Insurance Roulette

The Rocker is getting more and more frustrated with Taiwan Productions as the event approaches.  Part of it is what he sees as slowness and a tendency to make last-minute errors.  For example, today, after they finally sent him the technical rider, he had a ton of problems with it.  Furthermore, there was a big problem with their artists contracts – if artists on a project are friends, you know that they will talk about each other’s fees, so you know that they better be equitable.  Our aim was to pay everyone equally in CAD.  However, if artists requested to be paid in USD or EUR, Taiwan Productions changed the currency without correcting the amount to be equivalent to the same amount in CAD.  Artists paid in CAD were unhappy to learn that some were getting paid more because they asked to be paid in EUR, and then the artists paid in EUR were unhappy when they were informed that they were going to be paid less than they were expecting.  He also saw that a lineup of scenes was included in the program without consulting with him. His argument was that the “Scenario Titles” have no meaning without explanation and were meant to be used purely as a reference for the musicians and performers.  I see his point:

1軍號長鳴Tibetan Horns
2軍行March of the Old Generals
3作戰Waging War
4黃沙混沌1 Empire of Dirt (1)
5黃沙混沌2 Empire of Dirt (2)
6虛實Vacuity and Substance
7鏡子生活Life of Mirrors
8軍爭Maneuvering the Army
9用間Employing Spies
10美夢Sweet Dreams
11溫柔罪犯Smooth Criminal

Frustration between The Rocker and Taiwan Productions aside, I’m pushing for all artists at our festival to be insured because without a work-related third-party liability insurance they could be held responsible for any accident or injury to themselves or others.  In Europe, this is usually covered by the presenter and is difficult and expensive to obtain by an individual in a foreign country (e.g. on the order of USD 500).  In Taiwan, insurance is turning out to be tricky – Taiwan Productions are providing insurance that will cover all of the artists (This insurance has something like CAD 250,000 coverage, all the basics, etc.) and the National Theater’s insurance is covering all the third-party insurance for the festival as a whole.  That is to say that if any performer or audience member gets hurt, no one involved with the festival will be held accountable.  That said, I’m not an expert in Taiwanese insurance, so I’ve recommended to my friends to double up with their own insurance as well since while the insurance that Taiwan Productions took out is the best they could do in Taiwan for non-resident foreigners with no work visa, they might be able to get better treatment if they have their own coverage as well.

For myself, I’ve signed up for a basic plan for American travelers abroad and got 3 months of insurance for about 90 USD.  I’m hoping that I can say that I am just travelling with the idea that if anything happens, I can explain it as having happened on a bike, hit-and-run accident, etc.  Dangerous game, but it is the best I can do under the circumstances.

Writing a Street Show in Taiwan

Looking forward to performing with one of my clowning friends from school in an outdoor performance with an actor from Taiwan.  The work we are doing is actually quite important; we may be among the most recognizable faces on-site throughout the festival, though I am not sure how many people we will actually be able to perform to.  That is up to the marketing department, I am afraid.

The concept for the street show that we need to write is pretty basic Ecole Nationale de Cirque – dressed all in the same style of ill-fitting suits trying to look normal enough to fit in with the masses until moments of madness explode.  I met with the Taiwanese actor that we will be performing with and he seems really quite good and funny.  He is also a talented acrobat who does kung fu.  He and I both play guitar, so a musical thing seems to be very possible.

The easy shit to write will be:

1) a musical thing.

2) an acrobatic thing.

3) some sort of babelfish translation gag.

4) basic interaction with the public.

The important shit will be:

5) one really good idea that blows everyone away.

And for all that we will have about 10 hours of rehearsal time in the National Theater to pull everything together.

I was going to go about finding some suits with our monkey-king, but my ENC friend suggested that we just get cheap ones made in Taiwan.  When we checked it out I realized that Taipei night markets are the cheapest place I have ever seen to get tailored ugly suits for just 60 dollars US a pop.  Makes for great costumes!

Since he only has a 20kg limit I told him to just bring his clarinet to participate in the musical numbers – pretty  much anything else we’ll need I bet we can find in the night markets of Taiwan!

He was worried that Taiwan Productions still didn’t sign his contracts, but I told him that it may just be because contracts don’t seem to be such a big deal in Asia – everyone here just seems to work without one.


Thinking About Life After the Festival

The Rocker says that our pre-festival response has been very good, and most of our big top shows are sold- out which is very good for Canadian visibility.  Additionally, he says that Cirque du Monde is interested in our work in Asia.  He’ll be going to Montreal for CINARS, Cirque Du Monde, and to meet two of the top assistant directors of Cirque du Soleil to discuss future collaboration.  He mentioned a Cirque du Monde project in Mongolia that could be coordinated the some coordinators he knows for Save The Children in Mongolia – this project could be a good “filler” between other shows, and maybe give me a push for my 62 Days in the Desert project.

He’s talking with his administrator to find how to pay me another 1,500 so that he feels better about me “taking over for [him] in the office so [he] can concentrate on ‘life after the festival,’ which no one thinks about except us.”  I really appreciate his efforts and his fairness; working with people I can trust and respect makes life a lot easier.

Some of these new projects are things like solidifying our development in social and educational cultural programs in Taiwan in partnership with the Taipei Artists Village and the a new Cultural Centre set up by U- Theatre, the  U Culture & Arts Foundation.
While we are working on the two other circus coaching projects in Thailand and India we hope that these partners may be able to tell us of other ONGs and cultural organizations in other parts of Taiwan/ Asia who may be interested in what we are doing so that we can propose introduction conferences and workshops after January 2007.

I’m trying my best to keep November fully open to visit The Political Scientist in Lithuania, and the production team still agrees, but I still need to have a lot of meetings and stuff lined up with people before then to make it work.

Art Shacho

Our choreographer was not working out, made too much noise in the production, and so I had to tell him goodbye.  This means that I am also now the choreographer of the show on top of being the rehearsal director.  I wrote The Flamenca to let her know that as she had predicted, I am having to learn about being a shacho… how to hire people and fire people and negotiate and run meetings and rehearsal.  Today she reminded me that “the art is in all the little place of the body and in a big circle around you, and you must feel you are the center of this circle.”

I had some frustration last night at rehearsal but it was mostly my fault as I did not adequately explain to the acrobats the goals of the rehearsal.  The Rocker helped me regain perspective by telling me that it’s always tiring and confusing it is with a big group and with translations.  He assures me that if we just keep toughing through it will all be worth it.

So, charging forward, last night I wrote out a scenario for Choreography 1 that can be taught very quickly and easily based on the ending we discussed.  Once people have learned that, I think we can run it twice daily (10 minutes) and then coach movements (20 minutes).

For choreography 2, I think we can get by running it twice daily (10 minutes) and then working on new techniques and “adding on” for (45 minutes).

If we assume 30 minutes of warm-up, and a 10 minute break, that leaves 2 hours to work on Choreography 3.  Since we have seen that our acrobats lose concentration at the end, I suggest the following schedule:

6:00-6:30 – Warm-up (30 minutes)

6:30-7:55 – Writing, teaching, and fixing Choreography 3 (85 minutes).

7:55-8:05 – Break (10 minutes).

8:05-8:50 – New techniques for Choreography 2 (45 minutes).

8:50-9:00 – Break (10 minutes)

9:00-10:00 – Run all Choreographies 2X with notes inbetween each run.
We just need to find a way to break up the material in the first half so that people stay interested.  Also, a priority for one of the next “full-cast” days, I’ll need to teach the end of Choreography 1 to people (1 hour, I think).

The next big step in the production is the arrival of the Canadian artists.  We are in the process of cleaning the glorious luxury suites in preparation.  The masseuses have all been auditioned and hired and we are working to get hot-tubs that are made-to-measure for each of them

Even though the writing of the show is just about finished, I’ve told them that we need to focus on how to integrate them in a few places:  The battle scene introduction to The Contortionist’s number is a huge battle scene and we would like to work three other artists into the patterns that we have constructed.

They’ll need to find 5 different runs across the stage with the energy of speed, fear, anger – it is a huge war!:
1) One that is the fastest run they can imagine (running to save a friend in battle).
2) One that is at a very low level (They are trying to escape without being detected).
3) One that has an acrobatic roll in the middle (Dodging an enemy’s attack).
4) One that has a turning jump in the middle (They are attacking an enemy from above).
5) One that has an acrobatic move up in the air (Just to show off – circus, you know).
I suggested the sort of patterns of movements that they consider using – the idea is to take curved paths that use the entire stage when you look at them all together.

All-in-all, The Rocker is right – we’re not doing too badly.  I looked ahead at the schedule and we are still far ahead for costumes, writing, and general performability.  He also suggested that Christian Rizzo from TAV may be a great resource as we start thinking about costume designs.  He shot a great video of a rehearsal that we’d like to show to the acrobats.

Thoughts On Negotiation (Corrected By A Wiser Man From The Future)

Note from the future: Post MBA I stumbled upon this post and was pretty embarrassed to see how poor a negotiator I was during this phase of my life.  Nonetheless, I have kept the post here in its entirety to show how deep a hole I started in as an artist-entrepreneur.  However, I have put notes into the text below to correct statements that I now find patently silly/dangerous.  For the best book I have found on the subject, please read Wharton professor Stuart Diamond’s Getting More.

Everything about my life is tied to negotiation right now.  I was not the kind of guy to read books to learn how to do business, but it is too bad because I have missed out on learning a lot.  Three books that I have been reading: 1) Negotiation, 2) Negotiation in Asia, 3) Drafting a Partnership Charter.

Interesting to me that the authors of these books are psychiatrists.  Also, that when I am reading it, everything makes sense, but somehow, I never would have thought about all of the ways to manipulate all these fine details.

Here are the rules that have been most useful to me in the negotiations so far:

1) don’t talk

I should clarify this one – I believe what I am referring to here is the advice to let the other party speak more than you.  I still agree with this, but would put it differently: “Listen more than you speak.”

2) when someone asks a direct question, respond with a related question instead of answering directly

This is far too tactical to be good advice – I would argue that the right spirit would be to make sure that you understand the motivation behind a question before answering too quickly

3) double your ideal offers

Again, far too tactical.  I now believe that full transparency is the best option – say what you truly need to be satisfied with a deal and invite your counterpart to do the same.

4) put as many topics onto the table as possible.

5) take a lot of notes.

6) make every request three times before considering conceding anything.

Tactical and transactional.  Boo.  Silly advice.  Ask instead what it would take for your counterpart to consider offering you what you are asking for.

7) every concession you make, get something in return.

Fine, sure, but a silly way to think about this.  If you give something up, find out what your counterpart may be willing to offer easily to add more value to your deal.

8) I imagine what they think I want from them and then I act like it is really not that important to me, whether or not it is.

Oh God, no.  If something is important to you, let them know.  Ask them to tell you what is important to them.  Tell them what is not important to you too, and invite them to do the same.  The best case is when something that is not important to them is actually very important to you and vice versa – this is where so much value can be created.  If you hide what you value, you are shooting yourself in every foot.

It helps that The Rocker is a great negotiating partner, we often pretend to be a little misinformed even though we discuss matters and plan strategy every day.

Just so you have an idea of how effective saying nothing is, this was the situation on our first meeting on Wednesday:

1) They wanted a flat-rate 50/50 split with The Rocker finding some way to fit me into the picture.

This is the situation now without me having asked for anything, remember.

2) They propose a negotiable 33/33/33 split on about 30% of our current contracts between themselves, The Rocker, and me.  The Rocker and I will form our own company in Canada.  They will match all capital investment we make.  They are exclusive to us, whereas we have no exclusive agreement with them.

The power of these negotiation techniques is actually quite staggering.  I will not make an offer until they have identified something very close to what I am looking for.

I got lucky here, because this was a relatively simple negotiation about  value that was to be created in the future – much better to be pretty upfront about the big picture of what will satisfy you even if you avoid talking about actual numbers or percentages.

So far the strategy has been this:

  • ask them what they want
  • ask them why they think they offer to the project
  • You should actually already know what your counterparts are bringing to the project, so this seems like a silly tactic.

  • ask them if they think their skills merit the compensation they are asking for
  • Please don’t actually ask this question.  Rather, figure it out for yourself and if you disagree, explain why.

  • compare their skills to that of a known quantity; i.e. a typical manager commission
  • Sure, but I think of this as bench-marking and it should be done collaboratively early in the process.

  • ask them how they would achieve their goals if we were not in the picture
  • Sure, it’s not a bad thing to discuss – just be prepared for the strong possibility that they really don’t need you!

  • ask them if they think they can really deliver the product that they think they can
  • You should really know the answer to this question ahead of time.

It is interesting, by using this strategy, I have been able to list just about every one of their perceived strengths and weaknesses and their perceived notions of our wants and needs.  I should mention that at the beginning, I would have never been able to guess this information.  My initial strategy – that we create an exclusive 4-person partnership company in Taiwan – would have been a far better deal for them and a far worse deal for me that the one on which I am currently developing.

Again, I basically got lucky here, but this gloating is really unfortunate.  I may have stumbled on favorable terms in the short-term, but by hiding what I was willing to offer, I may be hurting the long-time sustainability of this deal.  Remember that for most major negotiations, a relationship-building approach is far superior to a transactional (tit-for-tat, win/lose approach).

So after every meeting (we just had number 3) I go home and write down (mentally at least):

  • What they say they can offer.
  • What they see as their strengths.
  • What they see as their weaknesses.
  • What they think we want.
  • What issues they think are important.

I then try to question or cast doubt on their ability to provide the services they are offering or else suggest that that service is not terribly important to us.  I question their perceived strengths.  I point out their perceived and real weaknesses.  I present a million alternative sources of what we want.  I base a list of our important points on the ones that they are bringing up.  Many times, the points that are important to them mean little to us, and vice versa.  If we act like we are making a big concession for something that we really don’t care about, we can make a better deal.

This is a pretty good description of what should absolutely not happen during a negotiation.  Better to be transparent about the value you can create for them and the value that they are creating for you.  Look for ways that you can make each other stronger.  When you find items that parties value differently, celebrate it together and use that collaborative energy to look for more examples.  It’s the key to finding really good deals for all parties.

Frankly, I am amazed at the effectiveness of my technique.  The most powerful weapon: silence.  I have learned that if I wait long enough after a question or a statement, the other party feels the need to talk.  Usually, it gives away the answer they want to hear or it questions some aspect of their argument or position.  I have not answered a single question, and I have only said one thing: The Rocker and I have made a sizable investment in this project before they ever signed on and we must be compensated for this.

No, I really just got lucky.  The producers had their own business that they were maintaining and were fine with anything that might bring them more revenue without too much work.  If I had used the strategy of finding ways to reduce their workload but guarantee them a small risk-free share of any revenues generated, I could have probably gotten an even better deal and (spoiler alert) may have been able to preserve the relationship with this partner for longer than a single project.

Points to negotiate:

  • What is the basic split of profits?
  • What shall we set as a finder’s fee?
  • What is the nature of the exclusivity arrangements?
  • What about visas?
  • What about office space?
  • What are the job descriptions?
  • What is the heirarchy/chain of command?
  • Do we give ourselves salaries or do we work for free and split the profits or do we receive compensation for the work we do on a given project?

The interesting thing is that while I anticipated several of the topics listed above, most of my concerns have not even been brought up by the other party.  The concerns that they have brought up give me a good idea of how I can tailor my questions to get the most information possible.  The more they tell me about what they want and why, the more I can prepare myself for my eventual offer.  The more they talk the better able I am to strategize the agenda for the next day.

Communication Limitation

The worst thing about this blog is that I can’t actually put in enough time on revision and editing.  I want every entry to be meaningful in some way, but my poorly-written prose certainly limits me.  Furthermore, it is frustrating that my day-to-day is increasingly difficult to discuss in this format.  Certain things like having to fire The Choreographer and take over his duties, the drafting of two new partnership charters, my dad and I bonding over my foray into corporate entrepreneurship, and recent mind-twisting career-building events mean a lot to me personally but that sound too pompous in blog posts.  Are these all best left to my own private musings?

Life is ok here in Taiwan; lots of exciting food and interesting people.  Actually, compared to Japan, the people are less interesting but the food is more exciting.  Work, on the other hand, is much better here.  I am learning more and more about the production side of the business and building a network with arts institutions and national cultural institutes throughout Asia and Eastern/Central Europe.

If my circus school friends The Artist, The Tumbler, and The Clown are finishing up their contracts with Soleil, maybe I’d actually feel ready to work together on the Tohu project once The Rocker and I understand a little bit more what the needs of that production will be like.

Fuck, that’s life as it stands now; lots of working and learning and travelling and reading and creating with little bit of performing every couple of months.

Artistic Insulation: Premature Nostalgia

To follow up on that last post – Jacky plays the chorus vocals’ of “Smooth Criminal” in haunting perfect-pitch on his shakuhachi: “Annie are you ok, are you ok, are you ok, Annie?”  It makes bugs crawl in my veins.

Christian and Catherine came to our rehearsal last Wednesday.  It was a stressful time.  We are under a strict deadline for the National Theater who is sending representatives to see our show in rehearsal this Wednesday – a show that did not exist as of last Tuesday.

They are two artists that I am coming to love dearly.  I try to spend at least a little time with them every night no matter how tired I am.  Christian saves some risotto or steamed pork rolls for me, and Catherine makes a little extra pasta.  Wine and beer magically appear next to my hand whenever we sit together under the eves of their apartment studios.

They brought their eyes with them: for Catherine it was a 35mm camera and for Christian it was a mini 3-CCD HD video camera.

I thought nothing of it, but they sat quite patiently through three hours of rehearsal.  They watched it almost exclusively though their viewfinders, but I thought nothing of it.  I admire visual artists and visual art because I don’t understand the process – I know if I like the final piece or not, but I have no idea why.  Seeing a show for me is a totally different experience.

I imagine that once a woman has given birth, she never looks at a newborn the same way.

When I met up with them at home, we talked about rehearsal and multimedia performances and acrobatics and martial arts and dance and choreography and art and family and the avant-garde and movements – dada, beat, cubist, punk, cirque nouveau…

I had two beers and went to bed and thought nothing of it.

Three days later, on Saturday, I had another beer and wine and ginseng liqueur with Catherine and Christian and a few other artists from the building.  In between topics, Christian nonchalantly mentions to me that he has edited the footage of my rehearsal into a short film and would I like to see it.

“Yes,” I say, “no, but yes.”

We go into his studio and he starts the film.

“This has been my project non-stop for the last three days,” he tells me.

What follows is overwhelming.  Legs.  Movement.  Subsonic lounge soundtrack.  Time is dilated, contracted.  I see peoples eyes, their mouths, the sweat running down their back, turning their hair into curled spiked of blackness.  There is a weary dedication to the cause of putting our work in order.  I am there too – stressed, mind whirling, ideas flying.  I try to communicate in Chinese – they strain to understand me.  We hit the floor; we run in unison; we catch each other.  We wait.  We are concentrated.  We support each other.

It is perhaps 10 minutes that captures the atmosphere of rehearsal.  What stays with me forever, though, is how it captured the spirit of comrades seven.  Premature nostalgia: the taste of future loss.

Thank you truly, Mr. Rizzo.