A New Horizon

Things maybe will turn out OK.  It’s amazing where I am living right now.  I don’t mean to imply that everything is perfect, but it is great that everything is so different from Japan which was stifling me completely.

I arrived about half an hour early at the airport and took the time to sit and relax a bit.  I was tired, and didn’t really feel like I was in a different city, yet.  I slept from before takeoff straight through to after landing, so it almost felt like I took one stop on the Yamanote line.

When The Rocker and Taiwan Productions finally arrived, I was surprised at how happy they were to see me.  The Rocker was happy to have another artist there to talk with.  Taiwan Productions was happy to have a francophone business person.  Even the production assistant there may have even been happy enough to have a nice-looking acrobat.

Right away they take me to the giant outdoor scene workshop.  We talk about silly things on the way, like how the auditions started so terribly with an aboriginal singer who couldn’t sing and a nunchaku performance that looked like a cheerleading show until he hit himself in the face.  We gradually turned the conversation towards the problem of the press conference.  It actually has a lot to do with Taiwanese corporate structure and the fact that the theater used to be government-run.

Here in Taiwan, they strive for a real flat structure, like in Japan.  This means that offices or branches that are at the same level in the organization cannot really say anything against each other.  However, in Taiwan, the higher offices do not want to intercede in what they see as a private matter between the two branches.  Since we work under the artistic programming department of the National Theater who understands what we are trying to accomplish, it is the marketing department that is in charge of all of the publicity.  They don’t necessarily know or care what ‘New Circus’ is and are solely focused on attracting a family audience.  Evidently there is an actual Taiwanese design book with an actual formula for attract families to events: you need to use a lot of yellow, a lot of red, clowns, and balloons.  That is exactly what our poster looks like.  Even worse, the images we gave them are misplaced and misused – the central image is one of an artist who is not participating and that explicitly requested that they not use.  To strategically veto our feedback, they only handed us the proofs when it would be too late to make changes – the day before going to press.

So why can’t we just blow up?  Well, that really doesn’t work here, it seems.  The Rocker has tried exerting some force.  It didn’t go over very well.  We are trying to shift a cultural mindset, and acting with too much force, we are endangering future work of all foreign artistic companies in Taiwan.

For our first major press conference, the marketing department has invited a magical clown to be my opening act (no doubt dressed in yellow and red and making balloon animals for the kids).  I can’t help but wonder which of the two of us will end up on the front page of the newspaper or be featured on the nightly news.  My partners say it will be me.  Maybe if kill the clown on stage we’ll both have a chance.

Strange, isn’t it?  The concept of circus here is just so inconsistent!  They know Cirque du Soleil and they know that they want that type of show, but then they choose a totally unrepresentative magical clown.  The producers tell me that Taiwan loves Japanese TV and that living here is like living in a cartoon – reminded me of how we used to say that living in Japan was a little like living in Disneyland.  I am interested in deepening my understanding of the Taiwanese national character.

We finally arrive at the scene shop.  It is sprawling and vast.  My dream workshop.  My partners think I am amazed at the crappiness of the place, but it is the opposite.  We meet the boss who endlessly offers cigarettes.  I take two to be polite; more than I have ever smoked in my life.

I run through the instructions of what I need for my handstand canes, and they take detailed notes.  A few hours later, they are done, and they are perfect.  Better than I have ever seen in my life.  I watched them work.  Ingenuity and pride.  Artisanship.  I am in awe.

In the meantime, we discuss our own strategy for the future.  They want me involved until at least 2008, I guess.  We talk about development, about branding, about niche marketing.  I love it, The Rocker is asleep.  The Rocker and I are talking about the message of the show, different directions in which we can go.  I love it, the producer is asleep.

Finally, we’re off and I am dropped off at the Artist Village.  It is amazing and huge and I feel like a valued member of society.  I am astonished.  I live in a temple to creativity.  My apartment is about the size of three refugee camps with a high ceiling.  I am surrounded by art books, art magazines, and management manuals.  I have a shower.  A king-sized bed.  A personal studio.  My strategy is to make a lot of friends here at the administration of the Artist Village.  This opportunity will doubtless open up other opportunities for me in the future, and I need to stay on my toes.  I am also being strict with my training schedule.  Not just for before the conference, but for the future as well.  The body is my real calling card; what I can do with this bag of flesh and bones.

The Rocker and I go out for giant sushi.  It costs about 100 yen and comes with a free tea.  I am full afterwards.  We get beers to take back to the courtyard of my place.  We drink it there and talk about art and women and the show.  He is excited for the first rehearsal which is on Monday.  He likes my idea of the Mongolian project.  He wants me to pursue it as our next big project, and we are going to work on getting all the funding over the next two months.  This can be a great opportunity for me.

He talks about the way he does business.  Never ask for a job.  Never approach people more than once.  Never get your heart set on anything.  Just be happy when good news comes.

He has a strong confrontational streak, though.  I see it from time to time.  My question is when is it useful and when does it work against him?  This remains to be seen.

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