Anatomy of an Asian Circus Proposal

A couple of weeks ago I was out of town with The Political Scientist, enjoying the first day of vacation, so I was out of email contact when The Rocker informed me of a possible event in May for a Taiwanese film festival somewhere in Taiwan.  Last week I whipped up a nice proposal for a one-hour show with 7-9 numbers that can be divided up into two halves with a minimal amount of preparation time.  If there can be video or musical interludes, that number can go down.

I sent out emails to 5 acrobats including The Contortionist.  She told me that she would be able to come, so between my handstands, her contortion and her hoop that would be 15 minutes.  The next day, however, the film festival came back with the information that they want no more than 5 performers and that they all need to be Canadian.  This might be a big problem because it coincides with a lot of Canadian summer projects that are hiring up all the local artists.  The Rocker is arguing with them right now with the logic that we should be able to hire non-Canadians as long as we can call them “graduates from the National Circus School of Canada…”

But actually, I’m starting to suspect that the budget will matter more than passports.  If we do aerial stuff, we will need a Montreal rigger to install a single point for The Contortionist.  That would allow us to invite other single-point artists who do tissus, or rope and a floor act as well which doubles their productivity.  We’ll also probably need 4 days of rehearsal with everyone available a maximum of 10:00 to 22:00; music will be live, simple lighting, huge projection screen in the background.

So I’ve contacted a lot of artists and am giving priority to people who can multitask well to fill up as much time as possible.  If they really want an hour long show with just five performers, that is asking a *hell* of a lot.  I’m assume that one performer can hold the stage for a maximum of 5-6 minutes which makes seven the bare minimum, and even that would have a lot of time with no performers on stage.  Just in case I have contacted a lot of ground performers as well in case we get screwed with the aerial point and rigger.

This week, The Rocker told me that as usual for Asia, the budget is getting to be a problem – Taipei city thought that the embassy would pay more and vice versa, so now the number of acrobats we can invite with a rigger is 3 and all of the artists will need to be Canadian but that they will be OK with a 30 minute show.  Still, this a lot of time to fill with only three artists – and even this number is not confirmed.  When the producer called to discuss technical needs and the Canadian requirement, she kept asking me to reduce the artist fees.  I explained that artists of different experience levels will demand different rates and that they need to understand that with experience comes different levels of performance quality as well.  For example, new graduates from the National Circus School of Canada will expect different rates from experiences freelance professionals who expect different rates from established circus ‘stars’ with a long history working with other companies.  That said, if the Taiwanese partners can support the fees for a couple of graduates of the National Circus School of Canada and the Canadian Trade office can come through with their commitment to support 3 professional Canadian artists, I still think we will have a top-level show limited only by our technical resources and rehearsal time.  I took the opportunity to suggest finding corporate sponsors to invite a few more artists which she said might be possibility.

Then, at the last minute, The Rocker told me that I had to include his fees in the budget as well (I thought that he was taking care of his pay separately), and I’m worried that this will kill the project, but as he told me, “do not be too slack with asking a decent price, there is no way I want people in Canada to think we are setting up shows cheap (sweat shop) circus shows in Asia.”

Finally, just as I was preparing the last budget, the city requested that 1) we reduce the budget and that 2) we only invite artists who come from famous companies like Cirque du Soleil.  Impossible.  But The Rocker says that if they really want this thing, they can scrape up the cash, so I should send the budget anyways.  Based on the email we just got back, The Rocker doesn’t think it’s going to fly, but when I look at the budget we made; I feel that everything is reasonable based on their expectations.  Just have to switch to zen mode.  In The Rocker’s words, “Best thing about these kind of things is to submit everything.  Then forget it exists, if something pops up, all the better…”

Could be a lot of work for nothing, though.

Or is it?  As a result of all this work, I am now in contact with over 25 high quality, reliable artists who are interested in working in Asia.  If I could double that number over the course of the next couple of months, it might be possible to assemble a performance group on short notice for projects here.  A lot of Western artists are dying to get to Asia but have no idea how to get here on their own.  It would be interesting to establish ourselves as a company creating modern acrobatic events in Asia.  Another project in Macau may be on the horizon – if it is the kind of thing we can put up in a week, I am sure we can find interested acrobats from within the group of people I am already communicating with.  On the other hand, if we do start bringing more and more artists over to Taiwan how easy it will be to stay the go-between for the next event?  My thinking is that if we can stay involved in setting the standards for quality and the nature of the work that goes on over here, we can ensure our livelihood for a long run.

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