.
Okay – back to writing and studying.

Writing right. An Author’s journey.

February 5, 2009

I have discovered a few things on this adventure of being a published author:
The standards are high.
Everyone has a critical eye.
Everyone wants you to do well.
Everyone who decides to read the story wants to enjoy the story.
I am getting considerable feedback on the editing of Oaken Rings as well as notes regarding some questions or inconsistencies in plot line or character development.
I, for one, am a fan of multiple story lines that blend and weave themeselves together and find a resolution at the end of the day. Sometimes the story is a bit complex in the beginning, and sometimes people feel there may be too much going on, but I find it important to constantly turn the page within the page, so to speak. I have to offer new things to the reader to discover, or else it is simply a story rehashed. For me, that simply will not do.
As for the editing, I have discovered in my new (and existing) fan base a willing and qualified group of people willing to pour over my future works to iron out the type and syntax errors, as well as keep me and the story honest. To you I will rely. I recently discovered a writer of whom I am a great admirer (Ken Follett – a great resource, and in my opinion, a national treasure of the UK) uses considerable man (or woman) power in the process of hammering out his works.
I have discovered that part of what comes with being an author is the willingness to open oneself to criticism, because those who do offer criticism, do so with affection, a critical eye, and a desire to see the best work possible produced, rendered with as few distractions as possible. I’m willing to explore those options, because the stories must be told.

Oaken Rings

January 26, 2009

I learned that on the fourth of December the ranking of Oaken Rings actually got as high as 5400 on Amazon.com, according to a friend of mine who checked. Those are great numbers! Thanks to you all and Keep reading!

Flight of fancy ( Flight of the Writer )

January 26, 2009

Keeping all the things “up in the air” at the same time is compellingly entertaining.
Working on my flying, I’ve decided after talking to a wonderful friend the smartest thing to do to motivate me is to get a plane, so I’ve begun to look for a nice trainer. A two seater most likely will fill the bill, one that will allow me to get back on track.
On a similar note (About being on track) I realized after being asked about the sequel to Oaken Rings that it is not the book I’m working on. True, on the back cover of Oaken Rings, it says (to paraphrase) I’m working on the sequal, titled Acropolis. As any author might tell you, other projects come up. I finished my second book (a spy thriller) which is in editing, and am working through my third book, which is a story about a group of modern day witches. Somewhere down the road I’ll hammer away at the keys to create the sequel. Until then, I hope you, the reader, will indulge my creative bent. I’m open to all queries and suggestions that lead to that point.

Sport Aviation Expo – Sebring

January 23, 2009

Made it to the Sebring light sport / experimental aviation show hosted in part by EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association).

Experimental is something of a misnomer which suggests folks cobbling together things that just might fly with the right gust of wind.  Here’s one example: If an aircraft has been built and certified outside the US and then eventually comes to make its home in the the US, it is considered Experimental.  So….

Truth is, Light Sport is a regulated industry, just as the remainder of  the standard General Aviation community is, with certifications and the ultimate airworthiness directives handed down by the FAA.* 

The EAA from time to time has to battle absurd over-reactive regulations handed down simply because some administrative advisor feels the infectious desire to satisfy the “thumbprint syndrome.”  Heavy handed governmental agencies all seem to live by the rule, “Legislation, not education.”  And they are often influenced by whomever has their ear.  That’s as diplomatic as communism. 

If you have ever flown in anything other than a commercial aircraft, and you enjoyed the sensation and feeling it conveyed, it would behoove you to plug into the issues from time to time and write letters voicing your opinion to the FAA.

I have often told people who have a less than wonderful experience at a restaurant, theme park, or other event:  To the organizers or sponsors, no news is good news.  When they don’t hear objections, they presume there are none and folks are fine with the way things are going.  It’s one of the great things about a democracy, the freedom to voice your opinion.  Do it.

But I have digressed.

The Sport Expo is an opportunity for aviation afficianados to spend time in and around all sorts of flying aircraft.  You can attend seminars, check out the latest in technology, and even get demo flights in aircraft.

It represents the begining of the aviation community year that builds in crescendo to Oshkosh.

When I’m flying I am filled with the same sort of wonder that I discover when I am writing.  Whether flying over the terrain beneath the aircraft, or floating over the lands I bring to life, I am filled with a sense of amazement.

Go to an aviation expo or fly in, read a book, and see the world.

*as there are thousands of pages dedicated to definitions of Light Sport and Experimental, I’ll leave it to the curious reader to probe further through the cyber pages of offerings and resources.