Before the Fall…to Those Who Have Reached Out to Me

If you are creative and want to Create; follow your heart.

Your best work will be done when you apply your full self to a project…and that includes your feelings. Creating through your emotional tools, creating to move your own, emotional Self, is the best method for creating an Experience with Resonance; compelling, memorable, effective.

This will require, more often than one might like, the making of difficult decisions.

Even today, on some of the Professional Networking sites and message boards, are conversations and discussions about the ramifications of taking a client or project in which one may not believe. These choices will come; especially for those who seek to make a career of their Creativity. The choices made will affect not only the quality of the product or project, but also the deep-seated human need to be happy and satisfied with one’s work.

This is one of those Big, Life Decisions for which there is no easy answer; not the first time(s) the dilemma arises. I can only offer my own course, the path I took.

Early on, I did take clients in whom I didn’t necessarily believe; seeking to make my business “successful” and to remain objective…to be a “good businessman.”

This made me miserable. I found myself procrastinating, having to push myself to deliver. Those clients were happy, certainly, but I wasn’t; I wasn’t able to conceive or create powerful moments of emotional connection…and that was my trademark!

I know that, when I am moved by a project, mission or message, I can move most any audience with and connect them to it. Working through my own, emotional filters, using my methodological Tenets of Experience Creation, I can find ways to connect an audience on a deeper, emotional level.

Most any competent Brand Expert will tell you that it is the emotional connection to a Brand or Message that makes the bond last, makes for the most productive (and profitable) relationship between that and the audience or target demographic. The disparity comes in the form of how many interpret Emotional Connection.

‘Tis one thing to thrill and excite; there are many who are good at startling and colorful message or theatrical experience, and they sell that as Emotional Connection. They probably believe that this is accurate.

True Emotional Connection is rare; it takes finesse, acuity, nuance, study and – above all – the willingness of the person doing the Creating to open oneself to being moved, engaged, connected, oneself.

There is a price for this.

I would say that there likely exist far more people who enjoy great, financial success by taking any client and just doing the work than there are those who take only clients in whom they believe. They, the former, do good work, have happy clients and very likely have significant, financial security.

There are a rare and wonderful few who only accept work in which they truly believe, communicate messages that they, themselves, personally embrace and through which they are able to build financially secure businesses and keep people working while keeping their personal muses nurtured and exercised.

I laud and often envy these people.


There is a worldwide army, a community of Professionals that work and live all over the globe, who only take work that thrills them…projects to which they feel personally connected and committed to fully realizing, to manifesting the best that is humanly possible.

I work with these guys.

With most of my projects, when describing the vision to the producing team or, later, a room of professionals; I find myself moved, again, by the experiences am able to help create. When all is said and done, I embrace my ability to move audiences, and I cherish the fine calibration of my personal barometer such that I can discern what it is that moves me and distill that into an Experience that moves others.

In a sense, I’ve paid the price for this freedom and, in retrospect, the price is worthwhile. Thus, I will continue to embrace my muse, my sensitivity to the world around me and my creative integrity as I continue to seek, accept and share clients and projects.

An anecdote:

Just under a year ago, I had a series of candid conversations with an associate of mine; a man who has expressed great respect and appreciation for my work and who has been quite vocal and complementary about the unique nature and effectiveness of some of my larger projects, and who works for a company I’d been approaching, regularly, for nearly a decade. In the course of these conversations, I asked him why I’d never been brought on to one of the Creative Teams of this company for which he works; the principals with whom I’ve been friends since its founding.

What I learned was that, during an early interview, I’d made one of the Execs uncomfortable as I became, in response to his query of which of my projects I am most proud, I became a little weepy in recounting the final moments of the CandleLight Ceremony for the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt at the Lincoln Memorial in 1992. According to my friend, the interviewer didn’t like that I “became emotional.”

My immediate reaction was to laugh, and to breathe so much easier. I have to say that this took all the pressure off my quest for work with this company, as well as dissipating any desire to be a part of their team(s). With this information, I realized that this meant was that I simply would not fit-in with this company and, while I do and will continue to think well of them – they are at the top of the business, worldwide, of creating experiences – my strong emotional connection to my work would probably not be considered an asset, there. Off the table.

As described in an early post on this site, we were able to emotionally move 250,000 people – bringing them to complete silence and eliciting an intimate gasp from that crowd, a gasp that was palpable when shared by so many – as the skyrocket hit the sky during Joel Grey’s final note. I almost always become moved when I describe that event in detail.

I’m good with this, and it is my own Emotional Connection to the Story through which I can effectively create Experience that can connect, almost universally.

So, what I knew at that moment is that I could relinquish my desire to participate in the great projects of this company; I would not fit, there.

The Price.

Counter to the above experience; twice in the past six months, in meetings on entirely different projects, I’ve encountered men whom I’d not previously met but who are familiar with my work. These two gentlemen, at meetings months apart, took the opportunity to tell me how moved they were by that Ceremony on the Washington Mall, 20 years ago. They shared with me that they’ve never forgotten the feeling they experienced when, surrounded by so many others who were experiencing the same thing, they were touched to deeply in an intimate place. Then, each of these gentlemen thanked and hugged me.

I’ll take that, and be happy with that.

So, there are the choices. Play it as you will.

Life is a tradeoff.

I’d love to say that I’ve been overwhelmingly financially successful. What I have been, what I am, is a man with a reputation for moving people in a way that they are seldom moved; for connecting people to a message or Experience, to one another, along pathways that are inherent in the human animal and deeply-seated.

These past 20 posts of “imho,” now compiled into an already-popular eBook for iPad, have been the sharing of my basic methodologies and perspectives. This post represents the final chapter of “imho #1,” but I ain’t stoppin’.

I plan to continue doing the work that inspires and nurtures me, so, and sharing with you how I do it.

Stick around, participate, ask, share…you can do it, any way you like.


A New Conversation

Between the three London Ceremonies Posts and the Publication of the first “imho” book has arisen a compelling conversation about Experience, sharing that Experience, documenting that Experience and, overarching all of that, the process of and philosophies behind the original concept development and design of a given Experience; especially in the arena of Live Spectacle.

My point of view has been that, in the context of Stadium or outdoor Spectacle of virtually any sort, the best seats are always in the house.

To my mind, the creation of Live Experience is, with integrity, focused on those physically present to absorb and appreciate – to Experience – the full force of what is taking place on the stage, field, arena or lagoon. The cameras are there to share what can be shared within the limits of their medium. They are there to archive, record and communicate to the remote audience some sense of the high moments, the spectacle.

However, the inherent limitations of cameras, video and film, stand ineradicably in the way of actually Communicating the Experience. One simply cannot deliver the same, visceral rush to a remote audience that can be given to those present. Therefore, I believe that the audience for which Perfection of Pure Experience can be given deserves to be given it.

This means, then, that the Experience of the Live Audience is sacrosanct.

Historically, with the work I have done with my Creative Teams, the experiences we’ve created, this has meant no cameras on the field, no visible technology between the eyes of the audience and the action taking place before them. Nothing to activate the Left Brain; leaving the Right to absorb experience without analysis. As camera / video technology has evolved, this has become far easier to accomplish; with greater throws, suspended and micro cameras offering virtual invisibility of the close-up technology.

I am distracted by close-ups of Field Performers; I don’t need to see the individual, smiling faces so much as become connected and engaged by the choreographed movements on, across, around the field. (Rock Concerts = Different Thing…we want to see the faces and the fingers on the instruments.)

Ergo, as I create Live Experience, my focus is on the audience in the stadium (or wherever) and the pure integrity of that experience. Then, once that is designed, I turn to the photographers and videographers to design pathways and angles that can best support them in their supplementary and archival mission.

These spectacles are not designed for television!

Or so I’ve been known to posit.

Now, we’ve seen a massive stadium spectacle designed, specifically, for broadcast. The audience in the stadium for the London Ceremonies was clearly secondary.

From the stadium, were one to not pay attention to what was being shown on the screens, much of what was taking place on the floor of the stadium (or any of the multiple, adjacent and remote locations outside the stadium) would simply be lost. The audience was unable to follow the (albeit loose) unfolding narrative sans dependence on augmentation by media.

So what is the reality, here? What is acceptable? Can we augment without distracting? How much distraction is acceptable? More importantly, how much distraction is inevitable, and what is the tradeoff? What is being lost, and is it a Bad Thing? Even if it is a Bad Thing, is it going to be lost, anyway?

I have the sense I may not be completely happy with the answer.

In one, recent conversation with one of my own mentors, an iconic maven of the themed entertainment industry, we were exploring this subject. She was saying how much, despite her dedication to the integrity of the Live Experience, she enjoyed the broadcast of the London Ceremonies quite largely due to their being designed and produced for television. Acknowledging that this is counter to her own philosophy, she said, enthusiastically, that she had had a great experience.

“I couldn’t be there; so the broadcast was great, for me…”

We both sort of lightheartedly grumbled about this. Still, it must be acknowledged and faced.

She raised the example of “back in the day,” when people would attend baseball games with their transistor radios at their ear throughout the play; giving them information unable to be gleaned from the stadium seat.

Well, that was a long time ago; so this isn’t a new thing, actually.

Now, with smartphones, people can get all sorts of stats, data and visual on their hand-held screens. I believe this actually does enhance their enjoyment of the game, before them.

I don’t know that I like where this is going…

A sporting event, though, is not a Storytelling Spectacle; there is no narrative. And, while it can be viscerally experienced during the high points, the digital data augmentation doesn’t distract from anything as there is nothing to distract from.

We laughed (a little bitterly) at the fact that “…well, there’s purity and integrity of the Experience….and then, there’s Business…” When push comes to shove, the Producers and those looking to profit from the show or spectacle are going to want the greatest return on the investment. Uh-oh. Show / Business.

So. What’s the Challenge, here?

To create experience so intense and compelling that the technology in one’s hand is forgotten? Even for a moment? I mean, we aren’t going to keep the screens of any size out of the room; so, as crafters of live experience, how do we address this?

Right now, as I have mentioned in a previous post, I’m developing and writing an Experience for a major milestone in the history of an iconic institution, here in San Francisco. It will take place indoors, for about 500, and I doubt a single person in attendance will be without a smartphone. I have a lot to communicate in the messaging of this Experience, and we are creating a program with no speeches…it will all be done, theatrically.

So, addressing techno-addiction, we are creating four very short vignettes that are powerful and evocative; virtually packed with intense and powerful visual and aural cues that will deliver profound message via oblique pathways. My goal is to help the audience forget the technology in the hand or pocket for those few moments and immerse them in Experience; then give plenty of time between the theatrical segments for the talking / networking / eating / drinking …and, now… texting / tweeting / facebook-ing compulsions that are a part of this milieu.

So. I’m opening this conversation, on here, to the rest o’yuz. What does this mean for what I define as the integrity of the Live Experience? What will we lose, and is there a way around it? How will we evolve our craft and ensure that being actually present in the audience the prime spot for an Experience, rather than being technologically, remotely connected to the it?

In closing, as I write this, what keeps tugging at the back of my mind is the Opening Ceremonies for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. That Archer. Jaw-dropping Athleticism and Art, all at once.

I saw it on television.


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Thanks. And thanks for reading.


…and, There They Went.

London Closing. What might one say?

As Olympic Ceremonies go, that was a pretty darn great … Rock Concert.

As a show, it was fairly seamless; keeping the acts rolling on and off the many stages on, in and around various platforms and vehicles kept the transitions smooth and fast. Most everyone saw their favorite performers, and the disparate collection of artists was extensive and encompassing.

A cacophony of concert cliché; produced to within an inch of its life. Colorful, sparkly and fast-paced.

Logistically; that show moved, smoothly and well.

Big Win: Annie Lenox’ Goth-o-Rama.

Epic Fail: Children’s Choir singing “Imagine” and forming the visage of John Lennon. That one’s been done to death.

Biggest WTF: “Supermodels” being trucked-in to Walk and Pose.

Favorite Anachronistic “Moment”: The Umbrella-clad vocalist floating up, onto the stage, past the protagonists, continuing offstage left…

Most Impressive: That the Spice Girls could get through their entire performance without once looking at one another.

What was missing: Dance Rehearsals, among other things. The choreography was a sloppy mess. Again, far too much dependence on video support to read what was taking place on the field.

There’s really not much more to say. There was no narrative, no heart-in-the-throat-ness, no Ceremony to speak of; never materialized or coalesced into something with moving message, something Olympian.

It was – as touted – a great, big party. I’m sure the athletes had fun, and well they should.

I worry what this portends for Rio. Given the absence of form and substance in both Ceremonies, I wonder at this precedent and how it will affect the concept and execution in 2016 and beyond.

On to other, more productive conversations.


(BTW, would y’all consider subscribing to this, over there on the right? You’ll receive an ever so much prettier presentation than you’ll receive than my current email-with-link… Just sayin’. I’d like to see the hundreds of hits these are getting reflected in the subscription count! Thanks!

About Tomorrow Night…

“Audience expectation is limited by what they believe is possible: it is our responsibility, as Creators of Experience, to take them where they do not expect to go…”

– KO

So, here they come; the Closing Ceremonies for London 2012. What are we going to see? We know we’ll have the “legendary” Spice Girls reunion on the field; what that will look like or how it will play is anyone’s guess.

Going in, here’s what I’ll be seeking. Irrespective of the subjectivity of the Creative (on which, I’m sure, y’all and I will have myriad and disparate opinions – all to be shared and debated, post-show), the execution of the narrative and ceremonial aspects of the event / show / experience will be my primary focus.

Does it make sense?

If there’s a narrative, a storyline, an arc to the Experience; does it unfold with logic, invite suspension of disbelief, engage the audience in a way that it can be experienced, intimately and personally, at the same time as it is shared by the thousands? That, to me, is the key to truly Compelling Experience. It can be done for groups of 2 to 200,000 or more.

Is the Experience seamless?

Do components flow from one into the other without explanation? Does it engage the audience?

Are the best seats in the House in the House?

I believe that live, stadium or destination-specific spectacle is designed and created for the audience that is present. For full integrity, it is the audience on-site that should reap the potential rewards of a well-conceived and executed, emotionally connective, immersive Experience.

Is the storytelling dependent on media, screens…?

I have yet to see this done in a way that doesn’t distract. Remote welcomes, preliminary announcements, introductory video (and, in the case of Opening, Royal Entrances) aside, peripherally-projected video rarely fails to distract from a story. (This, versus video that is woven into the storytelling and located within the physical space of the story.

It is literally impossible (and, by that, I mean literally impossible) to recreate the full experience of a live spectacle with any camera. Ergo, no matter what, the “audience at home” is only going to glean a sense of that which is taking place, live. They are compelled to use both sides of their brains in order to appreciate what is being shared: they can only appreciate, they cannot experience.

Therefore, any attempts to bring the remote audience into the Experience run the risk of obstructing or distracting from the experience and all will fall short of the implied goal. All one can do with cameras is offer glimpses of what is happening and to elicit feelings of  “wow, I sure wish I could be there…”

This, the onus is on the producer to shoot the experience from the point of view of sharing what can be shared rather than to attempt to do the impossible; the attempting of which degrades the experience of those present.

Like the wedding photographer backing himself up the aisle in front of the bride and barely avoiding bumping up against the wedding party to the gnat-like profusion of close-up cameras on a performing field during so many televised spectacle experiences; such efforts are distracting and fruitless.

For my money, and especially with the quality and power of photographic equipment (not to mention the astonishing dexterity of microtechnology for such purpose), there is never an excuse to have anything (i.e. Photographers / Videographers) on the field or stage during a performance. Place cameras overhead; rigged, locked-down, whatever, to capture the spectacle – not break it down into micro-components.

Am I ranting?

A few years ago, I had an experience that truly catalyzed, exemplified what I am talking about, here.

Chicago, 2006 Gay Games Opening Ceremonies. The 11,000 athletes had just left the field, after having taken the Oath of the Athletes and created the spectacular, full-field lighting stunt that is pictured at the top of this page.

Now, it was time for the Oath to the Officials. In stark contrast to the field full of athletes, the vision was for Billy Bean, the Presenter of the Oath, to walk from one end of the field to meet soccer star Saskia Webber, Oath Proxy, in the exact center of the stadium. This stark contrast to the field full of athletes of the expansive, empty field of play, of “battle,” with the two standing in the center for the Oath Taking was to be breathtaking and awesome.

And, it would have been.

Except for one, infuriatingly self-absorbed photographer who wanted to get “the shot.” Midway through the 90-second oath, he leapt over the wall on the sidelines of the field, ran to the center of the field, crouched behind Saskia and began taking shots from every angle behind and around the two principals. He was a disorienting distraction to the two on the field; but more than that, what he managed to do was distract the 50,000 people in the stadium and become the show.

He took excellent pictures of something that no one else experienced. He shot two people on the field; what everyone saw was three people. What was to have been formal and ceremonial became humorous and annoying, and what was remembered was the photographer (who, by the way, was ejected from the stadium and could not understand why…) rather than these two sporting icons and their roles.

I have excellent video of this moment, which I shall insert when this is published as an iBook, shortly.

The main thing, my own primary objective when creating spectacle, theatre or any Experience, is the dousing of the left brain – the thinking part – and the stimulation and engagement of the right brain – the imagination part. Making the audience think to make sense of an Experience pulls them immediately from that Experience.

When one wonders anything from “how are they doing that” to “where is that happening” (in the case of activity on the field that is projected onto supporting screens), s/he is pulled from emotional and psychological immersion into the evaluative.

Not cool.

Thus, tomorrow night, I’ll be looking to see how what is offered is executed. I’ll not be able to help appreciating and evaluating the Creative – and will share impressions on that, as well – but some “rules” are sacrosanct, irrespective of the story being told.

We shall see.


Whither Pollyanna…?

This has been a great week on imho. Last week’s post inspired the most discussion and the greatest number of hits in the brief history of this site.

Excellent insights were offered, conflicting opinions shared and, through the process of the intervening days, I have had the opportunity to learn the details of the Experience that was provided in the Stadium. In addition, I’ve been enlightened to discover that I’d made two, egregious errors in my first-pass analysis of the work:

  1. I missed the first of my own Tenets of Experience Creation; that being “Exploration of Assumption.” Neglecting to take a look at what I, m’self, was assuming; I leaned toward acceptance of some components of show and approaches to the storytelling that were more than ill-advised…they were downright misguided, results of poor judgement and myopic decision-making.
  2. I allowed myself to be swayed, to become emotionally engaged by the “fact” of some of the components despite the distracting presentation of them.

Now, that being said; there is nothing wrong with being moved by these ceremonies, even as they were presented. Quite the contrary, simply being moved is really one of the points of such ceremonies and spectacle. Many of the components and approaches to which I referred as perplexing me were, upon further exploration, actually poorly-informed miscalculations and poorly conceived approaches.

On the positive side; I liked what I liked and still like those few, profound components I experienced: I was moved by the presence of the athletes and the Fact of the Moment; though, I now see – and was helped to see with immediacy and alacrity by some of my peers – that I brought a lot of myself to my experience of the event; seeing the event through my filter of evocation.

Evocation is one of the most powerful forms of storytelling. Touching the memories and making emotional connections within each audience member is, ultimately, crucial to effective storytelling…from the historical to the fantastic, it’s gotta connect.

I failed to maintain my objectivity and to experience the ceremonies with the global purpose in mind in lieu of indulging in my own sentimentality. A wonderful luxury, and not my purpose in this context.

With professional equilibrium restored and much impassioned conversation shared on this site and many behind-the-scenes emails and phone calls to recalibrate; I’ll now get to that.

So. What has come to light, for me, is the extent to which this production was conceived and staged for a television audience. What I accepted, soft-pedaled, as irregularities and distractions were, ultimately, actually the result of intentional planning. The show was choreographed primarily to be experienced onscreen. Some of the dance numbers were so intricately intimate in their staging as to be lost in the stadium, itself.

If you have not read the comments from the previous post; that might be a good investment. Among those are some very well thought-out critiques of the ceremony that broaden the perspective. Further, the passion in these conversations articulates the importance that is placed on these ceremonies that is far greater than the sum of its successive parts. The world seeks evocative magnitude, here, and did not get it.

Not good.


First and foremost, what was missing was sweep and scope; a sense of momentum and global history on a grand scale. Most all the ceremony was insular and self-referential to Britain; I don’t recall seeing much with a global perspective in the Ceremonies, and virtually no reference to or evocation of the Olympic Heritage outside the obvious of the Parade of Nations.

The metaphor of the Forging of the Olympic Rings was brilliantly launched and executed. A powerful, dynamic and energetic image; though it didn’t go anywhere.

Sadly lost, especially in the stadium, was the Metaphor of the Cauldron. Of those to whom I’ve spoken who were in the stadium, last Friday; none were even aware of the copper “shells” being carried at the head of each delegation, and no one saw them being placed in the ground. No foreshadowing, no explanation, no awareness. My contacts each learned of the connection when watching the recorded broadcast, later on.

That could have been presented so much better; making more of a visual point of each being carried-in, and the gathering of them into the cauldron; if that were possible.

We who had close-up views and ongoing (sometimes relentless) television commentary became aware of the genesis of the cauldron just before ignition. It was a magnificent metaphor; the gathering of nations to rise and ignite the Olympic Flame. Unfortunately, that deep, human, most meaningful nuance was not communicated to the audience in the stadium…and only barely so to the global audience…at least that in the US.

The two, most criminal missteps among the trivial and picayune would be, imho:

  1. Dividing the focus of the audience. This, imho, is anathema in live spectacle. The intentional need for video screens in order to appreciate the story being told (when there was a story), keeps the left brain distractingly engaged while the audience seeks to put the components together and make sense of the Experiential Narrative. This diminishes the Experience. To truly connect and evoke, the story must be delivered via the Right Brain; keeping the analytical Left Brain dormant, quiet.
  2. Telling stories not germane to the rest of the world. Once the “narrative” launched into National Health Care, it became irrelevant to most other countries. We get that the Brits are proud of this system, and it’s a good one…a solid success story. What is this to be telling the populations of countries that do not have this? How is it relevant to the rest of the world, during the Olympics?
  3. The Parade of Nations. I have never understood why the athletes don’t enter the stadium immediately after the opening of the Ceremony. The athletes are the most important part of the night and the entire Olympics: not only are they a highlight of the “show,” they ARE the spectacle, the raison d’ceremony. I see no reason they should miss a moment of the night. This is not specific to London 2012; though this was the least ceremonial of an entrance I’ve seen. I believe athletes should enter, first, and be the only focus of the stadium for that (albeit Protracted) Moment.
  4. Far too much free-standing video. “Bond & Her Majesty:” okay, fine, have your fun. Still, that bit might have played better at Closing; but it did communicate the full support of the Regent. Beyond that, the filming of everything from choirs to the torch jetting down the Thames (part of which was obviously pre-recorded) not only effectively divides focus but more importantly removes the minds and imaginations of the audience from what is before them in the stadium.

Has my tone changed from last week? I think it may have…

As I said, up top; what I liked last week, I still like. In taking a breath, putting my Inner Pollyanna to bed and taking an Experiential Storyteller’s look at the show, I am obligated to have taken this bolder stance in what perplexed me.

A wonderful experience, a nice job, yet I believe the London Ceremony fell far short of meeting its purpose and mandate.

This post is going to mean some trouble for me. While I don’t generally expect all to agree with my point of view; most of my English friends were adamantly enthusiastic about the Ceremonies…sometimes even with quite the edge. One actually said that, “…anyone who criticizes those Ceremonies should be shot!”

Such ferocious support offers to me the sense of an undercurrent of doubt; that the Vociferous Defenders actually know, in their heart of hearts, that the defended needs defending. Some of the same individuals so vehemently proclaiming perfection had been, just moments prior, sharing stories of times during the ceremonies when they could not find the action on the field; that what was taking place on the stadium floor was at times confusing and even difficult to decipher.

This is another conversation for another time. It is not unheard-of for audiences – having spent great amounts of money for something hyped beyond measure – will convince themselves that what they experiences was fantastic and surpassed all expectation. I’ve seen it on Broadway, I’ve seen it in theme parks, I’ve seen it in stadia.

The London Ceremonies, in the context of a television spectacular celebrating Britain, were good; there were some wonderful, powerful moments. Some parts were excitingly imaginative, profoundly well-conceived and staged; some other parts were quite the opposite. They were big and good and fun…a fine television show.

As a live experience; not so much.

Not quite Olympian.