Thoughts on the Reason for the Season

December 24, 2015

The reason for the season.

What is it exactly? If you ask 10 people you’ll get 10 different answers. Similar to my experience as an actor and stuntman, every time I went for a new headshot session I would go through the photos and pick the top 10 I felt best represented me as me and not someone else. And I would seek out the council of my experienced actor friends and ask them their opinion. After, I would talk to a couple of casting directors and ask them theirs. Finally, I would go to my agent and let her have a look see. Would it surprise you to know that some folks like the same photo but in almost every instance every individual picked another, different picture. I would make notes who likes what and why, and then I would compare that to my own notes of what I liked. That’s how I chose my new headshot pictures. Ultimately, it had to be an honest representation Of Ron. If this somehow conflicted with my agent’s choice I never told her. And she never said word one to me when I submitted new head shots for her file.

My choice of headshots is a variation of reflectively deciding which path or fork in the road to take, ultimately making the mindful choice of what best serves you and your sphere.

So, you may be wondering how I started on the topic of holiday interpretation and got to a monologue about headshots. While it is critically important to respect the belief and values of others, it is equally important to identify your own values and be willing, through self awareness, to stand for them.
Our belief system is always evolving. As we get older we develop stronger feelings on certain subjects and in many instances abandon beliefs and sentiments we held in our youth. sometimes we make slight modifications and other times we engage in wholesale changes.

What does this mean for you? I can tell you what it means for me. I may not believe in your belief system but I’m willing to listen and learn, & adopt those rudiments as they apply to my vslue system.
Christmas is about the spirit of giving, of family, and of compassion. Hanukkah is about storytelling, light, hope, and faith that all things are possible when you believe. Ramadan is about family, religious observation, and self-reflection. Yule is about acknowledging the cycle and circle of life, and remembering why connecting with nature and each other is so important. And so it goes. See the trend in similarities? Truth is, each of these holds within its bosom a commitment to celebration, remembering, and self-reflection.

Every major religion, including many not considered “major,” celebrate the new year at a time that contradicts the Gregorian calendar. This doesn’t make one more “right,” anymore than local cultural norms that dictate you dine on the floor and eat sans utensils, or sit at a long linen-bedecked table, waiting for the next course to be served.

Here’s the thing. every one of these tenants listed is something that any single individual can get behind and adopt. In that way it’s kind of like getting advice or seeking counsel. Take what works for you, apply it, and discard the rest. Don’t forget the rest because there’s a good possibility somewhere down the road you’ll look through that pile of discards and realize, Hey that thing there just might work.

So that’s the thing to think about not just for the season, but every single day of your life. Remain true to who you are, and be open to the sort of change that is personally fulfilling and socially enriching. You’ll notice a positive change in yourself. Your ever growing circle of friends and family as well as sphere of influence will reflect this. All you have to do is be willing to share and participate.
That sense of self realized connectiveness, the concept of individual wholeness bringing value to the community?
That’s the payoff.

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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.

A Commitment to Memories

July 13, 2015

What do we have after everything is said and done?
The memories. And there’s a subtle beauty in this. Because that’s what we both take and leave.
Three years have passed.
How did that happen?

What happens in the time from when we’re children, blissfully unaware, to young Turks, immortal and eager to take on the world?
The blur is the pace by which we transition from twenty to fifty.
But you don’t realize it until you get there, turn around and question where it all went.
Ah, the joy of being a kid living on the edge of space, sitting ripe for the picking of moments.
How do the Fates arbitrarily cherry pick what experiences will be ours?
How do they determine the impact that is to be?
Really, this is rhetorical musing. The truth is, three years later and I’ll be damned if the emotional tax on your departure has been paid in full.

It’s not just the things we’ve done, the places we’ve been, the adventures we’ve shared, but it’s the other stuff.
It’s the disagreements, the disappointments, and the depression.
Too stubborn to look past the first, too proud to look past the second, and too, well, who knows what, as far as the third.
We did indeed hear those bells chime at midnight. We shared many a laugh.
We cried, we celebrated, and we swore we’d make the world a better place. We hashed out idea after idea, with the singular commitment to making certain who ever rocketed first took the other along on his coat tails.
We agreed to do all that together.

You might be just beyond my sight line, this temporary inconvenience, but this thought does little to adequately mollify the roller coaster of melancholy felt.
I am not a wise man, else wise I’d possess a modicum of the wisdom reserved for others.
I am not a sad man either.

So much has happened.
How I wish you could hold Addison Rose. She would make you smile from ear to ear a second or two after you realized what we’ve all figured out: she’s smarter than the rest of us bunched together.
I would willingly do all you asked and more to be able tell you, to your ears, that I finally finished my Bachelor’s degree. And when you’d give me a hug, that would be the time I’d tell you that a half century plus on the third planet from the sun seems like a good time to go to Grad school. We’d finally make good on our plans to join the Guild, or at least talk about it. I would be willing to sit through a viewing of The Vault, just to hear your richly infused laugh. That would be time together, and that would be good enough.

To tip a pint to all these things and more…

I am not a sad man.
I simply wish you were here to share these joys.
Hey? Take care of Fendi. He’s not like the rest.
I promise you that you’ll never want for love from him.

Love, Life, Separation, & Death

July 19, 2014

An interesting thing happened to me today.
In the midst of moving about, cleaning, organizing, and getting some laundry done, I walked into the Kungaloosh room. This space was created in part as an homage to a wonderful space that enjoyed a significant footprint in the physical realm of a world that has since passed, and now is conjured up in the memories of intrepid travelers.

It was also created as a time capsule for all those road trips my brother and I took when we both lived in South Florida. University was not always the priority it should have been, but a trip to Pleasure Island and its crown jewel for us – The Adventurer’s Club – was always in the cards.
I walked into the room to put something away and glanced over at photo of he and me together, and I found myself talking to it.

July 13th came and went as quietly as I could manage. I thankfully was working and had a distraction to occupy my time.
July 13th 2014. The second anniversary of his death.

So here I am, a week later, going through the ordinary motions of a guy on his day off, lost in domestic dedication.
But I looked at that photo, a picture I’ve had since it was taken 17 years ago, and one which I have looked at every time I had cause to walk into the room, and I spoke to it.
“You weren’t supposed to die. You were supposed to live a long time. I was supposed to die before you.”
And I cried like I have not yet for his passing.
I talked to him, or the photo anyway, and continued to cry. I’ve a shrine to him as well as items we have collected or he acquired. I walked to the other side of the room and sat down. Feeling broken and disconnected I reached out for the Art Deco plane he gave me, a part of a simple acquisition and relocation plan on his part, and cried some more.

I had not imagined my Saturday would be so filled with personal drama and pain.
I recently had a talk with an old friend who insisted they “understood what I was going through.”
I am not so sure. We all manage loss and death, and the pain and grief that follows, in unique ways. And the depth of our love is different.
Working through this grief I suddenly realized this is the one thing that has a terrible ROI. Maybe besides Jealousy.

Grief and Jealousy are two things that you invest in that returns nothing you’d want.

When you have someone important in your life suffer through the loss of someone they love, the best thing you can do is be supportive by being there.
Do not, for any reason, say, “I understand.” It is most likely you do not. There are always exceptions. His wife? she understands. Everyone else simply wants to.
Just be there and be quiet. If you feel compelled to say anything else let them know your shoulder and ears are theirs for the asking.

Just Be There.

Happy New Year? The New Year and Your New Year

December 31, 2013

Some thoughts to ruminate over.

On the last day of 2013 many people contemplate the year in review while others set lofty goals for “new year’s resolutions.”

At the threshold of 2014, I contemplate the fact that those of us fortunate enough to Make Magic and Create Happiness for tens of thousands and smile at the blessings granted. This is a great place for anyone to start. Dwell not on the chances missed but opportunities granted and grasped.
This year moved quickly, even though the measure of a second, minute, day and week are the same no matter where on the planet you are, it somehow felt like 2013 slipped by in the blink of an eye.

I’ll be celebrating New Year’s Eve alone. And that’s okay, except for the absence of loved ones. Minus my little girl? Now my joy is a bit reserved. I missed her first smile…and I am going to miss her first New Year’s Eve.

I miss my brother, but that is another post for another time, or perhaps something best understood when not spoken.

As John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” The periods in life, or even during a particular year, that blasted by unnoticed happen because we were not actively engaged. When you’re playing football you have the choice to risk it all and get the ball or stay clear of the mix. Get the ball and you’ll get the crap knocked out of you…but never forget what it was like running with the ball.

Whether a lead or supporting character in the story, the responsibility is to do your very best, to shine in that instant and blossom where planted, even when others do less. The story depends on you, even as your nerves have your heart racing like The Quickening.
That’s Life.
A very dear friend told me once the hardest part to playing Hamlet is getting asked.
But when that choice role comes along, regardless the venue, whether parent, pilot, or player, grab at it with both hands and wring its neck as you make its life your own. That intensity is Life.

This is what happens when one lives in and by the moment, and it is still worth every second. Think about how you become engaged. Do you sit on the sidelines, testing the water, or dive right in? Be engaged. Recognize and realize the moments as they approach.

With a new life wholly dependent on you there are milestones yet to mark. I look forward to each one, even as I dwell on the delight of those I’ve experienced.

Challenge yourself to do the same. Live in the moment, take the time to do things right, and smile even at the smallest things. You never know whose life you made a little brighter by the action.
Say Please and Thank You, and encourage others to do the same. Be Charitable with your words and actions. Engage in random acts of kindness even if no one is looking.
Read a book. Write a poem.

Let’s not regret the chances and opportunities not seized.
Wonderful New Year’s Wishes to Everyone.

The world of theme parks and the wide world of Disney

January 11, 2013

There has been a lot of talk on theme park growth and offerings. Some of it has found The Walt Disney Company lacking.
It’s easy to get caught up in the comparative analysis of who’s doing what but doing so prohibits us from looking at the gestalt:
Disney was, is, and always will be cutting edge.
Just because the company isn’t moving fast enough at a particular time for a particular analyst’s tastes doesn’t mean it is mis-stepping. There have been stumbles, but in the past the company has shown a strong face at recovering and learning. Its leaders by and large understand the difference between leading and managing. Trust me, there is a difference, just as there is a difference between leaders and managers.

Some of this talk has involved attractions that might not be sophisticated enough. What separates guests who quickly visit a new attraction and add it to their belt of experiences from those guests who adopt attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion and make it a point to visit as frequently as possible, sometimes going several times in the course of a one day visit? Nothing.

It is true that attractions go away, evolve, or become something else entirely. This mindset of change was Walt’s persistent vision and remains a driving force in the company to this day.Walt was also about embracing new technology, about doing things that had never been done before. The concept of a Theme Park as we know it today, Themed resorts, and environments where the guests become part of the show, never existed before 1955, with the opening of Disneyland.The Dragon flying over Fantasyland, even if for only one night, is the sort of spectacular detail that people still buzz over and an excellent example of a company going beyond the norm.

Sure, it’s great to have “go-fast” rides and attractions that suit the adrenaline junkies. But do you render those offerings at the cost of excluding certain family members? Do you leave mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, and the young adventurers not yet meeting height requirements on the bench outside while you ride the spinning swings of doom?
I suppose you could. But then what was the point of the “family vacation” if the family is not spending time together? This very example speaks to the point of why Walt build Disneyland.

Roller coasters are excellent thrill-a-minute entertainment, but so are live shows, especially the high-energy, high octane stunt shows such as those that can be found at the Disney Hollywood Studios and Disney park in Paris.
Live shows and entertainment is one area where the competition has not been keeping up. It is possible they don’t understand the need for a broad sweeping stroke that does one thing: provides an activity for the entire family.
It’s true: Forbidden Journey at Universal’s Islands of Adventure is an impressive feat of technology.
The real winner for me, however, was the enveloping design of Hogsmeade. Everybody young and old could enjoy that.
This is the sort of uncompromising architectural slam-dunk that can be found at every single Disney park. This is the sort of attention to detail that is the rule and not the exception.

And let us step outside the realm of the Theme Park. Whatever your interest, Disney has it. It says volumes about the product that cast members take advantage of the perks of working for the company by experiencing some of what there is to offer, be it a round of golf at one of the award-winning courses at Walt Disney World, a stay at one of the resorts, dining in one of the world class restaurants, or a cruise on one of the Disney Cruise Line ships(a line of business with its own lengthy list of accolades).

Development and planning is a meticulous and careful endeavor.
The Walt Disney Company didn’t become the global leader in entertainment by looking up from the project table like a contestant on a reality show scrambling to assemble a puzzle and win immunity.

The parks may not always look their steller best. True – explaining what is behind the wall is a lot like trying to tell someone, “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Unfortunately this is the price of creating magic.
When one looks at how Disney positions its offerings it becomes clear the net is cast as wide as possible from a perspective of total inclusivity. Consider their Common Goal. Also think about holiday offerings. Magic Kingdom’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is not Halloween Horror Nights, Howl-O-Scream, or any of that genre for a reason. It is an offering designed to appeal to the entire family.
Popularity of attractions, resorts, and Theme Parks themselves can sometimes be the subject of caustic debate. It is interesting to note that the most popular tourist attraction in Paris is not Gustave Eiffel’s creation, but Disneyland Paris.
Families typically plan their holiday vacations based on what everyone will or can do together. Look at Adventures by Disney. Who would have guessed guided tours with a uniquely Disney presence would become so popular, yet they are.
There is a special subset that focuses on thrill rides and the like. For them there is Cedar Point and Kings Dominion, to name a couple.
You can never please everyone, no matter how hard you try. Anyone who states differently is trying to sell you something from the back of a wooden wagon.
It is important to think in terms of the following, even as a demographic evolves:
Today’s child is tomorrow’s teen and the next day’s parent. While there may be unrest because there are not enough “edgy attractions” to stimulate teen senses, you can be assured that when those teens become parents and grandparents they’ll certainly plan a family trip, most likely to one of the Disney parks.
Why?
One small part marketing, one big part Memories. Disney IS about creating and making memories.

I remember my first trip to the Magic Kingdom, who I was with, and what we did.
I also remember my first trip to Universal, but not because of the place. I had press credentials and was there for the grand opening. So, while every other person waited in hours long lines to experience Jaws or Earthquake (both attractions which, incidentally are no longer there or have been remade), we were escorted through back doors alongside other legitimate celebrities to experience the rides without the wait.

I remember my second trip to the Magic Kingdom.
I could not tell you details of my second trip to any other theme park if money, fame, and fortune were on the line.
Ephemeral experiences are not the Disney way.

When I go to the Disney parks the experience is an overall positive one because my guests and myself are made to feel special. That conveys to most everyone who visits the Walt Disney World Resort. There are going to be experiences that miss the perpetual high water mark with some, but the numbers bear the truth: Disney is successful at what it does because it is a “guest first” company.

The success is evident in the fact Disney’s story-telling is a critical component to the ongoing success of the company synergistically. Synergy is a great way of delivering to the wide variety of tastes of today’s sophisticated consumer. Pirates of the Caribbean is one example of many.
The Walt Disney Company does this in such a way that other companies clamor to study and learn “The Disney Way.”
Memories are as much a part of Disney as Mickey Mouse.

My favorite memories involve who I was with, not the rides I was on.
I lost my brother in July. One such memory involved a road trip he and I took to EPCOT (then Center).
That memory is better than any ten dozen thrill rides and attractions.

We all want to share the stories and experiences that make us smile, because a smile is contagious, and what better way to infect others than by sharing the thing that brings one joy. In this case, it’s not just the thrill ride, the new attraction, or the stunning architecture. It’s how all things combined create the indelible imprint of a lasting memory.
That’s what good storytelling does.
This is a skill Disney is penultimately suited to deliver over and over again.

Memories? That is what people are going to hang on to and remember years after their visit. Creating Happiness and Making Memories. That’s what Disney does. And Disney does so better than anyone else.

Christopher Burns – The Most Interesting Man in the World. Truly.

July 13, 2012
It’s been a hell of a week.
Andy Griffiths, Ernest Borgnine, & Christopher Burns.
please say it with me:
Christopher D. Burns, Esq.
Who are these people?
The first I never met; the second I met several times; the third was my brother.
I have to tell you I am absolutely in no frame of mind to do this but I can not suffer to remain quiet, my fingers are of a mind all their own.  If I am to frame my grief, better to do so through memory and catharsis.
So, a few words then for a poet, writer, genius, kin. A man whom, at the top of his game, saw none better.
In the passage of death we are often forgiving of the character flaws of those we lose.
Christopher was angry, passionate, and with a heart that knew no boundary.  He was truly an idea man.
He and I often reflected on how “we have heard the chimes at midnight.”
So many adventures, so much heartbreak, so many incredible memories.
No two could be closer had they drunk from the same DNA pool, sibling rivalries notwithstanding.
We would drive three and a half hours to drink nickel beers and dollar longnecks at the Cheyenne Saloon at Church Street.  That was living.
I never deserved his unrequited love, his enduring affections, his sage wisdom.  Yet, he persevered, refusing my stubborn efforts to alienate the world and on occasion, him.
I never had to defend his actions; he was never afeared to tell people what he thought.  In later times, when he kept getting kicked while down, I felt the need to let the world know what I thought. When the judgements would fly with much alacrity, how great a man he was.
It always began with the same sentence:  “I’ve seen Chris at the top of his game, and you’ll never meet a man better.”
He turned me on to Kahlil Gibran and The Prophet (and subsequently, to Kehlog Albran’s The Profit).  Buckminster Fuller, Alan Parsons, and Man Goat.  There was nothing this man did not know.
It was at The Dream Weaver Ranch he discovered his totem, nature, and through the sight of glowing eyes at the forest’s edge, the nickname BBBM.
You see, Chris was a big huge man.  Yet I never saw someone so terrified of something he couldn’t see.  I guess there’s a little of that in all of us.
I could fill a novel with our stories. No nuance or detail escaped his notice.
We never opened a pub, but we sure closed a few.
He was forever forgiving of my practical jokes.  Like the time mom insisted I take him shopping because he had little fashion sense (he wore black on black with black).  We walked into one of those boutique stores in Orlando years before I moved there and I convinced him the shirt he was trying on was perfect for him.  It was this screaming orange and yellow monstrosity which required a strong personality to wear.  He had the personality, but was convinced people were laughing at him (they weren’t).
Then there was the time I duct-taped a one gallon can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew to the rear bumper of his car.  He stopped at a fuel station to gas up and noticed a couple of girls looking at him and smiling.  He told me, “there I was looking at them, looking at me, and thinking, ‘I still got it.’  But then I wondered if there was another reason they were smiling.”  He told me he walked around to the rear of the car where he saw the big can of ready-to-eat stew.  All he could do was shake his head as he got in his car and drove off.
I snapped a photo of him one day, brushing his teeth, wearing nothing but his tidy whiteys.  And then I later taped said photo to the rear license plate of a friend’s motorcycle, who got pulled over by Gainesville’s finest. Fortunately the officer had a sense of humor and approached my friend by saying, “I think someone is having a joke on you.”
Chris had seen military service and action, yet just about climbed into my lap when we went through The Great Movie Ride and one of the Aliens appeared from the ceiling.  He was practically peeing from fear and I was peeing from laughter.
I taught Chris how to drift a car; the first time he did it was around a curb.  When I first demonstrated this, he was in the passenger seat and his son was in the back seat.
And his wife was on the curb ready to lose her mind until she realized I was driving. Oddly, she was okay with this arrangement.
His little boy said, “do it again.”
Chris simply got into the driver’s seat, and asked me to talk him through the physics and mechanics of the action.  He executed it perfectly.
And you never saw a greater hero that day than a father to his son.  Benjamin loved his daddy, and it didn’t hurt he had an uncle willing to help his pop get crazy.
Christopher saw practically every show I had ever performed, seen me do many of the stunts professionally for the first time, always proudly beaming.  He read my galleys, went to film festivals to support my early efforts and was always present with a smile and story.
I never have known anyone who could hold court on the nuances of Hamlet while simultaneously field stripping a weapon.  In fact, he knew a whole lot about everything whereas I knew just enough about  few things to appear smart.
Yet, for all his brilliance, I never understood why Chris held his own father in such high esteem. Any father would pray for such a son as my brother, but this father was unworthy. Chris always failed to live up to the man’s expectations, no matter how amazing his accomplishment. The man lorded over him some bizarre psychological ordnance that was a battering ram to his psyche, a bludgeoning instrument that slowly, inexorably chipped away at Christopher’s glimmer and greatness, until all there was left was tarnish.
But guess what? Even the finest art shows itself well with the patina of age and experience.
We had a falling out (my fault, naturally). But we managed to reconnect in short time. And it all began anew with no special words or acknowledgement I had fucked up.
That’s how he was. Never held a grudge. Someone or something would sabotage an honest effort and he still insisted on putting his best foot forward.
One night, on the roof of The Beacon, drinking some god awful piss of a beer, we had one of those epiphany moments. We made a point to go to this dive that carried the greatest variety of beer ever seen, and we would buy the worst named, nastiest looking bottles, and go back to his place, where his lovely wife would send us off to the roof with a “you boys have fun” wave of her hand and off we went.  And we would do the opposite of what any barley and fermented hop connoisseur would do.  Where the average imbiber would drink something delightful and say, “you really must try this,” he would take a swallow of some tongue curling liquid, make the most inhumanly grotesque face possible, curl his lips and say, “Snap. You have to try this shit.”
And it was that night I learned about one hundred proof truth.
From that point forward I ripped my chest open, so he knew my heart by its merit.  That was all it ever took, as if mundane conversation had transcended the ordinary, to become something greater.  It was one of those rarified times in my life where I realized I could talk to him about anything.  And I did. I have sought his wise counsel on a great many things and realize at the risk of apparent selfishness I have no idea who I will turn to with future questions from here on out.
Christopher – You were always a general in my army, always a beacon of light, always more than a shadow of hope.
A lifetime of experiences, and yet yours has been cut short.
And your absence is a vacuum upon that organ in my chest that tries to beat yet sounds more like a banging drum marking the time and passage of a great soul lost.
A Gibran quote for you, my brother.
“Love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”
 That is One Hundred Proof Truth.

Stephen Jenn – A Prince For All Seasons

April 2, 2012

The world is a little quieter today.
I remember when I first met Stephen Jenn.  The university where I studied had this gem within the theatre department called The Eminent Scholar program.  For one or two semesters visiting members of the entertainment community came to spend an allotted time as instructors.  Zoe Caldwell, Robert Whitehead, Edward Albee, and Olympia Dukakis were a few of the notable people to teach and share their experiences.  Stephen Jenn, Royal Shakespeare Company, Old Vic Theatre, arrived one semester as the resident expert on all things Shakespeare.  As regards the Bard, who better, right?

My first experience with Shakespeare was under his tutelage.
My main stage debut was in the Tempest, notable in that Stephen approached me after the audition process and said, “You have the role if you want it.  take the weekend to decide.”
The role was the boatswain.  Probably not a big deal to veteran theatre types.  But a big deal made even bigger by the fact I wasn’t a theatre major (I had been preparing for law school by studying Poli Sci) and had beaten several other theatre majors for right of first refusal of the part.
Not only would I be studying Shakespeare, but I would be directed by no less than a member of one of the oldest Shakespeare troupes in existence.
I said yes with the table reading the following week.
We were gathered around a long table and wasted no time as we cracked our books. I began reading my lines and had made it almost completely through the first sentence when he slammed his script on the table.
“You’re screwing up the verse.  Don’t do it again.”
Except screwing wasn’t the word he used.  Stephen had chosen a stronger word to express his displeasure.
That day I quickly learned the difference between Verse and Prose.
I signed up for every class he was teaching, including a graduate class he permitted me to attend. I had become enthralled with Shakespeare.
Somewhere along the line our path shifted.  It happened while we were studying the sonnets. We became friends.  Every day I saw him I had a new sonnet, written in the proper format, and he marveled at the ease by which it came to me, indicating the stressed-unstressed nature of iambic pentameter was easily lost to many native Brits.  I’m certain he was telling me this simply as an attaboy, yet it encouraged me to persevere.
I auditioned for the theatre program but never made it.  I was told by the committee to keep working at it, so I did.
Two weeks later I auditioned for the Palm Beach Shakespeare’s production of Richard III.  I was cast as the Marquis of Dorset.  My first professional production.  Stephen was highly supportive of this even as I was admonished by one of the department instructors for taking theatrical work outside of the college.  

Stephen left to go back home to London and we spoke on a regular basis.  He’d always inform me whenever he’d be stateside for a similar program.  He was highly sought after and taught at many highly lauded schools with exceptional theatre departments.

But I never truly made the time to see him until my career began to take off and I had the opportunity to travel overseas.  We met for tea and talked, catching up as old friends do.

Our relationship continued to thrive when I returned back to Florida.  The chance presented itself to audition for Hamlet, and like much I have done in this industry, I pursued it because I didn’t know enough to give up or believe the role was beyond my reach.  I’ve often said I’ve succeeded only because I didn’t know enough what the word “no” meant.

I loved him with a fondness reserved for so very few. When I landed the lead role Stephen was the first person I called.  He sensed my nerves and knew just what to say, offering great wisdom and tutelage despite being “on the other side of the pond,” as he, being the proper British gentleman, liked to say.  He shared with me his own experience portraying the prince and understood how daunting the effort would be.  Stephen became an entirely accessible open book during the rehearsal process, and I am fairly certain I would never have made the performances ring true if not for him. It meant a great deal to receive his approval and insight into Shakespeare, and indeed life itself.
Every casting, every life event, anything, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, was a reason to call Stephen.  He was enthusiastic about every call, and would in turn share news on his latest film or theatre project, sometimes offering details of his on-set experiences while never drifting towards the salacious.
The last time I visited him the picture of myself as Hamlet I sent sat framed on a buffet table.  I understood then the value of our friendship.

Stephen had battled a bastard of a brain tumor for nearly 3 decades.  In the end the tumor began to win.

Yesterday would have been his 62nd birthday.

I bought two Mickey Mouse pocket watches over twenty years ago during one of my weekend jaunts to Central Florida and the Magic kingdom.
I presented one to Stephen before he left at the conclusion of his semester.
He was more touched by the gesture than I expected him to be. I guess, without realizing it at the time, I recognized this one thing: the appropriate accoutrement for any British gentleman had to be a pocket watch. 

Last night I took my Mickey Mouse pocket watch out of the case. It ran just as well as it did when I first got it all those years ago.  Holding it took me back to the day I gave my friend the other one. I wound it, but not too tightly, and set it back on its hook. 
To anyone who knew him, Stephen was a man of all seasons, a prince of great nobility, and an honorable gentleman of the very first class. 

And these words, I never understood their full meaning and mettle until just tonight.
To die: to sleep; 
No more; and by a sleep to say we end 
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks 
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation 
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep; 
To sleep, perchance to dream, ay, there’s the rub.
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come 
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil – 
Must give us pause.

A toast, then, to a man who was my friend, mentor, and professor.
Thank you, Stephen, for showing me the beauty of a world where language was still an art form and words, artfully crafted, form magic.

Jim Robertson – A Mission of Love

November 17, 2011

It was quite the gathering, somber and subtle.  The steady flow of people suggested the hope of getting a glimpse of someone known to many and loved by all, their mere presence a testament to the man.  They came from everywhere, current and former work colleagues, and all friends.  Jim’s storied history as an entertainer encompassed everything from clowning around to stunts.  Really.  He was a clown with Ringling Brothers and stunt performer at Wild West, calling upon his ability to make people laugh while doing stunts so effortlessly he made you believe anyone could do them.

It is said we are measured by the company we keep.  If you want to know a little about a man, take a look at the people he calls “friend.”

By such reckoning Jim is a man wealthier in character than most who measure their wealth by something more tangible, yet no more substantial.  His love and connection to those who paid tribute by their presence to him showed a man who had not only made peace with God and the complexity of the human condition, but he made the effort known to each and every soul who reached out to him.

Perhaps that is a bit of a misnomer.  In sooth, he reached out to everyone, one delicate and fragile soul at a time.  It was like watching a receiving line for royalty.  He had special words for every person.  Even in pain, the love on his face shone through his smile, a beacon to each one of us lost in the confusing darkness.  Some of us chose to remain nearby, standing sentinel, others had not the strength to wait for the moment the ferryman would arrive.  His family was never far away, each one at one point or other in the evening offering every one of us a hug as thanks for being there.  Except for his father.  His father sat at the foot of the bed and gently massaged Jim’s feet.  The image is a powerful one that will forever remain with me.  You see, I lost a brother years ago, and the pain and sadness that affected me, while deep, was different from my parents, faced with the unsettling reality of having to bury their son.   No parent should ever have to stare this reality in the eye.

I said goodbye to an old friend tonight, careful to remain sure-footed and stoic in his presence. I’d summoned up the courage (which was nothing compared to Jim’s daily battles of late) to come to the house. I was conflicted about going, because I knew why I was going. By his invitation we all were there. I dug deep as I walked in to see him, bolstered by the presence of so many friends and loved ones gathered under one roof. Most of us tried the same tact.  But our body posture shouted something else entirely.  And Jim? He knew better. It’s why he smiled as he held my hand.  He spoke to me of marriage and of flying, the former a passion of his and the latter a passion of mine.  He offered wisdom to a neophyte married man with the same lucidity of conversations we so recently enjoyed at work.

Have you ever wanted to hug the pain out of someone?  I felt that way, and yet sensed Jim wanted to hug the pain out of all of us, one at a time.

That’s a lot of love.  That’s a colossal giant of a man.

I remarked later that I admired him for so many things, and most recently, for his strength.  To have the wherewithal to make peace with the world in general and accept the hand one is dealt, while capitalizing on the moments still hanging in the pass, takes remarkable fortitude.  I have never been so strong in the brilliant points of my life, allowing rather the crest of momentum to carry me.  I know with fair certainty I could never be so strong faced with the imminent advance of my own mortality.  I will never understand what sort of Herculean strength is required of a person to stave off the advances of organ failure simply to say good bye to those who need.

An anxiety attack is cause for concern in most.  Yet here was a man who found a way to smile as he sat at the portal, refusing the suffering any quarter as he kept the pain at bay in favor of the company of we few who trudge onward, forced to face the day of our own reckoning in the gentle eyes of a man twice as good as most of us will ever aspire to be.

People often use clichés to the point of exhaustion.  One such phrase, “…Charming to the last,” has seen more than its fair share of exposure for causes and people unworthy.  Yet such a simple phrase does not describe Jim in those hours and moments.

To say Jim was charismatic and charming to the last denigrates the statement and does little to stress exactly how much love and charm exuded from this man.  He inspired a prominent local entertainer, himself a charming and charismatic fellow, to take on the task of becoming a concert promoter, building a night of entertainment dedicated to a singular purpose: helping Jim and his family. During the pre-production period of bringing the “Mission of Love” concert experience to fruition, Donn managed on a few hours of sleep a night.  He didn’t care.  Forging forward with this pressing need, he touched upon its importance with every person he spoke to.  And wound up having to turn people down.  What’s that say for a man’s worth that entertainers were lining up when they heard whom the benefit was for?

In times of trouble, and all too often at the expense of a person’s demise, does the kindest of words begin to drift skyward. We too often delay our effortless endeavor until we are robbed of the opportunity to say, “I love you” or offer some other sweetly noble cadence.  We create this sadness for ourselves and then wonder why we waited.

Yet Jim never waited, and he never allowed us to wait, either.  He compelled us to speak our mind, from the heart, in one voice.

Don’t wait.  The world needs the possibility of a universe with love, of people not willing to remain the silent majority, taken to task for thinking, “what if?”

I heard someone question why God takes all the good ones, and leaves the miserable, villainous sots behind.  I have an answer:  He is sometimes a selfish God, and when the mood strikes him, he wants the best for himself.   Or, to put it in the words of Donn:  “Open the Gates!  You got a good one!!!”

If you knew Jim, you’d agree.

Thanks Jim, for sharing your heart and showing us foolish mortals the hopefulness of a world with Love.