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Compassion for a Villain

Hunch your shoulders, twirl your mustache, stand in dark corners and people know that you are “the bad guy” but the best stories don’t have villains that are bad, simply for the sake of being bad. It takes a truly gifted actor or storyteller to show the very worst side of a person and still maintain their humanity  the audience’s faith in that humanity. As audience members, we are captivated by good people who are painted into a corner to do things they would never want to do. Just look at your child’s face the next time that they ask to watch Frozen for the seventeenth time… that day!

Every actor and every story teller must be able to have compassion for their character and be able to elicit that compassion from the audience. It is more interesting to watch someone struggle between good and evil then to watch someone running around committing evil acts. If Michael or Vito Corleone simply relished in the dealings of a crime boss for the sake of “being bad” we wouldn’t have had the 374 minutes of the riveting Godfather movies, we simply would have had Scarface.

The responsibility of an actor and a storyteller are very closely related – to keep the audience’s attention. Each character has his own journey that started on the day that they were born and continues until the day that they die. The actor must be aware of significant events in the character’s life, prior to the story and what the character faces at the end of the story. When several character’s journeys intertwine in one story, we call one character’s portion their character “arch”. It is how they change throughout the story. When actors are preparing for a role, they breakdown every moment of every scene so that they know what their character wants at every moment or “beat”.

It is not good enough to say Hook wants to capture Peter Pan “just because”. This is not a strong choice as a storyteller or an actor. It is helpful to not distance yourself from the character. This implies judgment. Actors and Storytellers should strive for understanding. Distancing yourself from the character makes it more difficult to justify their actions. This is why many actors, depending on their method, will use the first person when referring to their character. A strong choice would be, “I want to capture Peter Pan because he is an insolent child and I should be the one to rule over Never Never Land.” Perhaps, later as the story unfolds you realize, “I want to capture Peter Pan because he reminds me of my lost childhood and until I eliminate this reminder I won’t be able to get back to the business of running my crew”. This would be part of your arch.

There are many methods for acting and story-telling and every rule is meant to be broken. A villain that just wants to “see the world burn” can still capture an audience’s attention. Heath Ledger and Christopher Nolan created a chaos-worshiping villain in The Dark Knight so unmoved by the suffering of others and the audience was hooked. However, in the same way that no one comes into the dojo on the very first day and breaks a board perfectly, ten consecutive times, no one should break these rules without diligent study and practice.


Operation: BuddyPack

Operation: BuddyPack was a huge success! Thank you to every student and family who contributed for the backpacks to be filled with toiletries, school supplies, and games or toys to pass the time! Thousands of children in the New Jersey and New York area are without homes and all of the comforts that a home usually brings. Thanks to you, 10 additional children have been given a backpack full of practical supplies, and comfort. Mr. Joe and I cannot express the gratitude we have for all of you – the families at BLS – that helped put a smile on those children’s faces. We owe a very special ‘Thank you’ to Caroline S. and her family for bringing Operation: BuddyPack to the studio. And another special ‘Thank you’ to Max and Joey P.’s family for providing two completely filled packs to our collection!

It has been very heartwarming to see how quickly our students and parents were ready to sign-up to go out of their way to purchase and bring in brand-new supplies! I got so many replies, “Is that all?” from families that were so willing to donate more. Hurricane Sandy left behind a path of destruction, but in that wake, our Mid-Atlantic region has been able to witness the power of community connection!


Wounded Warrior Project event

I want give a BIG THANK YOU to all of the families who contributed to my run in the Tough Mudder this past Saturday — Over $500 all together! Not only did you show your support to me, but you donated to a fantastic cause called the Wounded Warrior Project. This project ‘s mission is to reintegrate injured soldiers into society through therapy, treatment plans, and the provision of medical equipment. A person’s service to our country is a huge sacrifice – those deployed give up their family, a lot of their freedoms, and sometimes their lives – to ensure that we have ours. Thanks to all of our service members (police, firefighters, military members, and more) for all that you do!

So let me tell you: 11 miles through the mud, obstacles, and a severe thunderstorm was… Tough! Crossing the finish line was only possible with the use of  Teamwork, Courage, and Discipline — All characteristics that have been discussed at BLS as Word of the Month.

Teamwork is integral to the very foundation of the Tough Mudder course. “Teamwork and camaraderie before my course time” and “I help my fellow mudders complete the course” are some of the phrases pledged before and throughout the course of the race. The Mud Mile was an obstacle of a dozen steep slopes of muddy clay separated by deep trenches of muddy, clay water. It takes teamwork between all participants to push and pull one another over the slippery slopes to continue trudging through the mud. At the end of the 10th mile when you think all of your energy is spent, the Everest obstacle requires you to sprint with no hesitation up a quarter pipe ramp then leap upwards with all of your strength, and at the last second grasp hands with another mudder who pulls until you’re able to clamber over the edge. It really takes everyone working together to cross that finish line.

During the competition, I witnessed amazing displays of courage by some of the participants. It is a common understanding that the Tough Mudder is “not a race, but a challenge” and mudders commit to “overcome all fears.” Samantha, a teammate of mine, took a leap of faith plunging 20 feet down into cold and muddy water below. Although she has faced bigger challenges before, it always takes a renewed sense of determination to overcome a fear. Seeing so many injured soldiers participate was truly inspirational! The most courageous act I saw was from a fellow competitor making his way through the course on two prosthetic legs that he acquired after a deployment over seas. I struggled to keep my legs moving — I cannot fathom the internal strength and determination it took for that man to overcome those challenges.

All 24,000 Mid-Atlantic runners (a record registration number!) showed a great amount of discipline. It takes a lot of mental grit to complete that race. The promise of Tough Mudder sponsor merchandise and hot food at the finish line does not motive a person enough to push through 11 miles of rain and mud going over, under, and through a series of 16 obstacles (5 got closed down). As so eloquently relayed on signs posted along the path, Mudders “do not whine…” It takes a great deal of mental and physical discipline for each person to push themselves to the finish line – I watched my dad limp through over 8 miles on a bad knee without a word of complaint and smile on his face at each obstacle to overcome. That type of discipline is a commitment to yourself, which gives you the strength to is push a bit further. Internal discipline is putting mind of over matter, so you get done whatever it is you need to do.

Anyone who is interested in testing out their teamwork, courage, and discipline should consider registering for the Tough Mudder on April 20 & 21, 2013! Our military men and women serve, protect, and sacrifice for us; what are you willing to do to give back?



Habitat for Humanity Build in Baltimore

Sunny and breezy, with beautiful mid-70 degree weather… this past Saturday was a terrific day to spend outside. Instead of hanging at the beach or lounging in a downtown coffee shop, I arrived bright and early at a build site in Baltimore City to partake in a house demolition and reconstruction job!
Volunteering for Habitat for Humanity has been a dream of mine, but taking off for a week to build a house abroad just never seemed feasible with work and school. Who knew that Habitat for Humanity has local chapters that allow you to volunteer for day jobs (about 7 hours) during the week and/or weekends? I didn’t!

That is, I didn’t know until I came across Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake during a routine internet exploration. Registration is a breeze, and the site offers information about lots of different volunteer opportunities. If you’re not interested in labor-intensive work, maybe volunteering in the office will suit you better! You can request to do gardening and landscaping, or offer up your muscles for power tool duties. Either way, as long as you’re 16 or older, there is a job available for you!

The local chapter, Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake, has about 6 different sites in Baltimore city that they are focusing on over the next few months. In addition to novice volunteers (like myself) at the sites on build days, there are Red Hats who are veteran volunteers that have gone through additional safety courses and commit to two build days each month, Americorps members who are on job assignments with Habitat for 11-month contracts, and site supervisors who are employed by Habitat for Humanity and provide volunteers with wisdom, friendliness, and tasks!

I had a WONDERFUL experience getting to know other volunteers and spending the day ripping out old windows and frames, and reconstructing the exterior walls! The experience was so wonderful that I have already gone online and  signed up for four more jobs over the next two months! If you, or anyone you know, have an interest in volunteering in your community, I highly recommend Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake.

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.”

—Marjorie Moore




Leadership: skills & 3 types of leaders

One of the most important skills that a leader needs is one of communication.  Communication is made up of two parts both of which are very important, but the first one is vital to the second.  That first skill is listening.  The focus and attitude for listening can really make the difference in a leader that is respected by others or not.  

How do we teach our children about listening.  There are several ways of showing that we are listening to others including, looking at them in the eyes, nodding from time to time, being able to repeat what they say back to them, keeping our bodies still and not fidgeting, and not being distracted by electronics, noises, others, or even worst – our own thoughts.

When I was talking to our students about this subject, I told some of them that sometimes I find my eye wandering to see who is next in line to speak to me.  Have you ever done that?  Well I have and I am working on practicing keeping my eyes, attention and thoughts on the person and the message they are delivering to me. 

Being a good communicator also includes being able to speak well.  For many of our students it may start with speaking loud enough for others to hear them.  Now when we get the volume up we have to think about the attitude of the voice and person.  Which of the following 3 types of leaders are they;  passive, aggressive, or assertive?

A passive leader is one that seldom does the work and finds it difficult to make decisions.  They may even agree with everyone but not want to be responsible for making a call or decision.  The aggressive leader is full of opinions, generally their own, and are more than happy to push them on everyone around them.  They seldom are good listeners. 

Then there is the assertive leader.  This person is a good listener, willing to hear out all opinions and ideas before drawing a conclusion and making an advised decision.  This assertive leader would ask others to help them in a kind way and would always be willing to say thank you.  They would recognize to others the work of his group and be willing to share the rewards.  This is the kind of leader most of us would like to work for, this is the kind of leader we all want to be.