An interview with Michael Turner from BD Entertainment

by Steve Vickers, DCW publisher

This interview was published originally in the May 2009 (Volume 38, Number 2) edition of Drum Corps World.

Michael and I first met when I moved to Madison, WI, in early 1979. He had just aged out of the Madison Scouts’ color guard and was beginning his instructing career. His innovative choreography and unique equipment work quickly established him as one of the premier designers in the activity.

He has spent the better part of his career involved in pageantry arts. It all began in high school band and then as a marching member of the Madison Scouts. Trained in ballet, jazz and modern dance, Michael was one of the early color guard pioneers to introduce dance and movement to the marching arena.

While in Madison, he performed extensively with Kanopy Dance Theatre, PresenTense, Children’s Theatre of Madison, Madison Opera and Ballet Madison. With such a diversified background, he developed an artistically strong and original teaching style.

For 18 years, Michael worked with the two-time World Champion Madison Scouts, serving as color guard choreographer and visual coordinator.

In 1993, he moved to San Francisco. In the Bay Area, Michael served as dance master and choreographer for the six-time World Champion Santa Clara Vanguard. Performing with Mindance San Francisco and artists of the San Francisco Ballet, he still studies performance and choreography and conducts color guard training sessions and master dance classes throughout the U.S., Canada, Middle East, Europe and Japan.

Michael was the Operations Manager for San Francisco Chanticleer, the famous all-male a capella vocal ensemble. Prior to Chanticleer, he was tour manager for the National tour of “Grease” starring Cindy Williams and Eddie Mekka.

He has also judged for Winter Guard International, Bands of America and freelance judges for marching bands, drum corps and color guard throughout the world.

Steve Vickers: We’ve known each other for three decades, although I admittedly haven’t been as knowledgeable about your work with the Blue Devils the past few years through BD Entertainment. Tell me what this division of the organization involves?

Michael Turner: Well, if you know anything about the Blue Devils’ executive director, Dave Gibbs, you know he is a visionary. The organization is one of the most extensive in the activity, involving not only this “outside” form of performance, BDEntertainment which we will get to, but also three drum and bugle corps, a percussion school, a wind symphony, winter guards and, for many years, one of the top multi-level twirling groups in the world, involving hundreds of young people.

BDEntertainment is an off-shoot of the Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps and their affiliates. With such a long history of being great innovators, and for setting high standards of creativity in the world of pageantry arts, bringing drum corps-type entertainment into other venues seemed an exciting idea.

SV: When did BD Entertainment begin?

MT: Dave and members of the BD Board approached me after receiving numerous requests from major production companies and event planners around the country to bring the unique and exciting sight and sound of the Blue Devils and drum corps into sporting venues and convention and tradeshow arenas. Personally, I liked the thought of working with Dave Gibbs and the Blue Devils on a grassroots project. BDEntertainment was born in the   winter of 2004.

Imagination and creativity make up the premise of BDEntertainment’s mission. The trick is to exceed expectations and create after-buzz that can only happen with the finest, most memorable entertainment possible.

SV: I understand the group has appeared in many venues here in the U.S, but also in the Far East and Europe? Can you name some of the companies and organizations that have used your services?

MT: Over the past four years, we have provided pageantry-type entertainment for corporate sales meetings and events, trade shows and conventions, working with some of the most respected producers as well as establishing a strong client base.

To name a few: Hyatt International, PeopleSoft, Life Scan – Johnson & Johnson, SEAWORLD – San Diego, SBC Long Distance, Wells Fargo, Bank of the West, Cisco Systems, Sterling Jewelry, Macy’s West, Allstate Insurance, Deloitte and Touché, Echo Dish Network, DIRETV and

Television appearances: “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and the Jerry Lewis 2005 MDA Telethon. We have been providing game-day entertainment for some six to eight NBA teams, including the Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, New Jersey Nets, Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns, leading to performing at the 2005 All-Star Game in Denver, CO.

Three years ago, we put a very successful new addition together for the San Francisco 49er’s game-day entertainment, a 16-member drum line called Niner Noise. They have gone on to appear at the Fiesta Bowl in Hawaii two years running.

Internationally, we continue a strong presence in Japan, have preformed in South Korea and, most recently, in Trinidad.

SV: You’re able to tailor a program to what the group wants in a performance. Describe some of the ways you’ve showcased the performers, the various sizes and personnel utilized, and what types of visual and musical methods have you incorporated?

MT: No two events have ever been the same. Our designers, choreographers and arrangers work hand-in-hand with our client’s creative team or event planners to align with their every detail. We work within their budget and theme, offering suggestions as far as cast size, costuming, choreography and staging.

We get a lot of requests for drum lines and offer a wide variety of drumming, from field-style to Taiko and other ethnic types, but also color guards and brass ensembles. If the client needs a singer/s or other types of entertainment to work with us, such as circus acts or costumed characters, we make that happen as well.

With our impressive worldwide roster of designers and performers, BDEntertainment can provide the kind of experience that will keep people talking and eager to attend events offering our cutting-edge entertainment. We offer performance possibilities that can and have fit into any venue.

SV: Your casts aren’t limited to only Blue Devils current and alumni members, right?

MT: Actually, Steve, this is the beauty of and one of our strong selling points. We have a database of performers, arrangers and choreographers who have aged out of a variety of drum corps, color guards and marching bands across the country. In many cases, we cast locally.

For example, if the event is in Phoenix or Ft. Lauderdale, we try to use people from the area. Of course, it has to be said that we will only offer the very best product. Casting can be challenging, but we have brought together some great people, some of whom actually get requested by the client once they have seen our promotional DVD.

SV: Has this project been a fund-raiser for the Blue Devils’ organization?

MT: Yes, but of course we would like to generate even more funds for the organization. The thing that makes BDE very different, say from a marching band that might do some sort of a fund-raising performance as a group, is that we pay our performers and they are treated as professionals in every since of the word.

These convention gigs can be tough . . . long hours, intricate and tight scheduling, and the like. We really take care of our performers. They are paid for rehearsals, per diem (if away from home) and always-good travel and lodging. I think I can say that anyone who has worked with us would like to again.

SV: Who designs, teaches and implements the different productions you’ve presented over the last few years?

MT: Thank God for the talent of the Blue Devils’ staff which is always my base from which to start. I am cautious to answer this question in case I forget someone, but we have included ceatives from around the country, and Dave and I have even been able to apply our staging skills to many events. (Complete list of BDEntertainment’s staff at

SV: What do you have planned for the balance of 2009 and perhaps beyond?

MT: Well, in all honesty, the economy has hit the hospitality and event industry in a hard way. Businesses and organizations that are used to throwing big parties will inevitably be paring down. I suspect more chicken to be served than filet. The up side is that BDEntertainment will be much more affordable as an entertainment choice than, say, Jay Leno or Cher.

SV: Anything else you’d like to cover?

MT: Yes, I would like to think that anyone who has ever marched and is now working for a company that hosts events, meetings or conventions that typically or might consider entertainment, think back to their marching days and remember the type of excitement that can be generated by the sight and sound of drum corps. BDEntertainment is your “one stop shop” for exciting corporate and sports arena entertainment.

If anyone would like more information on how to become a performer with BDEntertainemnt, or to book your own unique event entertainment, log onto our Web site for further information.

SV: Thanks for your time. What you’re doing sounds fascinating and I wish you well in your endeavors. Please keep me informed of any performances BDEntertainment will have on the schedule that might be accessible to drum corps fans that who nearby.

Have a great season!