Archive for the ‘management’ 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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