Six weeks ago, The Rocker learned that the Canadian embassy in Hong Kong is working with a hotel chain for December 2006 on a big Canadian food and cultural promotion event. They asked The Rocker and I to source an artist from our network who can entertain/interact with family audience. The hotel chain would cover accommodation, meal, laundry, airfare, and the embassy will find ways to pay the artist fee.
Small projects like these can really help promote Canadian New Circus in Asia. Unfortunately, the high-level Canadian freelance circus and street performers at our New Circus Festival will have already returned home by mid-November and the Asian artists from our show might have been a good alternative if it weren’t for the Canadian requirement. In any case, I proposed a global fee to provide video and photos to help them cast potential artists and then to management of the contract and event including performing fees and per diem for a maximum of seven 15-minute shows. Once they agreed to this fee I started confirming an artist. Should have been simple, but it wasn’t.
As I started the search in my circus network, they suddenly came back to me out of the blue asking if I have any violinists with the assumption that it might reduce the performing fee. I think there was some confusion because if and when we ever do represent musicians, they would be on the same pay scale as the rest of our performing artists as we demand the same level of quality and experience from all artists whom we represent.
I finally suggested a Canadian performer who was available and excited about tailoring her act to showcase aspects of Canadian culture. However, when I sent the first videos of a clown from my network, they explained their worry that a clown could be confused for a Russian, Chinese, or even American clown. I assured her that the Canadian style of clowning which developed very recently in Quebec draws quite a bit from the theatrical tradition instead of the circus tradition and that the performer we are suggesting is one of the top graduates of the National Circus School of Canada, perhaps the most respected professional circus training institution in the world. I prepared some information about the school and about the Canadian contemporary circus tradition that the embassy could pass on to the sponsoring hotel. I explained to them that the National Circus School is very interested in attracting Asian students and expertise and that it is the dream of many Canadian circus artists to find a way to perform in Asia – this is an excellent opportunity to make a small connection between Hong Kong and Canada. We are already seeing the international appeal of Canadian circus from the fact that The Rocker’s festival is highlighting the newest and most contemporary circus group from Montreal.
This seemed to put everyone at ease, but then they came back with a financial proposal which was 25% lower than my estimate and a request for the artist to stay for 5 weeks instead of 3 and to perform a few more times. They also requested a number that showcases Canadian holiday traditions – these two requests are driving up the fee a lot, especially the request to specifically create a new number instead of to make small changes to an existing one.
We agreed just to add a little bit more to the artist’s fee to compensate for the two extra shows at a discounted rate and decided to ask the artist to create the number at home on her own since the client didn’t want to pay the CAD 1,500 for me to travel to Hong Kong for a week to work with her. The embassy accepted this new fee even though it required them to split some of the costs with the hotel as the budget was higher than they could afford.
One problem is that to reduce costs, the client wants the per diem to be in the form of a hotel credit which means that she’ll have to eat all her meals at the hotel. The client feels that the amount they provide in meal tickets is substantial, so they are not willing to increase that amount, but they are willing to pay for her insurance and to allow her the freedom to eat at their property whenever she wants instead of at fixed mealtimes. I had suggested a more mobile cash per diem for the artist so that she could truly experience Hong Kong. Canadian artists are accustomed to having the option between a generous meal credit at their accommodations (where they eat very, very, well) or a slightly reduced per diem in cash that permits them to go out and see the city. Usually, artists prefer the latter option since it permits them to economize on their daily spending if they want to pocket the difference – it’s like a bonus on top of their performance fee. Since it didn’t look like they would move on this, I reduced our already tiny management fee to reduce the impact on the artist.
To get her maximum exposure in Hong Kong (and, I guess, to maximize the return on their investment), the consulate then asked if she could do some corporate gigs and outreach work with the Hong Kong community i.e. to visit an orphanage, do gigs for the consulate staff’s kids and maybe masterclass at theatre schools. Some will be paid and some will not, but this is part of their conditions to invite her to Hong Kong. Performing arts in general and the circus arts in particular have great potential for community outreach and cultural exchange – goals spelled out in The Rocker Industries’ mission statement but I asked if they could keep the time requirement to a minimum to ensure that she will have time to enjoy Hong Kong. Some of their colleagues were interested in having her to perform at an extra paid gig on Dec 6 for an international IT conference led by the Canadian Minister of industry with all the hi-tech companies from Canada in China after Hong Kong. If I think she is suitable to perform during a business reception, they want me to let them know her availability and they’ll get back to her.
Since I was approaching the end of the time that the artist had given me to finalize her contract, I not only needed to communicate all of these changes but also verify that she was, in fact, still available. In the meantime, I prepared an invoice to the consulate using the structure of The Rocker’s company in Canada so that every entity in the project was Canadian.
So finally, the draft contract that I sent to the consulate for approval had her starting on the 4th or 5th of December and will run until the 8th of January in fantastic lodging with all meals and transport provided. There will be fifteen 15-minute animations for a dinnertime and lunchtime public with freedom to interact with the audience with content that promotes Canadian Culture (think of hockey, maple syrup, Quebec music, maple leaves… everything that is Christmas in Canada)! There will be a few cultural outreach events i.e. visiting an orphan home, gigs for Consulate staff kids, maybe masterclass at theatre schools, and the possibility to work after Hong Kong in China or for a separate corporate event for a Hong Kong company that would increase her fee. To protect the artist, I needed to include a limitation on the number of volunteer events in the agreement and have requested that any other events, paying or otherwise, be managed through us for coordination purposes. I asked them for an upfront fee which they refused, preferring instead to make one payment on December 6th once the artist has arrived in Hong Kong which should be fine, but I’ve asked also for a nonrefundable deposit upon signing.
Once I had the consulate’s approval, I sent the agreement to the artist for her comments. She confirmed that she was available for the original 3 weeks, but that needs to check one other contract before agreeing to the 2-week extension. Still, she was quite excited to start developing Canadian ideas and was also happy about the prospect of doing community outreach as this is something that she is really interested in. She accepted, so we’re moving ahead to the preproduction stage under the assumption that the consulate will sign their agreement with The Rocker and I.
In the meantime, I’m collecting the run and technical needs for the show since the sooner the venue has an idea about what a show entails, the better. I’m sure that these requirements are really quite light compared to the sort of events that they are used to hosting. Basically, the performer starts offstage amidst the diners and during 10 minutes, slowly makes her way to a 1m high 3mX4m platform. When the performer reaches the platform, the lights in the dining room will dim slightly and basic theatrical lighting (most simply, gelled Par 64s mounted on lighting trees in front and to the side of the platform) light the platform. She needs two microphones (with stands) to pick up accordion music and vocals, stage monitors and a PA system suitable for the size of the dining hall, a CD player capable of playing CD-R disks, an audio technician to perform simple audio changes on cue, and a light technician to perform simple lighting cross-fades on cue. The hotel confirms that they have sufficient technical equipment on-hand for the modest needs of this performance, but if they need more support I’ve sked for a full listing of their materials so that I can design a basic technical rider from that. The client wants to record one performance for its own records, which should be fine.
So that’s that. The performer is officially confirmed for next month and now the consulate has moved on to looking for chefs. In any case the food promotion will go ahead, but they are maybe going to source two chefs from Asia instead of Canada to save costs. They will sign the contract around Nov 15 because they want to see how the hotel promotes the artist first. Probably a good idea. Chefs, insurance, and meal flexibility. Show business.
I’ll travel to Hong Kong on Wednesday and Thursday to reset my visa and to have a site visit over lunch to go through everything for our upcoming project. I’m looking forward to seeing Hong Kong again.