Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

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.
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The Stunt Life

December 31, 2015

I miss morphine.
I didn’t say that to get your attention, but I do get it. I Understand now why people seek that one of many conduits, one that allows them to become comfortably numb.
I probably should have worded that first sentence differently. I should have said something along the lines of “I miss the paliative effect certain treatments can have on a chronic pain patient’s body.”
When I say I miss morphine that’s not the truth. The reality is I’ve been a chronic pain patient for over two decades. One of the side effects of my car accident, the initiation of this enduring Understanding, was a migraine that lasted 4 months. I was seeing a team of doctors at the time and one of them, a neurologist, prescribed some heavy duty narcotics. I realized, after a couple of days of being swallowed by the couch, staring at the stucco pattern on the ceiling and the television, that it wasn’t for me. I also came to the realization I’d no longer be able to return to my former career in the financial industry.

I worked hard in incremental steps to bump up my threshold and tolerance for pain. Becoming a stuntman served many purposes: learning stunts taught me to regain my motor skills, severely affected as a result of the accident; it taught me confidence; it provided for me clear direction where one was lacking; it taught me to work through pain. Most important, though not clear at the time, it became my true and rightful career. And pain has been my constant companion.

A note about pain and professional stunt performers: if stunt guys and gals went to the doctor or reached for narcotics every time they’d tweaked this or torsioned that, there’d be no one to perform those awesome action sequences that drive people to see blockbuster films movie in the first place. And your choices would be Fried Green Tomatoes or Driving Miss Daisy (not that I didn’t enjoy Both). The truth is stunt performers work through strains, sprains, and tears. Maybe they’ll reach for Naproxyn. I once tore my medial meniscus doing a stunt and ignored the pop until a month later, when the pain refused to subside. That’s when I’d learned there was something amiss with my knee.

As masochistic as it seems I feel the awareness and experience associated with pain is a gift. Plenty of times when we’re experiencing joy and happiness we fail to register and taste every moment. But when you’re in pain? The seconds seem to divide themselves, a kind of mitosis dedicated to letting you know it’s not going away just yet. A minute becomes an hour and an hour becomes a day. A day is an eternity that brings respite only with the possibility of sleep.

A part of me says sure, I could have picked another career. But it was the accident and subsequent career that picked me. It’s a career that continues to give me great opportunities and experiences, including the chance to travel the world and work with some great performers of stage and screen.
A career that’s had me hitting the ground, fall pads, water, and everything in between. I’ve jumped and two-wheeled (or high sided) vehicles for years. Going up is fine. Coming down is more often than not physically jarring. I’ve described the sensation to those not in the know as feeling like someone has slammed your tailbone, full force, with a mildly padded cricket paddle.

Every time we break or twist something we wonder how long to heal. And, amidst all of the other thoughts, that this could be a career ending injury. This reminds me of a comment a fellow stunt man made years ago. He said we are intentionally doing things that could potentially break us and usually with the bare minimum of safety equipment.
So it’s reasonable to believe if I’m beating my body up, then I deserve the beating I get in return.
That’s the thing that causes me some days to feel much older than I really am.

Which brings me to my newest badge of honor. An impinged disc is a literal eye opening experience.
The pain associated with neuropathy? That’s a whole new level. I know plenty of individuals who believed if you can’t see the source of the pain then you’re just making it up. I’ve always wondered about things like sciatica, constant tingling in the extremities, pain that manifest itself in ways that create new benchmarks for personal pain comparisons. But then impinged discs step in to give you the kind of experience that makes a first person narrative too dramatic for words. Suddenly, trying to find a way to get from point A to point B with the barest minimum of debilitating discomfort and – this is almost just as important – not demonstrating to the rest of the world what’s happening. It’s like being a poker player in the game of life where you don’t want to tip the rest of the table to your tell. Dealing with the pain, you start thinking, “what could I have done differently? Maybe I should have spent more time warming up and stretching as well as warming down and stretching.” I know it’s not the latter.
An old friend of mine once gave me a hard time about being so careful with my pickup truck. It was a good natured ribbing about me not wanting to get my truck dirty or scratched. He said a truck needs to be rode hard, that was the thing that gave a truck character and told you it would be reliable.
I guess the human body is the same way. If I were to use my friend’s assessment of trucks as a model of comparison, I’d have to say my body is full of character.
Because let’s face it, nobody ever thinks about stretching after a physical activity. And when I say nobody, what I mean is most every individual I have ever worked with or talk to. The reality is any time we do anything physical we should warm our bodies up for the process. And we should stretch and cool down after. Being aware of this is useful but does little to distract me from the realities of the pain.

And that’s something else to think of. If you know somebody who complains of these issues? try to be a lot more sympathetic and empathetic then you might be.

Early in my Film and TV career I was at a social event bragging about being a stunt man. This old timer, Glen Wilder ( one of the truly finest and venerated individuals in the entire industry), overheard me and leaned in.
“you’re a stuntman,” he asked?
I said, “yes sir.”
He said “you’re not a stuntman till you broke something.”

I’ve been a stuntman for a long time. Like every other stunt man and woman in the business, I can walk you through a connect-the-dot diagram of every injury sustained and tell you where, when and how it happened.

It has been an incredible journey, getting to where I am. I’ve traveled the world, lived in several countries, and made lifelong friends. Two plus decades of defying death in the name of art has been a life alive with charm. It’s never the gravity, or the fall, but the sudden stop at the end.

Now then, where is that ibuprofen?

Writing a Best Man’s Speech Like the Best Man

September 21, 2015

I have had a number of guys approach me about Best Man speeches. Mostly it was, “how do I write one?”
So I decided to offer some insights, as well as post the one I composed for my best friend and his wife.

The Basics.
Know the couple. Chances are, if you’ve been asked to make a speech at the wedding (or be the Best Man), your knowledge of one or both celebrants transcends the casual. If you do not know one or the other well enough do some research. Take notes. Jot them down. You’ll need them later.

No off the cuff or extemporaneous speeches unless your improv skills are superior. Remarkably, the more people drink, the more talented they perceive themselves to be. Don’t fall victim to this painful mindset. I am not good at improv, and chose the careful, deliberate path of well-crafted syntax.

Make basic composition and order your friend. I recommend referring first to the person you are closest to, and then their partner. Finally, speak of both together, as one, since this is the secondary point of the speech: Acknowledging the two individuals as a couple. (note – avoid the temptation to refer to anything scandalous, offensive, or coarse. It may seem funny at the time but will make you memorable for all the wrong reasons. Besides, this is supposed to be a happy occasion, so resist any action that might otherwise sully the event.)

Write the speech, and rewrite it. And then practice it.

Memorize it. You will be the rock in the room as you speak, apparently from your heart (which is nonetheless true), with care and cadence. Take the time to make eye contact with your subjects as you speak to the room.

What follows, then, is the speech I wrote:

I’d like to start by thanking everyone for being here. Tonight’s celebration is as much for you as it is ABOUT Deane and Anna.

I got to thinking: what is the origin of the best man? Isn’t the groom supposed to be the best man?
A little history then, for those of you who might not know.
Once upon a time the best man assisted the groom in kidnapping the bride. (not an issue tonight).
This role evolved over time. The groom’s best man was so named for his ability with a sword, to protect the celebrants, and stave off possible attack. (again, probably not an issue tonight).

I met Deane when he was my director for a production of Hamlet, renaissance festival style. He was a giving and insightful director. Turns out he’s more giving as a friend. Where I consider myself a detail person Deane is a person of detail.

Anna? You are every sort of detail perfectly suited to the man. Deane was cautious when feelings developed, and held on to the word Like more than most would.
But you knew. There came a time when the word *Like* really meant *Love.*
I’d like to think Shakepeare’s Sonnet 83 captures Deane’s feelings for you every time he looks at you.
The thing about the bard: every time you hear the same verse, see the same action, or read the same stanza a new layer appears.

So it is with Deane and Anna.
May you continue to grow in your experiences, even as your Love expands, embraces and envelops each other. hold on to your plural voice, even as you learn to speak in the singular.
Allow your layers to blend and influence your world.
Those layers so perfectly intertwine that your love for each other speaks its own language.
You are well on the way, not just with your love, but with the love of everyone here.
Because that is part of your journey. To make your world a better place, doing so with love. Never believe you can say “I love you” too much.
We cement those layers every time we hold our true love’s hand. Don’t be afraid to hold her hand often.
People remark on how I always hold my wife’s hand. They believe it is a display of our love. Well it’s that, and a little more. I hold her hand as often as I can, because if I let go, she goes shopping.

It is said marriage is not about finding the person you can live with…It’s about finding the person you can’t live without. You have found your fair maiden. Embrace your role as the knight in shining armour…or at least, shimmering tights.
I relinquish my sword to you, Deane. For you are now, for your wife, The Best Man.
Everyone? Please raise your glass and join me as we wish Mr. and Mrs. Laseter a lifetime of love and happiness.

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.

Yes … There IS a Santa

December 4, 2009

I have family in town this week.  The good kind.  The kind that if you had the room you’d want them and their brood to stay with you.  The kind you don’t get to spend enough time with.  That sort.  Anyway, we went to one of the holiday offerings in Orlando at one of the Theme Parks that has a special ticketed event that serves all the cookies, hot chocolate, apple juice and pre-packaged apple slices one can possibly consume, as well as parades, decor, and offerings unique to the season.  Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.  This is a winter wonderland for kids of all ages.  Unlimited cookies?  What gets better than that.  And the brilliant logic as a parent is to let your child consume as many as possible and then flame out in a brilliant buzz of sugar-induced energy which ultimately results in a good night’s sleep for all.  Sometimes.

Anyway, back on point.  We had to leave early to pick up more family arriving at the airport.  On the way to the pass-through under the train station I noticed a small crowd gathered and walked over to glance past the toy soldiers.  Just beyond, seated on a plush crushed red velvet sofa-looking bench, was a guy dressed as Santa.  Something inside me said “I want to meet Santa,” even as another voice countered with, “it’s just a guy in a red suit.”  But we did.  We waited a few minutes, not long at all, until it was our turn.  The cast members were just delightful and filled with the spirit of the season.  It had cooled off to the point where, in the mid-sixties and with a slight breeze, it felt like the holiday season was upon us.  One of the cast members handed us little candy canes and admonished us not to eat them until after we met Santa.  The sticky candy gets in his beard and on his robe and had to be cleaned off and all that.  The child in me just wanted to get on with meeting Santa.  I still wasn’t really feeling it until it was our turn and we walked up to Santa.  He smiled at the two of us and patted his knees.

“Oh no,” I protested.  “I’ll sit next to you.”

He shook his head and patted his knees again as he looked at both of us.  “You’ll be fine.”  It was clear, in Santa’s domain, he was calling the shots.  He was the comforting patriarch and we were the children.

As I got closer and sat down and we both got comfortable on his knees the magic transported us.  I was a child taken back to a time that was measured in experiences and moments of joy.  I studied him carefully for a few moments as we spoke to him.  Real beard? Check.  Real mustache? Check.  His face had just the right windburned texture and even his eyelashes had a hint of white.  But his eyes.  There was delight in those eyes.  A joyful magical spark in them as he spoke to us.  Naturally he had the laugh, and the rich, basso profundo voice.  But it was the eyes.  And if the eyes are truly a window to the soul, as many a poet has declared, I saw in Santa’s eyes the hope and belief of a little magic in a sometimes-weary world.  We weren’t rushed away.  He smiled as he talked to us and I thought this must be who Santa is.  I wore a big smile the rest of the evening.

And some of you who have followed these articles know this has been an interesting year.  A year of loss, of unplanned charity of the forced kind, of the opportunity to stumble and not fall, but to recover and move forward.  I have often spoke of how we are measured by our ability to rise and overcome.  But I am beginning to believe we are also measured by our strength and faith.  It is one thing to speak of these things, but another to perform in action admirably.

If you make it out there, and I hope you do, make some time for yourself and your loved ones.  Do yourself a favor and visit Santa.  There is an infectious energy in the power to believe.  He made me believe.  There IS a Santa.  And when you visit him please tell him I said hi, and thanks.  And Merry Christmas.

Passion and what it means

October 29, 2009

Passion.
Think about the word for just a moment.
In this age of instant access and immediete fulfillment we lose sight of the importance of passion as we pursue in epic effort all things that might be side bars but are not germane to our necessary objectives.
For some, passion is like love. Fleeting and elusive, it appears both tangible and wispy at the same time, a haze that at first blush looks like a wall but remains little more than a reasonable facsimile.
For others, passion is all consuming and choking, with no room for nuance or interpretation.
Somewhere in the middle is where I’m aiming. As the co-architect of our destiny, we ought to find this standard and define it for our own purpose.
I’m a late bloomer. Torn between the absolutism of looking over my shoulder at what might have been, and looking forward to all the great things that can be, I strive every day to choose the latter, though admittedly it might be easier to frame my life based on the choices I’ve already made.
We should direct our pursuits. We should find our passions and define them. Primary among them is:
how does this help me and improve my world?
If the answer involves casualties, I recommend exploring other options. Choices exist.
Find your passion and embrace it. Welcome others into your plan and they will embrace it with you, and nothing is better than the support of family and friends when it comes to lofty efforts.
Our passions, like every other choice, can be rendered for good or bad. That choice remains our dominion.
My passion and energies in years past have been sometimes misdirected.
But introspection and analysis do much to offer insight and guidance. What we do with these life lessons influences our impact on ourselves and our world.
Find your passion. Nurture it. Make it a part of your life and a force for good. Whether it is a passion to perform, to do good deeds, to create, your offerings will offer peace, inspiration, and solid footing in a sometimes perplexing world.
This world needs passionate people, people dedicated to making the world a better place.
Let your passion be your legacy. Let it triumph your accomplishments. If your aim is true, others will take up the banner and cause.
Find your passion. Evolve. Change yourself. Change the world.
Your passion CAN make the world a better place.

Black Top – Now that’s entertainment!

September 11, 2009

I just returned from a trip overseas and got the chance to visit  some old friends.  The trip was a highly necessary foray of a personal nature but I was fortunately afforded some leisure time.  One of these outings involved a visit to Harderwijk (NL) where the band Black Top ( www.OfficialBlackTop.com ) was performing that evening at a well known and often frequented establishment known as Nicky’s Inn.   Nicky’s was celebrating their 25th anniversary and they had a full complement of entertainment for the evening.  Black Top was one of the evening’s star bands.  (A disclaimer:  I have been well acquainted with the guitarist of the band, Mick Hup, for ten years and consider him a close friend).

I have known Mick almost since he first picked up a guitar.  Even then, in one of his first competitions, Noel Redding, a guest judge at the event, recognized Michiel’s talent.  That is noteworthy. 

Collectively, he and his two band mates comprise one of the most solidly innovative and rich-sounding groups to emerge in a long time.

These guys not only look and sound like musicians (whatever that is) they also compose themselves on stage in such a fashion to convey to their audience and each other they’re totally into what they do.  All three were “in the zone” as they played, and I remembered the first competition I attended where Mick played.  There is a passion and love in performing that cannot be faked.

I have said this before:  when we find our passion and pursue it, and make the honest commitment to ourselves, that sense of loyalty to self creates all kinds of gifts for us.  When we perform with passion, all other elements fall into place.

These guys play with passion.  They love their music, they love their fans, and they love the gift  of music.  And the focus of their energies seems so effortless that even with a cursory glance at their bios one readily knows there is a great deal more to their training and knowledge than is presented by the written word.  That level of professionalism is no fluke.  It is part of a collaborative effort that these three men have made with themselves and each other.  I wrote of the professional attitude and performance of a KISS tribute band I had seen a couple of months ago, and the same sense of preparation and level of top shelf behavior is a part of the Black Top credo, even if they don’t use it as a motto.  Their performance in a live venue is as crisp and energetic as the tracks they record for their albums.

Whether one wishes to listen to music, or study the subtle mannerisms that make someone top league, Black Top is a good place to start.  Their commitment to offer the best part of themselves and be the best in what they do is evident every time they step into a studio or onto a stage.  Those of us who are entertainers and seek to entertain benefit by studying and observing those who perform in a variety of venues, skills and genres.  We do what we do best when we challenge ourselves to experiences “out of the box.”  It is these encounters that entertain, enrich, and educate.