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Lessons from the Road: Turning a negative into a positive

This week, I had the incredible opportunity to do my show in Northeast Nebraska—well, make that four shows in two days.

The first day was awesome. Both shows had nice sized audiences, lots of great feedback, healing happened, I got to hock a couple of my books, and I made some new friends.

The second day I was going to be a two different schools. After arriving at the college I was supposed to perform for in the morning, I found out they had forgotten to promote the show to the student body. I had driven more than an hour from my home base through the corn fields of Nebraska for no reason at all. I was disappointed not only because I wanted to do my show, but the community had several recent suicides and I was hoping I could help with the healing process.

While I was breaking down my equipment and getting ready to leave, three members of the community showed up. They were counselors for teenagers at a local youth center. It was too late in the morning to do my one-man show for them, but they stayed to hear my usual post-show discussion about hope and crisis intervention and suicide prevention. Because of this, these three counselors were able to take away with them a little bit of helpful information and tools to help the kids that they counsel. 

Yes, it felt bad to have been forgotten about by that school… but it paved the way for an intimate and meaningful conversation and dissemination of useful information to those three counselors.

Often, success doesn’t look like the flowery picture we’ve built up in our minds. Follow me on this analogy for second... let’s say I’ve found a cocoon on my front porch one morning. I imagine that the cocoon will, in ten days, turn into an elegant and picturesque butterfly. However, the day that it hatches I find that this butterfly is actually dark brown with an uneven blotch of red on each wing. 

So it’s not the butterfly I expected... but it’s still a miracle of nature that all the right conditions were met for this caterpillar to turn into a moth—right on my front porch.

My response to the creation of that moth is all about mindset... 
My response to having three people in a room instead of three hundred is all about mindset...
Turning a negative situation and turning it into something positive is all about mindset...

Learn how to tame your mind and how to unleash your mind at appropriate times... and you’ll find much success in everything you do. 

The Importance of Learning to Dance Like the Natives

The first rule of public speaking or public anything is to “Know thy audience.”

Selling (aka finding a solution to someone else’s problem) is a form of public speaking and one must know their audience when doing that sort of thing.

When selling (can we find a cooler word for that?) your show, your skills as an artisan, the company health insurance plan, or anything in between—you’ve got to take into account the person(s) with whom you’re speaking.

I’m going to make some obvious examples to illustrate my point:
  • You’re selling a family-themed Christmas musical to the archdiocese of Minneapolis. While meeting with the nuns who are your potential buyers, you wouldn’t lace a few “F-bombs” into your speech.
  • When selling your vegan soap line to a grocery store run by PETA activists, you wouldn’t mention the T-bone steak wrapped in bacon that you had for dinner last night.
Again, these are obvious examples. But there are more subtle examples that sway the other way. And the idea here is to learn the language of the person with whom you’re speaking. Become fluent in that language and converse with that person. Learn the dance of the natives is another way to put it. 

I’ll bring up the Christmas musical I’m working on, once again. I’m trying to sell the show to churches. My initial reason for coming onto the project to write the English script and associate produce, was not to bring to light the true meaning of Christmas. However, I know that for someone else on my producing team, the thought of showing people the true meaning of Christmas is a big deal for them.

So, when I speak to the churches I make mention of that. “I’m speaking on behalf of Mr. X. and we want to remind people of the true meaning of Christmas.”

When selling to schools, I tell them “We want to educate Anglo and Latino children on the various Christmas traditions of Latin America.” Which is true. But again, not the prime reason why I came onto the project. Yet, it makes sense to sell the show this way to schools. 

There are so many smaller or tangential stories you can tell that live inside the bigger one you’re working so hard to sell. It reminds me of the word game I played as a kid.

How many additional words can you make out of the word “Challenger”?

         1) Challenge 2) hall 3) anger 4) all etc... 

Do the research. Find all the words living inside the bigger word. Find all the angles. *Taking an improv class might help here also because sometimes you have to be able to think on your feet and create a (TRUTHFUL) substory out of thin air. 

Two points to consider when finding these sub-stories.
  1. Be creative and have fun doing it.
  2. Always tell the truth.
One final point toward personal development to consider. 
  1. Learning to create truthful stories from a larger story, I think, is good for the soul and good when developing one’s coping and resiliency skills. I.e. when you hit a bump in the road, you don’t give up or turn around. You dig deep and find another way to get what you need and make your life happen.
Time to lace up those dance shoes ;) 

How to Turn a Spark into an Explosion

So, I’m writing this one while on an airplane after spending a week in Miami putting together partnerships, group sales, and a pop music single (you read the right) for a Spanish language Christmas musical I’m associate producing, Rescatando la Navidad. PS I also wrote the English/Spanglish version of the script as well—woohoo! PPS The Gospel According to Josh is still in full swing... just switching things up a bit this week!

I learned a ton while I was down there... specifically: how to create a spark and then turn it into an explosion.

In an effort to try to sell more tickets while providing an all around experience audiences will never forget... I thought we as producers of Rescatando la Navidad “RLN” should be more giving. We should be trying to tap into the spirit of Christmas as much as possible. 

While driving to a meeting down Calle Ocho, a Cuban subdistrict of Miami, I got lost (as usual) and stopped in a parking lot to grab some Cuban coffee and ask for directions in my broken Spanish. While in the parking lot, I came across a man who had no shirt on and very few teeth and he mentioned he was homeless and wouldn’t be able to eat today unless I helped him. Something about this bothered me more than when I’m in New York City and I gave the guy a couple of bucks. But it made me pause a little longer to think: “There are probably hundreds, if not thousands of people who will be in the same predicament this Christmas—hungry and having to beg for food...” This kind of thing should not exist. People shouldn’t be going hungry. What if I could do something about it with this show? When I got back to my hotel later in the day, I started looking up Miami based food banks and organizations dedicated to ending hunger. I found Feeding South Florida. They serve four counties in the Miami area through a network of partner agencies, including daycare centers, assisted living facilities, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and emergency food pantries.  

This was how we were going to help. I got in touch with them and together we drew up a food drive that will take place on our opening performance, November 26th. We’ll be accepting canned and fresh foods and will also be donating 10% of proceeds from our November 26th performance to Feeding South Florida. 

So, on one hand, we get to help feed people this Thanksgiving and Christmas... and on the other hand we get some nice extra foot traffic and extra publicity for our show. I certainly prefer the former but the latter isn’t a bad deal either!

But then I thought... wait a minute... we could go a step further. What if we enlist a celebrity chef based in Miami to help us with the food drive by doing a Latin-American cooking demo out in front of the theater. The chef gets publicity, the food drive gets EXTRA publicity, and we get a little of that action as well. BOOM!

** Now don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with doing good things for the sake of doing them. Altruism is great. And a gift is truly it’s own reward. Giving without keeping score is the best way to do things.

But sometimes there are opportunities (on a variety of levels) to take a little spark like wanting to help feed some people... and turn it into an explosion by enlisting big people to help. 

My biggest takeaway from the whole thing: 
Always be as giving as possible and remember that you can get anywhere you want to go much faster faster by helping others get where they want to go too.

Thank You.

Sometimes you have to slow down and simply say “thank you.”
Thank you for hanging in with me and staying on this list.
Thanks for paying attention.
Thanks for saying hello when you do.
Thanks for reading my new book.

Life has been a little hectic with theater projects, and book signings and publicity etc. … but none of that happens without the people close to home—the friends, the family, the e-list, the people who have my back.

Today’s magic lesson? Besides being brought to you by the letter “A”… No matter how busy, how tired, how early or late, how big or small you’ve become—it’s always the right time to say “thank you.” It’s the universal currency, accepted everywhere, never goes stale, and is an expedient vehicle that will keep you on track to the places you want to go in life. 

One more time for good measure. Thank you.

You Want to Go Viral? Be Awesome, Useful, and Science-y

Right now I’m reading Contagious about how and why ideas spread. The art of making things go viral.

I’m going to paraphrase and butcher an important passage in the book while still keeping the essence of its meaning.

For ideas to spread—to go viral—your idea, product, or service must be awe-inspiring, useful, and have something of a scientific element to it.

Of course there are anomalies to this equation. But this provides a nice framework in which to play if you’re working on anything and are looking to spread the word about what you’re doing.

Going viral means more eyeballs on your work. The need for more eyeballs is the need for marketing. Marketing is simply finding interesting ways to tell a story about the story you’re trying to tell. Confused? It’s not a perfect analogy, but think of it like Hamlet and that play within a play. Using a story to tell another story.

Back to our regularly schedule programming. So you have to tell a story about the  show, product, or service you want everyone to buy or see. The story you tell has to be useful.
  • 1) How we at Spiderman on Broadway created a safety program for flying actors  (A how-to article or video for the League of Broadway theaters and
  • 2) XYZ accounting firm releases a tutorial on special Excel formulas to help minimize tax exposure for middle class Americans (video or article)
Pretty cool. Definitely useful. Either of these articles have a decent chance of being shared throughout the web. They can increase their chances if they get a little science-y. (Keeping in mind the original intent and content of the articles/videos.)
  • 1) Within the article, Spiderman’s producers release a number (and brief) how-to manual PLUS they give a few super easy to understand geometric functions on how they measure angles with their new pulley system for flying actors. 
  • 2) Within the article, XYZ accounting shows a few easy-to-understand formulas that even a small child can plug in and play with—maybe even showing a small child doing someone’s basic tax schedule. 
Pretty interesting. A little science-y. 
“Wow, I never thought geometry and theater could coexist and I enjoyed it!” 
“No way! I don’t dread doing my taxes next year… even that second grader was enjoying working in Excel.”
These articles will probably have an even better chance of getting shared and going viral. But make them awe inspiring… something just a little better than you in one area of your life, and you have something that has a stupendous chance of reaching the masses. (Keeping in mind the original intent and content of the articles/videos.)
  • 1) How Mayor Bloomberg flew during a rehearsal using Spiderman on Broadway’s new pulley system… and how he lived to tell the tale. You show a brief video of Bloomberg flying around and safely landing. You have attached to that the brief instructional piece about angles and the new pulley system.
  • 2) How XYZ accounting firm’s Excel tutorial saved one million Americans a total of one billion dollars (an average of a thousand dollars a person) on their taxes.
Be useful, be a little science-y, and be awe-inspiring. Figure out how to tell the story behind the one that’s so readily available at the surface (your sales pitch, your show’s synopsis etc.). There are so many ways to tell that deeper story: videos, Vine videos, customer service, donkey rides, music, your backstory. Once you learn that skill, it’s easily (yet still a challenge) transferrable to another project, product, or service.