Mr. Right in Seattle

Last week I traveled to Seattle, Washington for the first time to visit my friend Aaron Tuttle and perform in The Holiday Show at the Bainbridge Performing Arts Center. The theater was located on the island of Bainbridge, about a 35 minute ferry ride from Seattle.

BPA Playhouse

The display board

I was there for 4 days only, with a show on Thursday night and Friday night.  I wanted to see as much of the city as possible in my short amount of time.  Of course there was Pike Place Market, the Space Needle and all the classic landmarks that I had to visit. With Aaron as my host and tour guide we set out each day to take in the city before heading to the ferry around 4 pm to take us to Bainbridge Island.

First thing first – I needed to stop off in one of the many cafés for an afternoon tea…

That night we got to the theater a little early as it was opening night.  I was so excited I got all dressed up about 2 hours early and then realized I had not eaten dinner.  Befuddled, I decided to walk to the nearby Town & Country convenience store.  I walked in, ordered 3 corn dogs and a cup of broccoli cheddar soup and walked back to the theater to eat backstage with my fellow cast members.

That night, opening night, I found out my friend Ariel Bravy, who I had not seen since middle school, was coming to the show.  Having gone to the same elementary and middle school and being in the school band together, it was wonderful to reconnect with him after so many years.

with Ariel Bravy

The next morning, Aaron and I set out to Pike Place Market…

This was a marvellous place with fresh fish, fruits, vegetables, spices, teas, and more.  They even had a stand that sold freshly made mini doughnuts (of which I bought six).

While we were there we also stopped by the original Starbucks where I managed to get an authentic Starbucks tea!

We also found what is known as the “gum wall”, which is literally a side of a brick building full of pieces of gum.  Some people have even gone so far as to made shapes and designs with their gum.  So I decided to make a small contribution of my own…

my contribution

After chewing an entire pack of gum, I needed a drink. We headed to a wine tasting room to sample different wines from Italy and Washington state.  After everything I sampled, I think my favorite new wine is a blend called Vixen Red.

By now the time had flown by and it was time to head to the theater for the Friday night show.

snapshot from my performance

The next day, Saturday, was my last day there. I was flying out that night so we had to make the most of my down time before heading out.  We went to the Space Needle where I bought some awesome “Space Needle” souvenirs. And right next door to the space needle was the EMP building. The Experience Music Project is a 140,000 sq. ft. building designed by Frank Gehry that houses a museum and concert hall. Like all of Frank Gehry’s work, the building itself is quite a sight to see.

Space Needle

EMP Building

After this I took my friend Aaron out for a bite to eat and thanked him for being such a great host and friend. In addition to showing me around, he had kept his DSLR camera at his side the whole time to capture video of Mr. Right visiting Seattle. This will make for a great video for sure!

After a deep conversation on life and happiness, it was finally time to collect my cares and woes and head on home to sunny California.  As I sat at the airport I was thinking, as I normally do, about what a great experience this week was. I made so many new friends, reconnected with old friends, and got to perform my show for a new group of people all in just 4 short days .  It’s experiences like this that make me truly thankful for what I do. As usual I was left feeling like I did not get enough time there. There were, after all, things I still did not get to see and do. But I suppose some things will have to wait for the next visit!

Advertisements

The Necessity of Video

In the past videos were nice to include on a website, today however they are a must-have element of any viable business. We know that a video on our website can give our prospective clients a look into the services and products we offer. Rather than describing your product or service in written detail, a video allows the viewer to see the product or service in action.  But did you know that video is now the essential differentiator that drives search engine optimization?  The days of relying solely on meta tags and keywords for search engine optimization (SEO) are over. According to an article on searchengineland.com, when a company integrates relevant videos that match the content of the site, search engines find and index the video. This, in turn, improves your overall website search ranking and also allows search results to be presented with matching video, which increases search-based traffic to your site. This means having a video as the first thing people see on your website is not only good to engage people on your site, but to actually enhance your SEO ranking. According to Internet marketing guru Bruce Clay, “Since Google integrated video into its search offering, websites featuring video have gained a significant SEO advantage. Relevant videos are being displayed near the top of Google search results.” He has also said, “I think, that a year from now, we are going to be sitting here saying – ‘if you don’t have video, if you don’t have engagement objects on your website, you are just not going to rank. It will make you last among equals if you don’t have it.”

In a study by the Market Experiments Journal, the use of video in viral marketing can also greatly increase people clicking on other pages of your website to find out more about what you offer. It seems having relevant video content on your website has become crucial to being listed in search results, making sales, and enhancing the visitor experience. Do you have a video that drives people to your website?  Is there a high-quality video on the home page of your website? If not, perhaps that should be the next consideration for marketing yourself and your business.

The Depravity of Sin City

Having just returned from an extended trip to Las Vegas, I felt compelled to collect my thoughts and observations of the place I called home for nearly 10 years…

Last August, after living in Las Vegas for almost a decade, I finally mustered up the strength to pack up all of my belongings and move away. I needed a change and it was time to sail on.

It has become common knowledge over the last two years that of all US cities, the economy of Las Vegas was hit hardest in 2009 & 2010. An article from the Business Insider stated, “By just about any measure, the economy of Nevada is a complete and total disaster.” (Read the full article here) Unemployment was at 12.4% at its peak. 1 in every 28 homes have been foreclosed upon. Business Analysts have been predicting that employment and the housing market will not fully recover for the next 10 years.  But what caused all of this to happen?  This is the question I have been exploring.

Upon returning, after months away, a strange realization came over me as I walked through the airport from my arrival gate to baggage claim. I no longer felt like I belonged there anymore. A rush of emotions came over me as I began thinking through all the memories and friends I left behind. I thought about how hard it was at the time, how much uncertainty I had and now how marvelous and stress free my life had become. Though I had planned to depart two years prior, opportunities at the time kept me settled. With the recent housing market crash and the collapse of employment for residents, Las Vegas sure took a turn for the worse. When I first moved there in 2002 entertainment was still at its peak. Though it was slowly coming to an end. The corporations decided it was more profitable to put in bars and ultra lounges in lieu of theaters and showrooms. In fact, a place that once employed so many magicians one day decided it was just no longer what the casino needed.

The Sahara is the most recent hotel on the strip to close it's doors

Over the last several years I was there I became very immersed with the arts scene and community of entertainers. Interestingly enough the more involved I became, the more I realized what a “cold” place the community of Las Vegas was.  I felt like I had been stabbed in the back and betrayed by (so-called) friend after friend so many times that I learned to trust no one. I didn’t enjoy being around people because it seemed that everyone was spiteful and vindictive.  And if you let your guard down for even a second, someone was ready to turn on you. I cannot help but wonder, what happened to the “community” of Las Vegas?

I have since heard stories from my father-in-law, who was born and raised in Las Vegas, of days when the mob ran casinos and treated everyone like family. “Everything was comped, you were a real guest in these people’s home and they wanted to make sure you were shown a good time,” he told me. Employees were treated like family members who were given such respect and loyalty that they, in turn, felt loyal to be part of this organization. They took pride in the work they did and they felt needed and more importantly supported.  Above all, there was a great sense of community.  Nowadays, everyone is replaceable. Long gone are the days, and attitudes, of loyalty toward others.  Now someone can come in to a casino, willing to offer the same services for less money (undercutting you) and next thing you know you’re out.

One of many vacant shopping centers

When I come back to Vegas and talk to old friends I realize how closed minded I was on local issues; how detrimental the collapse of the local economy was on the morale of its citizens. Instead of locals in the community joining together to help one another out in need, they fended for themselves. Being a performer and especially privy to the goings on in the entertainment industry I saw first hand how cut-throat people could be.  In most cities you generally find a sense of community and support for local events. In Las Vegas we see very little support for the local arts and theater.  This makes it so very challenging for all those people who dreamed of getting to the big stage now with no where to perform. Many performers try to open their own shows – to make their dream come true. But these days, with little to no support from the hotels, people are lucky if they can keep their show running three months.

Things really took a turn for the worse when people started losing their jobs and then their homes. All over the country but especially in Vegas it made people so fearful of spending money. They felt as though they had nothing. And when people feel they have nothing they easily get depressed and lose motivation to move forward. In fact, they stagnate. Since our society places so much emphasis on money as a value exchange and more importantly a sense of worth, when people stop making money their sense of worth diminishes.  What we see are two things: people either fall deeper and deeper into a rut or they begin sacrificing dignity for the sake of making some money. They take jobs solely for the pay without considering the effect it has.  People find ways of “making it work” and living comfortably with some sort of stable income; as stable as it can be in the entertainment industry.  Because Las Vegas’ economy is so heavily dependent on tourism, when people cut back on vacationing it affects every person out there.

My friend and I would often compare Las Vegas to Pleasure Island – the fictional land in The Adventures of Pinocchio where boys can act as they please without recrimination. For people visiting that’s great, you can come to Las Vegas, act however you want, do whatever you want, and then leave. But what about for the people who reside there? What does this do to them? Perhaps just as in Pinocchio, it reinforces all the sinister qualities in people. Here there is unlimited fun and freedom to indulge in whatever mischief you desire. The fictional Pleasure Island was designed as a morality tale where the young boys overindulged and made asses out of themselves. But I believe Pleasure Island actually exists and it is located in Las Vegas.

Consider the haughty phrase “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”   This marketing slogan was created in the 90’s and in my mind, tarnished Las Vegas – not only by reinforcing bad behavior by tourists (encouraging people to indulge in anything they wanted with little to no consequence) but also by tainting the reputation of the local residents. It has now become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Construction of the new hotel Echelon is at a standstill, ALYSSA ORR/LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

The impending demise of Las Vegas over several years time was the result of greed.  Greed caused things to get too big too fast. With no building restrictions, anyone could build anywhere they wanted. With too much growth too quickly Vegas has become a carnival where no one wins. And when that greed trickles in to the local mentality, problems arise. The culture becomes a transient lifestyle. And because people working in the casinos, the only profitable industry, continue to get “screwed over” they stop caring about pleasing anyone. Most of all they cease taking pride in what they do.

When I talk to my friends that still live there, they seem to have mixed feelings. On one hand they have great memories of their time spent living and working in Las Vegas. On the other hand, they realize that so much of what they loved about it is now gone. Many of them that have lived there as long (or longer) than I did actually want to leave. Several people told me they were actually jealous that I was able to move away. “Jealous?” I would ask. Unfortunately, it seemed that they had become “trapped” in their lifestyle. There was a certain comfort level that they were not willing to give up in order to move away. Since so many of the nightlife jobs are only available in a place like Las Vegas they just don’t know that they could make a comfortable living if they left. This, to me, is the saddest part of all. To realize that people feel trapped in where they live; they want to leave but feel like they can’t. Of course we can feel trapped anywhere when we have been in one place too long. Sometimes we need to bring about a big change in our lives in order to see new potential. This is how we grow and evolve.

A Matter of Luck

I was recently reading an article in Psychology Today that explored the question of luck. As performers we often tend to attribute success to a stroke of good luck. How often have we seen someone achieve something that we have always dreamed of doing and thought, “They are so lucky!”. “If only I was as lucky I could do that too…” But is it really about luck? Is there, in fact, some divine order that makes things work out for some people but not for others? The truth is luck is nothing more than careful preparation meeting opportunity.

If we examine this definition of luck further we find that no opportunity comes “overnight”. Opportunities result from careful planning, focus, and attention. And that begins with preparation. When we start out as aspiring artists we often have in mind our “dream show”; what we would do if we had unlimited resources and an unlimited budget. That dream becomes a goal to work toward and we must begin tapping into the resources we do have in order to begin the process of preparing what it is that will get us to that goal. When we are beginning we may not have that many resources available to us so we have to start small.

In the small town where I grew up there was not a big magic community so most of my early shows were for my parents and their friends. As confidence builds we push beyond our comfort zone to go out into the community and share our craft with a wider range of audiences. While we continue to develop and expand, our material will become more solid and polished. As a result of our persistence, opportunities will begin to appear. Albeit small at first, each opportunity we seize will lead us further along to greater opportunities. It is important to keep in mind that there may be an extended period of time between taking action and seeing an opportunity resulting from it. But do not get discouraged, after all, this is the time to prepare and improve your art for the next big window of opportunity. This is why it is so important to do as many shows as you can. The more you get out in front of an audience, in a myriad of settings, the more polished and prepared you become. The more likely you will be ready to run when the next door opens.

I believe that opportunities are everywhere. Every day new challenges arise. And with new challenges come new opportunity. Big or small, keep your eyes and your mind open. Opportunities may not always be in the form we expect or, at the time one arises, we may not always be in a position to take advantage of it. But keep working, stay focused. The more prepared you are, the more able you become to meet the challenge when the right occasion presents itself. It is also important that we do not wait for the “right” opportunity to come along. In fact, sometimes it is just as important to create our own opportunities. Once our confidence builds it becomes clearer how our unique abilities can benefit others and we begin to find ways to present our talent to specific markets that we want to associate with.

Preparation does take discipline, diligence, and a great deal of trial and error. But when that right moment comes along there is no better feeling than knowing you have what it takes to seize the moment and showcase your spectacular talent. Good luck!