I was sad to hear that one of the most successful and innovative businesses to come out of the Gilded Age, Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, will be closing its doors after 146 years. The Gilded Age gave birth to all new types of entertainment, especially for the working class, including circuses.

One of the most well-known raconteurs of that time was P.T. Barnum. He knew from an early age that he was born to be an entrepreneur. After several failed attempts at business, he went to New York City without a penny to his name and began his career as a showman. He quickly realized he had a knack for discovering unusual talent, and was the first person to coin the phrase “show business”.

The Gilded Age was a time of economic growth, and industrialization led to real wage growth. The working class had money in their pockets and free time to enjoy it. An inexpensive form of entertainment for the working class was the dime museum. The first one was called the “American Museum” and was founded by Barnum in New York City. It was billed as edutainment for the masses, a lowbrow combination of entertainment and moral education. It included freak shows, wax figures, films, variety acts, melodramas, and pseudo-scientific exhibits.

The museum burned to the ground three times. Each time, Barnum would pick himself up, dust himself off, and immediately start building it back again.

Barnum had loved the idea of contests since selling lottery tickets as a young man. He put on flower shows, dog shows, baby shows, and chicken shows. These were judged, and the winner was given prize money. Then he came up with the idea for a beauty contest where the visiting public would choose a winner. The first prize winner got $1000, and the top 100 got to pose for an oil painting. Out of those, the top ten were included in a French publication.

Barnum didn’t enter the circus industry until he was 60 years old. He started with the P. T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome, which was basically a traveling museum, menagerie and freak show.

He eventually took his troupe of human oddities and created the Barnum Show, which was his grandest show ever. He later partnered with James Bailey and the show would become the “Barnum and Bailey Greatest Show on Earth” which was seen by crowds all over the world. He was one of the first circus owners to take his show around the country by train. This vastly increased his geographical reach and proved to be extremely profitable.

In 1907, after his death, the circus was sold to Ringling Brothers for what would amount to over $9 million dollars in today’s currency.

Barnum had grown up in working class roots and understood the people he attracted to his shows. He always wanted to give them the most value possible, and got them in the door by using hype to get their attention. He showed them a glimpse of something they had never seen before. His goal was to bring pleasure to as many people as possible, while making money doing it. He also believed in “profitable philanthropy”, or what we would today call “social entrepreneurship”.

His goal was always to show people how to tap into their sense of childlike wonder about the world around them.

Towards the end of his life he told his partner James Bailey “always remember that the children have ever been out best patrons”. Barnum cherished his nickname “The Children’s Friend” and was prouder of that title than being called “King of the World”.

Though Barnum would be sad to know that the circus was closing, in true P.T. Barnum style, he would pick himself up, dust himself off, and start thinking of his next adventure.

 

 

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While it’s true that there are plenty of things that don’t get better with age, wine and creativity are two things that do. So, if you’ve put off being an artist because you think you’ve missed the boat and are too old to be creative, here’s some good news. And it just might help you live longer too!

As kids, we all start off as creative beings, making rocket ships out of milk cartons and turning refrigerator boxes into forts. We have imaginary friends, and don capes to become an alter ego super hero.

We have dreams of what we want to be when we grow up.

But then life gets in the way. Mortgage payments, student loans, and a real job. Those creative dreams get put on the back burner, sometimes indefinitely. And that’s a shame, because it doesn’t have to be that way.

Scientists used to say that we couldn’t grow new brain cells, but now they’re finding out that that’s not true. The brain can grow new brain cells, and in fact, they’ve found that the older brain is actually more resilient and adaptable.

Though we do lose brain cells as we age, the good news is that we actually gain more connections between those cells. By being creative, the brain can strengthen those connections, and reshape, restructure and adapt. Hence, improving cognitive function.

There are plenty of people who have proven that it’s never too late to be creative. A great example is Grandma Moses. Anna Mary Robertson chose the path of getting married and raising children. Art took a backseat for many years. In fact, she didn’t even pick up a paintbrush until she was 78 years old.

She spent her days doing needlepoint until her arthritis made it too difficult. Then one day she was putting up some wallpaper and she ran out of paper. She put up some plain, white paper and painted it herself. The painting now hangs in the Bennington Museum in Vermont.

She continued to paint and do exhibitions until almost the day she died at the age of 101.

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I’m constantly hearing people say “They don’t make movies the way they used to”. But I never knew why. It seems the film rating system these days has also changed the actual content. Not to say that it’s better or worse. Just different.

In 1968 a voluntary movie rating system was put in place to help parents determine the content a particular movie contained. The Motion Picture Association of America screens movies for objectionable content and places a rating system on each one so parents can determine for themselves whether the movie is okay for their kids to watch.

One set of parents may think a movie with some violence is okay for their kids to watch, where for another set of parents it may be too much. The MPAA lets the “average American Parent” decide the ratings through their Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA).

I always thought CARA was a censorship organization, but it’s actually a parental guidance board. It was established to replace the Production Code Administration, which required all movies be viewable by all audiences. The Production Code came about because, after films began to have sound and color, the public demanded stricter censorship of movies.

Movies that didn’t pass the PCA’s strict code simply didn’t get released. They weren’t rated for different ages, so there weren’t any movies for adults only. The new MPAA ratings aren’t based on moral values, but on the content alone. The Production Code had strict moral codes written in. For example, a film had to have “moral obligations”.

One requirement was that a film couldn’t present evil “alluringly, even if later on the evil is condemned or punished.” It stated that at the end of the movie, evil had to be seen as evil and good as good.

When it comes to crime, the film “must not throw sympathy with the criminal”. And “the courts of the land must not be presented as unjust”.

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Looking back on Robin William’s amazing career, I didn’t realize how much of it was improvised. Producers like David E. Kelly and writers from “Mork and Mindy” would often leave room for William’s to put his own spin on TV and film lines. It was his brilliance at seemingly flawless ad-libbing that marked him as a genius, much like Beethoven did with music.

Since we all have basically the same physical brains, what is it about Robin William’s brain that made him so different? Basically his brain was always in a constant state of “flow”, a concept that was developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi of the University of Chicago. According to Csikzentmihalyi, flow is a state where you lose your sense of self and your sense of time and become focused on a challenging creative task, and do it at peak performance. It’s as if time has no meaning as you become one with your work.

It’s a state where you get immediate feedback, such as a jazz musician who improvises. They can immediately tell if it’s working or not. With Williams, he would either gets laughs or not. It was an immediate type of feedback. And he thrived on it.

It takes a certain amount of confidence in your ability to be able to reach that flow stage, and succeed without editing. And that confidence comes from skill, knowledge, and practice. Beethoven knew he had a skill that few other musicians had, and that was the ability to improvise, and to do it prolifically. Robin Williams also knew his craft inside and out. He had the skill, the knowledge, and the practice.

Another element you must have is the passion, and the willingness to be challenged over and over again. This is when artists create their best work. And it almost feels effortless. Robin Williams had that passion in everything he did.

The irony is that his most amazing asset was also his downfall. The artist, and the man will be greatly missed.

 

 

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I was getting ready to tell someone who was going to be running a marathon to “break a leg”, when I realized that didn’t sound like such a good idea. I know the phrase came from the theater, but I didn’t know exactly where it started or why. I’ve mostly heard it used by actors, but it seems like it’s more of a mainstream phrase now. It also tends to be used for a live performance or audition, especially on opening night, instead of something that’s said before a TV taping or filming.

It seems the act of wishing someone in the theater good luck is considered bad luck and superstitious. Leave it to actors to do the rebellious thing and turn it on its ear.

It’s not certain where “break a leg” actually came from, but several theories are out there. The phrase could have gotten its origin from Shakespeare’s day when the theater actor would bend their leg at the knees to bow at the end of a performance. It could also have come from the Jewish theater where the phrase “break a leg” literally means “bless you everyone”.

It did become part of the language somewhere around the early 1900’s, so some of the theories of its origin would be unlikely.

It seems actors really are a superstitious group in general. There is a whole list of things that shouldn’t be done in a theater, like having three lit candles on stage. Well, that probably isn’t a good idea anyway, but the superstition is called the “rule of three”. I wonder if comedians know about this.

There’s another one that says whistling in a theater is bad luck and that someone will get fired. Since I really hate whistling I’m glad to hear about this one. This one actually made sense at the time it was started because stage managers used to use coded whistles before the invention of walkie-talkies. If someone whistled, it would signal a false cue for an actor, and surely would end in someone getting fired.

 

 

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Being an artist, whether you’re a performing artist, literary artist, or a fine artist, isn’t for the faint of heart. And it isn’t for people with thin skins. This is something you’ll find out very quickly as you put your work out for people to see and start looking to get paid as an artist. If you’re not a resilient artist you’re going to have a tough time sticking with it, and you’ll open yourself up to a lifetime of disappointment. Resilience is what keeps us from giving up when all odds are against us.

What are the odds? Well, for actors who are in the Screen Actors Guild, approximately 93% of them are unemployed at any given time. And two thirds of the actors who are in the guild make less than $1000 a year. That’s not even enough to pay a month’s rent in Hollywood. The odds of making a good living as any kind of artist are stacked against you. But if you know that going in and can weather the storms, you have a much better chance of at least making a good living at your craft, and hopefully getting to the top of your field.

At Indie Sponsor we believe in the entrepreneurial artist. What entrepreneurs have in common with artists is that you have to be a bit of a risk taker to succeed. And with all risk comes failure. It’s what you do with that failure that will define you as an artist. Failure is just a stepping stone to success. If you’re resilient, you’ll begin to see failure as opportunity and learn from it.

Being an inventor, one of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Edison. “Many of life’s failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up”. Think about  how many actors, singers, writers, painters simply gave up inches away from getting their big break. Where would they be now? Sometimes I think a lot of artists that make it are the ones that absolutely refuse to ever give up. They have a never-ending supply of resilience.

 

 

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For two weeks each year Red Bull sponsors the Red Bull Music Academy where two groups of thirty participants participate in a collaboration of recording sessions, lectures given by music icons, and performances in local clubs and music halls. Participants are chosen in advance based on their passion for learning and an open mind for global collaboration.

The exchange of ideas and networking are the basis for the academy, which has been described as life-changing by former participants. Vocalists, songwriters, instrumentalists, producers, and engineers mingle and learn together as music luminaries share their knowledge of production, music history and their own personal stories of life in the music industry with a new generation.

There are ten custom built studios where participants can jam to their heart’s content and collaborate with other musicians and producers from around the world. Innovation in music is key and new sounds and genres are formed.

Music enthusiasts submit their application to the Red Bull Academy, and then a group of international record label executives, producers, music journalists and Academy members pour through the applicants and listen to their music and read the words they’ve written themselves to determine who gets in.

Each application is listened to and read by at least two people. The merit of your music and the passion you have for the music industry stands on its own merit. Having money or success in the music industry isn’t a determining factor in the decision.

The Academy is looking for a variety of backgrounds, cultures and skills to come up with the best blend.So, if you don’t get in one year, you should apply again the next year. It’s all about coming up with the right mix of people.

The Red Bull Music Academy isn’t about being discovered as an artist or about sponsoring any particular musician. It’s a unique musical experience. This year’s experience will take place in Tokyo.

 

 

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Indie Sponsor will be highlighting various people in the entertainment industry from different backgrounds and in different fields, from performing artists to fine artists to literary artists, and people behind the scenes. We love finding artists who exemplify the entrepreneurial artist lifestyle and can make a living in their field.

One such artist is dancer and entrepreneur Wil-son Williams. I’ve watched Wil since he opened his studio in Westwood, L.A. Dancefit, and turned it into one of the hottest dance studios in the city. Wil is a savvy bootstrapping entrepreneur who gets to live every day on his own terms. He was kind enough to share some of his tips for living the entrepreneurial artist lifestyle.

 

Can you tell us a little about your background and why you started L.A. DanceFit?

I started teaching Hip-Hop and Latin workout classes everywhere from elementary schools, high schools, county fairs, celebrity homes, night clubs, restaurants, television commercials, colleges, dance studios and gyms. This created a fan base of fun loving students that cheerfully pack into my dance studio every day.

I see. That’s smart. You got the fans first.

Right.

When did you start dancing?

I started dancing at age 8 in Philadelphia when my Mom took me to her Jazz exercise classes. The studio offered me a scholarship to their kid’s dance program. I’ve been dancing Tap, Jazz, Modern and various other styles ever since.

What kind of jobs are there out there for dancers in the entertainment industry? 

Instructors can teach at fitness gyms, dance studios, after school programs, colleges, health expos, community centers and night clubs and restaurants. The pay options are to collect fees directly from students or to teach as an employee at different establishments and get paid by check.
I am happy to announce the opening of the LA Dance Fit Instructor Training Academy. This academy trains dance fitness instructors to enhance their earning power, grow their student attendance, promote themselves and compete as a Top level instructor.
That’s brilliant. One more spin-off business for you that puts other dancers to work. And the more artists who are working, the better, right?
Exactly.
Is there a special agency just for dancers?

Similar to acting agencies there are talent agencies for dancers to audition with. These agencies represent dancers for TV, movie and professional performance work. These are Holly wood dance agencies. TRIO Talent Agency, Bloc Agency and DDO Artist Agency are some renowned LA dance agencies.

Indie Sponsor is all about the artist as an entrepreneur. About not waiting around for someone to give you a job. You literally created your own job and now you get paid to dance. I love it! What is your advice for other artists who would like to get paid to dance, act, write, or whatever, but who have never run a business?

My advice for running your own business from your talent is to offer your talent in as many places and outlets as possible. The choice is yours, to invest lots of money on promoting your business or invest your time and talents performing for as wide of an audience as possible at every opportunity at every pay rate high or low.

Did you have any kind of background in running a business before starting L.A. DanceFit?

My business knowledge comes from 14 years of experience in working closely with and working for business owners, dance company owners, fitness gym owners and dance studio owners. These years of doing the work that makes the business run has taught me the do’s and don’ts of student satisfaction in the studio owner world. I’ve spent years providing the product that keeps these businesses going. All I needed now was to transition from employee to owner. I learned the costs of the bills, insurance, promotions, employees, repairs and most importantly how to attract clientele.

How would you use innovation in the entertainment industry, especially in the areas of dance?

I would innovate the dance industry by focusing on health and wellness. Bridging the gap of dance and fitness by infusing true artistic expressions with sound exercise science.

Last question. If you had a time machine, what period in history would you go back to and why?

I would not go to any other place in time, I feel that there is no time like the present.

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Check out Wil’s Westwood studio L.A. DanceFit at: www.ladancefit.com

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From the time I was a teenager I was auditioning for acting jobs. I would have taken pretty much anything to get work. I’ve played a zombie, belly dancer, beach bunny, rag doll, fairy, bimbo, and girl #3. There weren’t a lot of roles that I turned down, especially when I was a teenager. I just wanted to work. Every part was just an acting job and I saw it as fun.

So when my old manager called last week and asked if I wanted a part in a small indie film, he was surprised when I didn’t jump at the chance, and kind of mumbled “Nah, not really”. In fact, he was completely baffled. “What do you mean ‘not really’? “That’s totally out of character”.

Yeah, exactly. It’s funny how when you really, really want something and give 110% trying to get it that it never seems to come easy. Maybe it’s just that you want it too bad. Or maybe there’s some kind of desperation in your voice that shows through. That’s completely possible.

But not on that day. I surprised even myself that I genuinely wasn’t interested. But that made him even more persistent.

The same thing happened a few years ago with a script. I was working in film development and a fairly big studio dude came by the office. He happened to see my script on the desk and liked the title. I told him it was mine and he asked if he could read it. After all the times I’ve tried to get scripts into certain people’s hands, and this time big studio dude actually asked if he could read one.

I said no. Not because I didn’t want him to read it, but because it wasn’t really ready. This was a first draft and I didn’t think it was smart to let him read a first draft. (Now looking back on it, it was a smart choice).

But the more I said no, the more he insisted. He promised he could see through a first draft and he really wanted to read it. I knew that wouldn’t be the case. The first draft sucked. And I didn’t want him to see that as a first impression.

Now I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t have been using reverse psychology all along. When that acting role came along, should I have just turned it down? Even if I needed the money?

I’ve noticed that people in power positions respond very well to reverse psychology. Especially when they are giving you something quite valuable. It’s like their brains can’t comprehend it. They’re used to getting their way, and telling them no throws a monkey wrench into their thinking.

I’m not saying you should start turning down work, but if you really don’t want the part, say no and mean it. They just may be so baffled that they call you back in for something else.

 

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As an artist, whether it’s in the fine arts, performing arts, or literary arts, we all go through that exhilarating, but exasperating process of creativity. Putting our hearts and souls, and sweat and blood into a piece of art that will hopefully touch other people when they view it or listen to it.

But what if you put all of that time and energy into something just to have it destroyed? What if you destroyed it yourself?

That is the theme of a great documentary called “The Cardboard Benini”, the story of artist Jimmy Crashow. Crashow showed his artistic talent early in life, when he started making artwork out of discarded cardboard boxes. What everyone else thought was trash, Jimmy saw as a wonderful opportunity to apply his skills to a material that was going to be thrown away.

Throughout his life he supported himself with his illustrations and wood carvings, but it was the cardboard sculptures that were really his passion. He would spend hours in his studio creating unique sculptures that were up to 15 feet tall. One of these sculptures caught the attention of an art dealer Allan Stone, who would later become Jimmy’s dealer.

Stone, an avid art collector ended up with several of the massive sculptures in his house. But after he ran out of room he put them in the backyard, totally exposed to the elements.

After Stone died, Crashow went by the house to pay his respects and found the artwork he labored over and cherished was tarnished and melted into a heap of mush. It was then that he got the idea to speed up the process. If cardboard comes from the trash, what if it returned to the trash? And what if the artist who created it also helped destroy it?

In the documentary “The Cardboard Benini”, you see the whole process from conception to death, a purposeful metaphor for life. It will force you to ask the question “As an artist, could you destroy your own creativity”?

 

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