Circus ringmaster in front of circus acrobats under a travelling big top

Reaching Back Across Half A Life

August 20, 2001.  Three weeks before the Twin Towers came tumbling down.  I wrote a 563 word journal entry entitled “Free Training” marking my first awkward and tentative steps into the world of circus.

For the last two days I have been transcribing this and subsequent journal entries into this publicly accessible blog – this is equal parts self-discovery, art project, and entrepreneurial venture.

5834 days; 833 weeks; 194 months; 16 years.  Half my lifetime ago.

I was so focused back then on the girls in my class – if people liked me – on showing how strong I was – on being part of “the gang” – on obsessively training at the expense of developing real friendships with the very people that have since become as close to me as brothers and sisters – people I would die for.

I write about meeting my first classmate that morning – “The Contortionist.”  Only 17 years old that day.  Two years later she would be my first circus girlfriend.  Two years after that she would be my first circus breakup and two years after that we would almost start things up again.  Two years after that I would be in a relationship with her best friend and ten years after that we are still be going strong and setting the stage for our circus family.  All blinks of an eye.  Really.

But on that Monday 16 years ago, I just griped that she had beaten me to the gym on the first day of open training.  Not once thinking that, having arrived from Germany just days earlier, she had probably woken up alone on a sofa in an empty apartment at 5am, known no one in town, and counted down the hours to 8am as an antidote to boredom.

For all my (frankly embarassing) self-centeredness in those early writings (on the day the World Trade Center collapsed, I lamented being “good at many things” and therefore “unable to focus.”) there is a hunger for life, a mission to accomplish, and a desire to seize upon every opportunity.

Back then, the circus world represented a romantic ideal to me, and, 16 years later I can happily confirm that of all the romantic ideals I’ve had in my life, this is the only one that has lived fully up to its promise.  There is nothing better than circus.  Every venture I’ve undertaken outside of this sphere has felt cold and empty.  I sought out meaning in great principles but found it all lacking at their core.

I write about the clever trick of lugging home bags of wet laundry to save $3.50 at the laundromat.

The world I lived in back then was so tangible, yet spiritual, blue-collar, yet philosophical.  Pain, hunger, yearning – these are the ostinato themes of a 23-year-old circus student.  Somewhere, somehow, it all went off the rails – good intentions every step of the way, of course, but I’m in a process of recentering right now and there’s no better starting point than the past.

Approval

After all this effort, the National Theatre informed us that the Chairwoman is happy with our programmation and our show and has approved our festival proposal.  This is a huge weight off my shoulders – I spent the last week worrying if everything was going to fall apart on the whim of someone who had no idea of what we we trying to do.  If our show is a “go” then everything is going to get a lot easier.  I will have a few beers tonight!

Now, we have to spruce up the proposal for a second round of approval by another committee in one week.  We cannot include any expensive foreign shows that we know we will need to cut.  No matter what, though, our colleague at the theatre guarantees the numbers he presented to me last week is their minimal final offer, even saying that he “I will see if i can get you more.”  Good, right?  I told him that even though we need to take a pay cut to free up funds for the closing ceremony, we are excited about the new festival and closing ceremony proposal.  Now that we have a number written in stone we can confirm with our contacts and connections.  I did have to guaruntee him that we were making no ‘revenge profit’ on last year’s organizers, though.

So, finally, the outdoor shows featuring artists from our show will be focused on the first two weekends and will number about 20.  Each show will last 5-10 minutes if it’s a solo and 20-30 minutes if it’s a group show.  We will also have local performers on both weekends, and some international performers coming only for the second weekend that will include groups like the Capoeira team, a hip-hop group, the Australian group, Circus Theatrical, or the African Group.  I’ve also developed a 2.0 version of The Rocker’s closing ceremony which shows a map of the square and the path the show takes through each of the main areas of activity.

I don’t think I would have gotten through these last four weeks of my first time as a head negotiator for a big contract without the welcome help, supportive emails, and negotiation survival tips that my father offered.  The budget of this festival may be small compared to the IT world, but it’s huge for a two-person entertainment company!  The first two weeks were no problem – life was life – but over the last two weeks I was finding it hard to eat, sleep, or be very productive.  I couldn’t read, I couldn’t watch videos – even hanging out with friends was impossible.  I guess I need to learn how to leave the work behind me instead of sitting at home with high blood pressure when I know there is nothing I can do but wait.

For now, though, all is good!  Our contact at the theatre is upbeat, positive, and happy with our work and handed me the report and press kit from last year which is great.  He also told me what they decided on for this year’s theme: “Arts New Wonderland.” yuck.

Bookkeeping and the Taiwan team

A few months ago, I sent RockerCo an invoice for my professional services during the creation of our show.  As I am a US citizen, I was not sure what to write for the taxes, so I left it as N/A and simply clarified that the amount owed, 4,000 CAD should be the net amount received after all applicable taxes, fees, and transfer charges.  Last week I got email confirmation that the transfer of funds from last year’s festival went through successfully, which means that 2006 is officially behind us – forging ahead for the year to come!

This year I have been keeping track of the payments that The Rocker is making me so that we have a record.  since we are done with the first quarter of 2007, I wanted to make sure that I have not forgotten anything.

Jan 1st 2007 – $2500 salary advance (from India grant)

Feb 1st 2007 – $2500 salary advance (from Holiday Inn contract)

March 1st 2007 – $2500 salary advance (advance for National Theater Contract)

As I wait for programmation approval from the National Theatre, I’m following up on a process that I kicked off last month: interviewing business managers, arts administrators, and graduate arts students and upperclassmen from undergraduate arts programs.  I got a few resumes in Chinese and English held some interviews at coffee houses all over downtown.  But so far, no luck.  This week, I wrote a more official notice:

Bilingual Production Assistant and Arts Administration / Project Management Interns Sought

Seeking an experienced bilingual Production Assistant for full-time temporary emplyment with the National Theater and Concert Hall of Taiwan’s 20th Anniversary Outdoor festival.

Also accepting internship applications from current graduate or experienced undergraduate students in management, marketing, arts administration/management, or related fields to be part of the management team.

This is an excellent opportunity to participate in an important international performing arts festival and to be involved in the management of a major public event produced by a large national organization.   Last year drew an audience of 300,000 and we hope to attract even more this year.

This six-week internship has flexible hours and lasts from September 24th, 2007 to November 5 th, 2007.  Remuneration offered.

Send your CV’s and resumes by email to set up an interview.

Production Assistant

Experienced production assistant who is familiar with all aspects of show production especially in a festival format.  Will be in charge of coordinating the three main production teams in this year’s festival.  Familiarity with the technical side of show business is a plus.

Internship Team Leader:

Native-level spoken and written English and Chinese ability.  Management experience, past work in theatrical productions, and familiarity with visa / work permit applications are pluses.   Must be adaptable, independent, accountable, and efficient at task delegation and resource management.

Intern

Fluent in spoken English.  Job will entail daily research and reporting as directed by team leader.   We are seeking independent, efficient, and accountable people.

So far only two more applications have come in but they are much more professional than the ones I was getting through my informal network – one is an administrator on academic leave from a major Taiwanese dance company and who would really like to do a big festival and the other has 21 years of experience as production coordinator with groups like Riverdance and David Copperfield and is recommended from the largest production company in Taiwan.

Other than all this, I’m also finishing off the last few stops on my lecturing tasks.  A lot of people are coming to my last workshop after the popularity of last week’s workshop last week.  I just need to get about 3 times as many mats to build a 2m path along the diagonal of the training room.  They are expecting 13 people – 2 of whom were at the workshop last weekend and would like to participate again!

The lecture circuit

I’ve had a full schedule of workshops over the last week and one more coming up next week.

  • Tuesday, March 20 – (All Day) -Lecture at Theater Department of the Arts University
  • Monday, March 26 – (8h30-10h) – Lecture at Medical School
  • Saturday, March 24 – (Afternoon) – Open Studio and Workshop at TAV
  • Sunday, Mach 25 – (Afternoon) – Open Studio at TAV
  • Saturday, March 31 – (10-12) – Workshop at TAV

I’m tried to get all of these filmed to create a documentary about our work in Taiwan that I can usel to show how my short-term residence here helped the arts community in Taipei.

As much as I’ve enjoyed the workshops, it’s interfered with my dating life.  The Fox wasn’t comfortable staying over last weekend because of the open house on Saturday and Sunday so she’s been commuting a long way into town each day to see me just for an hour or so each day.  Seems like a weird way to solve the problem of her being worried that visitors might see her bag in my room, but I’ll follow her lead.  It’s too bad, but such is the way of life.  It feels like we are in negotiations right now over what level of commitment is mutually beneficial.  And when i say ‘negotiations,’ I fucking mean it.  She’s smart – PhD candidate, university lectureer, journalist, former candidate for the Taiwanese senate, heiress to a publishing empire, and a fucking sharp business mind.

Christian is going to be returning to the mysterious dark continent of Asia in May, but considering that I move every four weeks between Bangkok and Taiwan, I am not sure that it will be possible for us to meet up.  On the other hand, he is in Taiwan for three weeks to teach at Beitou Dance University and will be visiting Hong Kong and Seoul, so it may be possible to cross paths at some point.

Crisis after crisis

Things exploded in a big way a week ago.  Crisis after crisis has blindsided me.  This week has been about going into damage control to balance lecturing responsibilities with my core business and keep up appearances and a calm demeanor.  Happily, things have settled down, and all obstacles have been happily cleared except one, but I am optimistic about even that one resolving itself in a timely way (and ideally give me a fair amount of satisfaction in correcting a prior wrong).

To make the budget for the National Theatre work, I had to make a lot of cuts in the programation.  Now, we only have two local shows (had to cut out the comic kung-fu piece), we have cut out two of the new creations, and will only be able to invite one new acrobat instead of two.

The key to getting the theatre to approve the plan was to invite outdoor performers who could also be part of the closing ceremonies.  Now, it’s up to us to find people who can get support for their own transport to stretch our dollars.  The only other costs are per diems and lodging which are also quite expensive, but maybe we can find a solution when we have all the numbers in front of us.  I’m sure we’ll find a clever solution.  For example, TAV wants to introduce us to another artistic residency place where we might be able to house all our artists, but it may take some fasttalking.

If we don’t come up with at least 650,000NT in funding (airline tickets, lodging, what have you) we’re not going to be able to pay ourselves for the festival, not to mention the closing ceremony.  The Rocker’s not concerned – he says as soon as we get confirmation, we’ll be able to approach embassies and other sponsors to cover more than this amount in transport and other funding.

Here is the breakdown of the theatre’s final offer compared to last year:  If we call last year’s budget for creating and performing the show and running the outdoor shows “100%,” we requested 83% to perform our show and run the outdoor shows this year.  They came back with an offer of 64%, but when I proposed that we take on the responsibility of the closing ceremony as well, they countered with 114%, though we’d may be responsible for 5% tax, all transportation and shipping fees of foreign groups, the writing, planning, and coordination of the closing ceremony.

We could ask for more, but that would trigger a formal appeal process which includes a full audit of our accounting – a complicated step which might kill our independence – not a decision I take lightly!

Basically, this means that if we take on the closing ceremony, we can manage the entire budget ourselves.  Even if our show and outdoor programmation runs a bit over budget, we can be clever in getting support and involving local groups to deliver a closing ceremony that will rival that of last year.

Really, the only thing on my mind right now is that I’m just locking horns with our colleague at the National Theatre.  We want to do more and more, and they want to pay less and less – it takes a bit of energy to stick to our guns.  I’m looking forward to The Rocker getting back soon.  I need a beer break – negotiationg over tea and coffee at the National Theater feels way to formal, man!

Now that they have given their final offer, I am holding off on sharing my rough version of the pitch video until after their programmation meeting at the end of next week since this final budget has forced a rethink of the festival concept from the version that is presented in the video.  I just wouldn’t feel right showing a video that does not represent what we can actually deliver now.  Once we get programmation approval, we’ll design a DVD presentation that highlights the actual groups that we can afford with this budget.

All in all, though, I guess everything is going well – I am doing my job, saying that we need the amount we need, and they are doing their job, saying that it is too expensive and too risky – things alternate between us nearly closing the deal and then them freaking out and wanting to reopen closed issues.

A ship in every port?

So, do I have girlfriends all around the world?  Well, no, because I am not really interested in being in a relationship at the moment.  While it’s true that 1) I do have a lot of friends who are girls, 2) we go out together, 3) some of them are interested in me, 4) I am interested in some of them (in very different ways), I would not call any of them a true “girlfriend” and I do not hide my relationships with any of them from each other.  But at some point, they have all eventually accused me of actually having a “real” girlfriend somewhere else, be it The Political Scientist or The Contortionist or The Actress or The Fox or my Thai friend or whoever.  I guess they think that they have cleverly seen through my secret plans, but for me I just feel like my otherwise good friends are suspicious of me and/or jealous of my other friends and it is not pleasant.  When I tell them to stop, of course they say “I’m not jealous, come on, who do you think you are, I don’t even like you like that, blah blah blah…” but my feeling is that if that is the case, stop poking me in the eyes.

That said, for some reason it really hit me today that one of the constants in my life, The Actress, has completely moved on – married, starting a family – selfish as it is, I feel empty and poorer knowing that I am now part of her past.

Whenever things seemed too unreal, too free-floating; she was someone I knew was always there.  No matter what might have happened to one of us, we knew that the other would jump on a plane and be there in 48 hours if needed.  But things change, and I doubt that she’d ever really ‘need’ anything fom me anyway.  Silly, really, I don’t know how things like this work.  We’d lived in the same world for almost 19 years and suddenly I’m here: really and truly alone.  So many people have come and gone in that time, but she was always there to trade her own tales of wildness and freedom that made us so happy to have left those silly fantasies of ‘wedded bliss’ behind.

But now she’s gone around the bend and there’s no letters from back there so am I ever going to know if I should get married too?  If marriage changes you forever?  What happens to the you you were?  The you you are and aren’t?

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the closest thing I’ve had recently to a proper Western-style date last weekend (platonic though it was with the daughter of my high school German teacher).  Dinner involved sticking lean chunks of deermeat into my face dressed up as a Kazahk as conversation got a bit moody, existential, and fatalist over an after-dinner drink which brought her mood down temporarily before we relifted our spirits and danced like fools at Taipei’s premiere nightspot.

The Best Part of Migraines

My family has suffered from migraines for three generations.  The best part of this affliction is my own home remedy: a good 200-300ml of vodka.

Added benefit: melancholy lonliness of drinking in solitude!

It has been a hard week; I cure a migraine and drown my angst in one fell swoop.

I’ll go sleep some of this off so that I can be productive for another few hours after midnight.

I love my job.