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.

Tech Rider Hacking

The Southeast Asian earthquake has slowed down internet communications from Central Asia a great deal so I am behind on emails from North America. A few weeks ago The Rocker was staying at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal and meeting in the top floor of Cirque du Soleil about creating a performance beside the slums of Madras, India, which is cool, but I also learned that Tohu is starting to get other propositions for 2008 so they are urgently asking us to help them help us by providing more precise technical and budgetary information.

TOHU is working on next year’s budgets so they need a Tohu-adapted version of the technical rider or else they’ll have to make the decision based on our inflated “no-risk” outdoor version budget – this could compromise the project.  The technical director who does the feasibility analysis of all projects is about to leave for a three-week vacation and he said that his recommendation will be conditional on a version that specifies the equipment that we are bringing and what Tohu must rent, a set-up and rehearsal schedule, the number of personnel that need international travel, lodging, and per diems.  The problem that I find myself in is that we are waiting still waiting for confirmation from the Taiwan Cultural Foundation about possible show dates prior to TOHU which could help the budget. They say that this is fine – if there is still more financing possible we can just indicate which costs might be covered and the amount that is being sought.

The Rocker confirmed that all the musicians have their own equipment, that we only need one guitar amplifier, that the scaffolding in the original rider can be reduced to a backstage frame that supports the musicians and a few side frames, that the hours of repetition, and montage will be the same as those used for the ENC show, that the lighting, video, and sound would be the same as in the original technical Rider, and that there will be 12 Taiwanese artists coming directly from Taiwan.  For additional funding, he said that in the worst-case scenario, we would get at least a CAD 15,000 grant.  Since all the technicians, and half the performers live in Montreal, the expenses for this Asian-created performance are minimal.  I added that it was wise to base their budget estimate on the ENC show as it is roughly on the same scale with two major differences: live and prerecorded video and a scaffolding backdrop which housing the live band.

I did my best to update and send a Tohu-adapted technical rider their technical director left for vacation.  The biggest questions that still remain in my head are if the 13mX13m footprint of our playing area fits into TOHU and where we can hang the two projection screens that were located on the left and right of the main stage to ensure that there is enough room behind the playing area for our rear-projection screen.

I had asked our designers if I can submit their email addresses to the TOHU technical team since they are all far more qualified to answer their specific questions and because they already have a lot of experience working at TOHU.  I didn’t hear from them in time, however, so I took a risk and included them all in cc: when I sent the rider.

As I feared, The Lighting Designer felt strange seeing our tech rider fly over his heads, but The Rocker explained that between the holidays, the earthquake, and the Tohu vacation, we had very little choice. I hope that the version we sent off will buy us at least a week to create something more finalized with our great technical team.

To prevent this kind of rush and because we do not have a good version of a budget for either our previous show at the Tohu (managed by ENC) or the show in Taiwan (managed by Taiwan Productions), I’m working with The Lawyer to come up with a business model for our show.  So far, we’ve built a “one-shot” budget (costs to arrive, set-up, perform, and leave with no performing dates before or after the contract) assuming an adapted lighting design by The Lighting Designer and The Rigger and a “gala” or corporate event pay scale for the artists since it effectively takes a week of their time (e.g. the Korea May, 2007 and Taipei Summer, 2006 version), in which the promoter pays for transport, lodging, and per diems for performers, technicians, and creative team while we negotiate a fee to cover:

  • Fees for performers, technicians, and creative team.
  • Fixed costs related to each individual performer (insurances, overweight baggage fees)
  • Applicable royalties.
  • Production costs.

For now, The Rocker and I are not including performing or directing fees for ourselves as we considered ourselves salaried by New Circus Asia.  I also left administrative costs empty since I am waiting for The Lawyer to give me her input on what these should be and also about any hidden expenses and risks that we did not consider before.

I also have built a budget that reflects a lower cost-per-performance for a five-show week as part of an extended tour (without a new lighting design and an assistant rigger).  We could use this model if the proposed Vancouver – Montreal – NYC tour works out in 2008.  I suspect that by the end of the week she and I will have worked out a good strategy for price setting.

New Year’s Card

In advance of our January 22nd to 27th trip to Tokyo I’ve sent out a New Year’s card to everyone I’ve been in touch with in Japan since last year, including the producer from Tokyo Movies, the two producers from Adco, the dance festival producer, the Tokyo dance festival producers, the circus producers, the Canadian embassy, the directors of the National Theatre in Tokyo, and the special event producers.

Now that we can show videos of our festival and a show that is now confirmed for the first-ever North American tour of an Asian-produced New Circus Show, circus/dance hybrid works, circus education programs, and special events that we have been producing in Thailand, Lithuania, Hong Kong, and India over the last month and a half in cooperation with corporate sponsors and Canadian Consulates, I’m hoping that we’ll have more luck moving forwards in Japan!

At the end of the 2006 I am managing the operations of a company that specializes in international co-productions, particularly in Asia. We directed the National Theater of Taiwan’s 2006 Open-Air Arts Festival which hosted over 250,0000 visitors over one week.

With the support of the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei, we were able to invite eight Canadian circus artists to collaborate with local acrobats and martial artist for an opening and closing ceremony performance that played to over 30,000 people.  This performance is now preparing for a limited Asian tour in 2007 and a world tour in 2008. It has also opened to doors for similar collaborations in India and Thailand, which all fits into our company’s vision of facilitating international artistic collaboration through the medium of Canadian New Circus.

More recently, we hosted the largest-ever Asian delegation to the CINARS Arts Market in Montreal and arranged tours of Tohu, Cirque du Soleil, and the National Circus School of Canada as well as speaking on a conference on international collaboration and creation in the performing arts.

Regrouping In Taiwan

I’ll be returning to Taiwan on the 7th of January for a couple of weeks for video editing, sightseeing, and gym training in addition to a bit of business.  I’ll be staying at the TAV in a small studio without a private bathroom since this is their peak season, but the total cost of the room will be about 20 dollars a night, so it’s perfect.

The Firebreather has asked me to help him with a job offer for ten days of three shows a day in Singapore.  I recommended that he first ask what their budget is.  They will probably not answer.  I would suggest asking for an after-tax show fee based on what I know about Cirque Theatrical rates assuming he does 5 minutes or more a show excluding transport, room, board, and insurance. Of course, that’s my opinion only based on what I would offer an acrobat were I sourcing talent for such an event.

One of the best Cyr Wheel artists in the world right now (and a really great guy), The Cyrist, contacted The Rocker with his video, so I invited him as well and added him to our database too.  Makes me realize that I need to send out a general call for more people’s videos as we need their stuff on DVD in order to propose them to producers.

…And One Step Back

Goddamn it. Remind me from now on whenever I have a great negotiation that it probably means something bad is going to happen the next day. I just had a shitty day, getting feedback that since The Matriarch is not sure if it would be worth paying us to come in February since the theater will be empty and the potential students in the Hill Tribes will be away for their school entrance exams.  This means that things are not going to work until March at the earliest, more probably April. which means that February – March is completely up in the air.  Maybe that is the time to go to Hawaii and just live the life of a normal guy, talking with my grandparents and drinking with them every night.

It is hard to know, I feel like the theatre is just testing me a little, trying to see if the budget changes when they tell me that they cannot afford it. My policy is not to change it and to say that we will talk about it when we get something signed, but it is a pain in the ass. when I didn’t budge, they said, well, maybe they can bring me in March, but we will see.  I do not feel like the budget was over the top.

Then I had a shitty day teaching because I was depressed about that, and I got my nose broken.  Yuk.  I hope I will be in a better mood tomorrow. Tonight, I feel (and look) like a real monster.

But then I remembered that The Rocker is a salesman extraordinaire for developing projects so I pitched him the idea that between the older and more advanced students that will be at the theater, the younger students, with whom I might be able to start a beginning training program, the producer’s venue, research work for the show, and the Canadian embassy, etc., he might be able to figure out a way to support us in Thailand over Chinese New Year if he could also sell it as a time to write the show on paper with The Matriarch if she could just cover room and board, and maybe transport over.  He loved that idea, saying that we should take that angle and consider it an investment in the future – “this one is on us!”

In any case, I told her that he might be contacting her by email this week about February and the future and that once we get the budget we can talk more concretely about how to approach the writing, creation, and training for this show.

Designing a Teaching Program in Thailand

I was planning on spending New Year’s with friends in Taiwan, but it turns out that my contract in Thailand has been extended!  We are in the process of negotiating a year-long teaching contract with their school and the theatre here wanted to keep at least one of us in the country until our visitor visa expires.  The opportunity has broadsided me so I am a little stunned right now; just trying to say as little as possible and making sure that what I do say is the right thing!

Teaching

As a starting point, I’ve prepared a complete picture of The Rocker’s and my 2007 touring schedule and it looks as though we would be able to teach a maximum of about 22 weeks in 2007.  Essentially. we would be teaching a month at a time with about a month’s break in between.

For now, the owner of the theatre, The Matriarch, has agreed that we can come back any time we are free to teach in 2007.  Exactly how many weeks we’d be paid will depend on how much support she can get from her sources, but she wants to move ahead.

End of year show

The matriarch has proposed that the year of teaching could include a six-week creation project at the end of the year.  We’ve discussed three versions of this:

1) a version with Asian-looking people to play in Thailand.

2) a version with only Thai citizens to play international global events (like expo, for example)

3) a fully international version to play at festivals and corporate events where they are only interested in the show value.

I think we could make all of these versions in accordance with her vision, and since we know how to make a commercially-viable international show work, we’d like to influence the casting for that version.

Rigging training

She also wants us to cover travel, lodging, and fee for The Rigger to Thailand for February for 7-10 days or so to:

  • Give feedback about how to update their equipment in their theater to have raiseable/lowerable attach points for tissus, trapeze danse, straps, etc.
  • Teach them about the relevant safety points and to teach the technical staff here how to inspect the security of the equipment once it is installed.
  • explain to them how they can best build a new theater being built by the beach so that they can use aerial circus in their night productions and act as a circus school during the day.

If it all goes well, they would like to work through him to buy all of the specialized equipment in the future.

Local events

I’ll also be in contact with her producer network starting tomorrow because she is excited about the possibility of us teaming up with their venue as consultants for rigging, lighting, and special-events.  She is hoping that her producer friends cover part of the funds, but she is ready to pick up the slack if they offer less than she is expecting.  I will develop this slowly and wait until February to really get involved.

I forced one of our students The Prodigy to get his acrobatic table piece finished by holding special rehearsals with him over the weekend and he presented the final version yesterday.  Everyone was impressed because it was the first time he had ever finished a creation project and because it looked high-quality and professional.  Of course, I still only saw all the shit that we need to fix, but in the end, The Matriarch asked him to present this number at their New Year’s Eve event.

In short, so far, she is very happy with our work and would like us to continue working with her ‘for life.’