Thailand: drama and intrigue

It was great catching up with The Author in Tokyo over coffee, cake, coffee, cigar, cocktail, cigar, and water – it is really inspiring to meet up with friends who are also following their own megalomaniacal delusions.  He’s headed over to Washington DC where The Journalist is studying as well, so I’m looking forward to the news from the other side of the world.

But here in Thailand: the theater is fucking empty; I am the only one living on the third floor.  It’s like a bomb went off – The Musician and all the other foriegners have quit.  I had suspected that something was up – The Musician was unhappy with the politics of the theatre and was finding it difficult to pursue her own projects and when I was in Taiwan my almost-girlfriend had told me that the teaching program was getting complicated.

I guess that the final straw was that The Musician asked for an 80,000 baht grant from the Ministry of Science to do a project.  They liked the proposal so much that they actually awarded her 100,000 baht.  I had told her a while ago that if she was unhappy at the theatre that she should leave whenever she felt like the timing was right, and I guess this was it.  At first, I wasn’t sure if I should react with an “I’m sorry” or a “Congratulations,” but she seems really excited and we are trying to find a way to meet up incognito while I am here.  I guess she stepped on a few toes when she left because she abandoned several projects, including the riverside dinner show.  My only advice to her is to manage her grant money carefully – that she earned the money herself and that she shouldn’t spread it too thin between the other particiapnts in the project – more money means more responsibility to make it last for the sake of future projects’ sustainability.

This exodus opens a lot of doors for us, especially since the Matriarch is doing TV again, so she’ll be needing a lot of support from people who can run whole programs (like event marketing and management) at the theatre.  Other possibilities include the dinner show and the Bangkok Fringe Festival.  I have said no to the festival so far because they have no budget to offer us and I thought that accepting might be asking for trouble: taking on an unpaid title is the same as taking on an unpaid position, an unpaid responsibility, and could result in a situation where we might drop that responsibility if a paying gig comes up.  Yes, it could be a great opportunity, but I don’t want to get too involved with pro bono work that could sink us in the long run.  Reasoning has been: “If they can’t pay for us, they can’t pay for the project’s security either.”  Maybe we could apply for funding on our end: “the Canadian embassy proudly presents the Bangkok Fringe Festival produced by RockerCo and AcroCo?”  Who knows.

All this to say that there is a lot of internal political stuff at the theatre that I am trying to steer clear of.  The Rocker’s motto is always to stay detatched and aloof whenever there is intrigue going on.  It’s best to be ignorant.  For myself, I’ve changed this a little bit: it is best to know everything that is going on while seeming ignorant.

I’m presenting our official residency proposal to The Matriarch next week.  Other than that… fuck.  just a lot of little things that need to get done – budgets mostly.  There’s a girl at the theatre that I’m starting to see more and more, but it’s slowing me down a little bit because she comes upstairs to hang out between the hours of 8 am and 18pm when I usually like to work without distractions.  I’ll need to have a talk with her about that eventually.

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Taipei short stay

Well this Taiwanese hotel puts the Odaiba one to shame except for one thing:  no free internet.  It is strange that a hotel that usually costs USD 300 a night can’t find a way to embed wireless access in that price…

The feeling of going from 4-star in Odaiba to 0-star internet café in Harajuku to 5-star in Taipei is a little disorientating.  That feeling of taking the elevator away from a country and heading off to another one is like seeing how your last stop fits into the overall path of one’s life.  Forces philosophical thinking, i guess.

It was very nice seeing The Political Scientist again, it’s hard not knowing exactly when and how the next time will be.  I feel disconnected and tumbling in life right now.  I miss her, but I also haven’t been able to stop thinking about the woman that I met at the rehearsal last week here in Taipei.  I’ve asked her if there was any chance of meeting up briefly on this on-night layover I have here in Taiwan.  Since I know that she’s busy and I don’t know when I will see her next, I proposed meeting at my hotel, The Grand Formosa Regent where everything is available – lounges, bars, restaurants, internet – so that we can concentrate on seeing each other instead of on catching taxis and finding quiet places to talk.  She agreed to meet me for a drink on the 21st floor tonight, but she can’t stay long as she needs to get up at 6am to teach acting and creativity, but it’s no problem.  I just want to see her again before I catch the plane to Thailand tomorrow.

On a totally unrelated note, I am enjoying The Satanic Verses very much; there is some truly magical prose there.

Taking stock in Japan

At the end of last year, I started to run out of my American over-the-counter cosmetics and drugs (like ibuprofen and Old Spice) so I reached out to my family to see if they could send me an old-fashioned “care package” of a six-month supply – a strange request from their nearly 30-year old son, I know, but I really can’t get these things in Asia!  Fried chicken feet and rice soaked in curdled pig’s blood, no problem – maybe we could work out an exchange!

What followed was what I thought was a long silence, but this is just Asia after the big earthquake of Christmas, 2006.  Email and internet access is really unstable right now and it feels like the early 90’s before the internet.  It is already a lot better than it was, emails bounce and arrive weeks after they were sent.

When I finally heard back from my dad, I was taken aback and happy to get much more than an offer to refill my toiletry supplies.  He shared supportive words for the work I am doing out here and expressed them so clearly, plainly, and eloquently that I was a little taken aback.  I mean I know that he supports me, but I feel like I am not even close to my goals, yet.

On the other hand, I do work as much as he did (I have been at my comupter non-stop for almost 20 hours today) which is stupid, and unhealthy, I know, but there is so much to be done and every day that I always feel like my work is incomplete unless I work even longer to feel a little closer to done.  He tells me that I need to suspend this sense of incompleteness and just continue to go forward as calmly as I can.

As he prepares to retire completely and move back to Hawaii, he’s undertaking a downsizing exercise to reduce all his boxes of paperwork that represent his accomplishments in his time.  He’s advised me to preserve my memories in the right place so I will be able to reflect on them when I have the time to relive the impact of my accomplishments.

My trip to Japan has been busy, productive, and positive.  It looks like the idea of taking the show here is going to work.  Television contracts, tour deals, and even a co-production have been discussed.  The timeline is from 2008-2009, and we are talking with goverment, commercial, artistic, local, and intenational parties.  Now it is time to leave things buried for a while and see what grows.  The last two official meetings are today; I’m exhausted but content with the progress I have made – especially compared to a year ago.

Being back in Japan is quite strange.  I see it with different eyes, but it all feels the same: AdCo asked me to upload our files to their server; presenters wanted to find work for Japanese circus artists abroad and suggested pitching a 10-day tour of our show to TBS, the Yokohama festival is interested in getting more information, and the producer from MovieCo is working on a dolphin show (!?).  Ok, that last one feels different.

Back to the cold, cold streets of Tokyo.

Back to Bangkok

I am looking forward very much to returning to the theater next week.  I have been planning carefully for a way to work with the students and company members of the theater, and I have many ideas.  I know that many of the younger people are still in school, so I have tried to plan a lesson structure that is very flexible.  I think that I will begin with a three-hour lesson plan in the afternoons (15h-18h) that is divided up into three one-hour blocks – each one covers a different topic.  A student would only need to come for one of the three blocks, and the structure would be quite informal; what we do depends on who is able to attend that day.

If the students are still quite interested in progressing and they would like to have group lessons again, I will add another 2-3 hours in the evening starting at 18h, like last month, where I would hope that all students would be able to attend and we could work on creation and on group techniques of movement, dance, and acrobatics in a theatrical way.

I would also like to spend some time developing and building simple acrobatic equipment that we can build inexpensively and that will significantly improve the safety and progress of your artists as they evolve into actor-acrobats.  I have very high hopes for this month and have received a longer visa for Thailand to allow for greater flexibility in my teaching schedule.

Unfortunately, The Matriarch has informed me that Bangkok Productions will not be able to support us with the acrobat classes and that mid-March to the end of April will be the busiest time for work and teaching for the Theatre.  I’m not discouraged as I am sure that we are going to find a way to work together in a way that is best for the theater and for the artists.  For now, I’m focused on continuing the acrobatic theater workshops through February so that the artists do not start losing the skills that they have worked so hard to gain.  I consider it a valuable investment in their acrobatic potential.  If all goes well, we’ll be ready for good news from Mercedes Benz. If not, I’ll work hard to find another opportunity for us in the future.  It’s nice to be trusted by The Matriarch, and we’ll do everything that we can for the theatre in February, but I need to be clear that until we find sponsorship for the program, our paying projects will take precedence for the rest of the year.

Hong Kong closure

I couldn’t get back to the Hong Kong artist on December 26th when her contract ended because of the earthquake.  I was hope that everything went well by the end, especially since she was feeling a little worried and frustrated at the beginning.  It seems that by the time she began playing in the restaurant, however, she had found her feet again, as I was sure she would.

When we finally connected after New Year, she told me that performing in Hong Kong was a valuable cultural exchange which she enjoyed very much, but that she sometimes found it difficult to connect with the local audience while staying true to the Canadian culture and style of clowning.  These comments mirror what the consulate was telling me about the response of the local public.  It is true that Canadian clowning is unlike the generic style of clown that we see in shopping malls and public spaces throughout Asia.  I truly hope that some local audience members enjoyed seeing another, more theatrical style of Canadian clowning.

Based on this experience, I see the advantage of working with acrobatic performers in international contexts since humor is a very tricky thing, and what is funny in one part of the world might be completely alien in another country.  On the other hand, acrobatic amazement transcends all cultural barriers.

However, I hope that this experience didn’t frustrate anyone.  After all, it did introduce Canadian culture to an international audience in Hong Kong, but I do hope that the consulate might still consider working with one of our acrobatic performers in the future.  I sent them some examples of the acrobatic performances that we have coordinated over the last two months for mixed audiences in Taiwan, India, and Thailand including images from the New Year’s gala at the boutique resort in Thailand.

Wrapping up the payment has been a bit slow, however, because the consulate realized that since it was the first time they had ever worked with us, they needed to send me a Letter of Agreement following the standard format used by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade for all contractors.

This is the first time I’ve ever needed to provide an invoice and the process looks very complex:

(a) total payable, based on the Basis of Payment (Note: The GST/HST amount and the GST/HST identification number are to be shown separately).

(b) the date (no earlier than December 26, 2006 )

(c) the name and address of the consignee;

(d) description; and

(e) Agreement number

  1. Supplemental Invoicing Instructions: Pursuant to paragraph 221 (1) (d) of the Income Tax Act, payments made by departments and agencies under applicable services contracts (including contract involving a mix of goods and services) must be reported on a T1204 supplementary slip. To enable departments and agencies to comply with this requirement, suppliers are required to provide the following information on each invoice:

(a) the legal name of the entity or individual, as applicable, i.e. the name associated with the Social Insurance Number (SIN) or Business Number (BN), as well as the address and the postal code;

(b) the status of the supplier, i.e. individual, unincorporated business, corporation or partnership;

(c) for individuals and unincorporated businesses, the supplier’s SIN and, if applicable, the BN, or if applicable, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) / Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) number; and

(d) for corporations, the BN, or if this is not available, the GST/HST number. If there is no BN or GST/HST number, the T2 Corporation Tax number must be shown.

I took the opportunity to connect with The Lawyer for the first time, but after our discussion there was a bit of confusion in that both of us thought the other was going to take on the preparation of this invoice.  Her impression was that I was going to prepare it since she was still in discussion with The Rocker about how they were going to start working together.  I tried my hardest to make up for lost time by filling out all the information that I could for the invoice and the T1204, but had to leave the gross payment including GST/HST in Box 82, leaving Box 86 empty as well as the information regarding the non-profit status of The Rocker.  As soon as I got the information I needed I was able to send off the completed invoice.

Instead of waiting for the consulate, however, we sent the performer a Canadian check directly from The Rocker’s account in Montreal and apologized for the delay.

Fatigue

The last three days in a country – always the most draining for me.  The reason is that any and all work that has slipped through the cracks (usually the small tasks like buying inexpensive but excellent quality Taiwanese socks and underwear, mending clothes, repairing shoes, burning and sending DVD’s, picking up plane tickets) suddenly comes to the forefront.  Additionally, you need to pay the bills associated with leaving, like paying plane tickets, paying lodging, changing money, etc.  There is also the business of packing and discarding the rubbish that accumulated whenever a person stays in one place too long (two weeks?).

Personally, your time commitments grow as well; tying up loose ends and keeping the relationship functional and forward-looking, there are the old friends who you haven’t yet had a chance to see, the new friends to whom you must say farewells, and the wild going-away party that keeps you up until it makes more sense to keep on playing ’til its time to catch a taxi.

All this culminates in the arrival at a new temporary domicile somewhere across oceans, seas, and straits – set your still-packed bags on the floor.  You are empty and calm, full of fresh memories and white pages.  Take your time; kick off your shoes, take a nap – you’ve got plenty of time before you have to leave.

148 Hours…

…before the most concentrated week of meetings in my life.  I am preparing – slowly – but well.  This week, things warm up in Taiwan with significant meetings with arts organizations, programs of higher education, and government parties.  Budgets are due, guiding principles need to be drafted, technical riders written, and all with a certain level of finesse and charm.  I contacted my good friends in Taipei and am looking forward to a slow dinner over Belgian beers with quiet music and easy conversation.  I just purchased a new digital camera to replace the one that fell out of my pocket on a Lithuanian train.

That’s a memory – riding a train back to Vilnius through a cold and misty Lithuanian November night with The Political Scientist.  My body warmed by every concoctable spirit and my spirit warmed by an evening of Lithuanian hospitality and grace, thanks to The Political Scientist’s grandmother and Uncle and Aunt.  I was holding a camera and a mint-condition Soviet-era ruble in my jacket pocket before boarding, but alighted with just the ruble.

The kopek I found the next day next to a Lithuanian-style brownstone was a little comfort.

But all that aside, tonight seems to be a night to breathe, do laundry, drink some red wine, and watch “From Russia With Love.”

We can’t always be on full throttle, can we?