Getting in Gear: Taiwan and India

First transfer from Taiwan is done! $1,363 US as an advance on our upcoming projects.  I owe The Rocker a beer when I get to Taiwan for saving my ass.  Taiwan Productions will also wire me $1,250 US for the airplane ticket to Taiwan as soon as I figure out what a “SWIFT number” is.  In the meantime, they’re working on my papers to get an agreement from the Foreign Labor’s Office, which will take 7-10 days, so I may need to wait even longer before leaving Japan.  And so it continues…

But, that said, The Rocker is bringing me to a video conference project in India for a December 1st-7th festival that will hopefully pay 500$ and the Canadian Embassy and a travel grant resulted in $5,000 to cover travel and lodging costs.  The embassy figures airfare at $3,000 and hotel at $1,000 and per diems $150 per person but The Rocker already found return flights for 859.67 including a one-night stopover in Bangkok.  He’s proposing a $3,000/$2,000 split of the grant and that we each hold on to any money that we can save.  His feeling is that we can easily stay below $1,000 each and that if other costs are incurred it may be possible to get specific grants to use for those purposes.  This level of support is a lot better than I was expecting – I thought it was going to be a pittance, but this is not bad at all.

The embassy really wants us to promote Canada at the festival, maybe by giving a talk on innovation in circus and a lecture  and demo at a school.

Evidently, The Rocker has some old contacts in Thailand, so he is already working to leverage that into another week of conferences and workshops.  He assures me that “India will blow your mind, opposite of Japan, talking major league dirt and filth, but a cultural blast!!” I am still not sure what it is I will be doing there, but what the hell, it’s in INDIA!

I’m realizing that we need to create a website for some of our projects, but right now, I am balancing between Tokyo, Korea, India, Singapore, Taiwan, and Australia and trying to figure out how to keep feeding myself when so much of my money just goes into travel costs.

Auditions and Budget Costs

Auditions began in Taipei, but they’re waiting until I’m there to make final casting decisions.  The technical department keeps trying to cut set-up and rehearsal time and we’re still trying to find studio space.

Budget cuts are brutal, but The Rocker sees things this way: “in Montreal, I wanted to put our musicians on an army truck, but the cost of rental was more than the fees of the musicians, which didn’t make sense, so cut the truck.”  If you can find a creative solution without expensive gadgets or rigging it is better all-around and rehearsal and set up will be easier too.  For example, we’re trying to find a cool way to use the existing rigging for the outdoor stage as part of the stage, like having people to climb down from the top of it.

Artist Equality and a Creative Brainstorm

My partner for the MC and animation in Taiwan wrote to ask me what I thought about the fee that was offered to him.  Where do I begin?  Obviously, the National theater has been hacking away at the budget like a samurai warrior over the last four months and based on the cuts I have seen, the fee he’s getting for 10 days of work plus an extra week and a half of per diems and hotel is a great deal.  Since his transportation is covered as well, it is like one a hell of a paid vacation to Asia; after he could go to the Philippines or Vietnam or Laos and live like a king for 10 bucks a day!

In fact, the rate he is getting is better than the one I am getting because of the cuts we had to make to ensure that the artists got paid what they deserve.  He was also part of the festival last year in Taipei, so he surely remembers the shit salary we got paid last year under the previous producer.  That set a huge precedent for this festival and we are making it a priority to change this perception that good artists will keep coming to Asia for crap pay.  The Rocker told the Taiwanese company that they need to find a way to pay everyone in an equal manner because he knows that everyone talks to each other – it’s normal!

As for the work that we’ll be doing together, is going to be pretty relaxed and we’ll be in charge of everything we do.  There might be some small constraints, but really the goal is just to amuse ourselves and the public as much as possible.  The first order of business is to come up with a name for our comic trio.  The following list is the result of 30 minutes of brainstorming with no editing whatsoever the ones I starred are my favorites; maybe there is a seed of something here:

  • The Welcome Wagon
  • Small, Medium and Large.
  • Do You Want Fries With That?
  • The Small Fries.
  • The People’s Liberation Army of Taiwan.
  • *The Spanish Flies
  • Grosso Modo
  • Hyperbole
  • The Homeless, Limbless, Iraqi Civilians
  • The United Nations
  • The Department of International Affairs
  • Nanoeconomists
  • The Best Comedy Act in the World (No Refunds)
  • If You Don’t Watch Our Show We Will Take Your Firstborn
  • The Loudest Mimes.
  • Giant Midgets
  • *Tiny Giants
  • *Missing In Action
  • Three Clowns Looking for a Joke
  • Lost in Translation
  • *Translate This!
  • The Dead Translator.
  • The Dead Chickens
  • The Fastest Chickens in the East
  • Carte Blanche
  • Blank Check
  • Credit Limit
  • *The Nothing Doings
  • The Do Nothings
  • *The Dead Lines
  • Semper Fi
  • Cuba Libre
  • Lost in Taiwan
  • The Know-Nothings
  • Cirque Du Soleil Stabbed Us In the Ass (But We Kept The Knife)
  • Taiwan Tea Party
    Bubble Tea Bandits
  • Painful Drawn-Out Post-Modern Theatrical Crap

Flamenco Date

The flamenco show in Shinjuku with The Flamenca from the gym was a very famous flamenco troupe that she used to perform with, and they were really quite good.  Not quite as showy as Expo, but not as much technique, but I liked it anyways.  It was in a very expensive Spanish restaurant, and I drank for free.  They were going to have a nice Spanish meal for me as well, but because of a misunderstanding, we ended up meeting very late, and didn’t have time to comer.

After the show, The Flamenca was acting very Japanese, saying, “ikimashoo?” and I said, “Are you crazy?  We stay and drink and talk with your friends!” so I stayed out till the last train talking with all these older flamenco dancers.  It was all in a Madrid Spanish dialect, so I understood only about 25%, but with my heart, I understood just about everything.  These Spanish girls were very flirty which I didn’t mind.  They wanted to talk about what I thought of their show, how it relates to what I do in circus… supposedly they are all coming to the gym soon to watch my number.

I guess it was a ‘date,’ of sorts, and I’m liking going on a lot of dates with interesting people.

Seeing The Flamenca at the gym now is fun; I guess she is the new friend that will take me to the end of this stay in Japan.  It is clear that we have a fun flirtation and mutual interests, but that we have a ‘working relationship.’  I will go see the flamenco show again with her before I leave.  The Importer is organizing a big meal this Sunday for all the gaijin gym members so we will be having gazpacho and Sri Lankan food and wine and Japanese foods at a big house in Tsukiji.

I have two more days of work; just five classes total.  then, who knows what is going to happen.

Tonight I’m going to the Yasukuni Shrine matsuri with The Journalist who’s about to leave to study at Johns Hopkins which I guess has a really well-known school for international studies/foreign relations.

Stake Your Reputation On It

The internet died (again).  I was hoping to be free in August, but it looks like I will be very busy in Taiwan; probably teaching workshops in theater and acrobatics at a dance college there while starting the writing and production of the new show in October.

We are now applying for our last batch of production grants and Taiwan, and one of the grants is specifically designed to invite representatives from other arts organizations to our Festival at the end of October.  One of the requirements, however, is a letter of interest from said company.  I’m reaching out to my Japanese contacts with a pre-written letter (to make it as painless as possible).  And all this needed by Friday!

Casting for the festival is progressing.  The Rocker just proposed another tissus artist for our artist database, but we already have people who are much, much better.  I keep trying to add to the list of available artists, but it looks like I have topped out at around 90 extremely high skill-level professional artists.  I got the OK from The Rocker to contact my friend for animation.  The Rocker said I don’t need to worry about getting his approval, but I’ll probably run it by him anyways if I think that the reputation of his organization is at stake.  Reputation determines how willing top artists are to work with us and so far I think we are managing this well.

Breakthrough

A couple of weeks ago things may have finally broken through for us in Japan.  I met with The Author’s producer friends, Tokyo Productions, to speak about the possibility of The Rocker and I directing an event that they are preparing for early December in Nihombashi.  For now, it involves us going back to Canada to rehearse with 3-8 Canadian acrobats to create a show for a corporate event in Tokyo.

Tokyo Productions are interesting because of their relationship with Les Producers, a huge event company from France that directed the millennium celebration in Paris, the Paraolympics in Athens, the Toyota Pavilion at the World Expo 2005, and currently are at the Singapore festival and consulting on the 2008 Olympic Games with Steven Spielberg.  Their specialty is huge events with fireworks and water walls and projections and they are looking for a new acrobatic partner because of the challenges they faced during the Expo.  Our being in Asia already is a huge advantage because we are in Asia already.

I prepared a presentation of The Rocker’s videos to give them an idea of the work we do and of the artists who will be in the Taiwan show.  Tokyo Productions are thinking of having short acrobatic interventions integrated into their music, lighting concept, and video components.  If the artists are OK with that and available it would be a big win for everyone.  If this works, it would be the first time to my knowledge that New Circus has even been commissioned in Japan and if all goes well, they are looking to use acrobatics for high-end corporate events in Tokyo for brands like Armani, Prada, Gucci, Louis Vitton, Coach, Tiffany’s, and various movie premieres.

.  However, the time pressure is on – they want to make their final proposal in about 2 weeks, and I imagine that we will be hearing from the client shortly thereafter.

The strategy as I see it is to stay conservative and simple but to assure them that we are small, flexible, and quick enough to do whatever they want by bringing quality international acts from North America and Europe to Asia to create site-specific original productions at relatively low cost.

They are going to keep all creative control of the overall project but that we will be in charge of the physical direction.  After that first meeting they asked me to join them for dinner, but I wanted to get back home to start working on the proposal right away which ended up being:

1) One swinging aerial act. (1 artist)

2) Two single-point aerial acts. (2-4 artists, depending on solo or duo acts)

3) Two ground-based acrobatic acts (2 artists on elevated platforms).

4) One hand-to-hand duo (2 artists).

5) An acrobatic lighting design specialist

6) A circus rigging specialist.

7) The Rocker and myself to act as the direction team for the acrobats

Last week we met again to discuss this plan and to show them more of our database of artists which has increased to 75 (and I hope to increase that to 100 before I leave for Taiwan).  They were very impressed with the artists, so they invited me to a site visit next Wednesday.  In preparation, they’ve asked me to make a DVD compilation and company profiles of Taiwan Productions and The Rocker that show that both have been working for a long time, that they have experience doing large-budget productions, and that they have been working on high-profile shows.

They still sound very serious but I am not planning to talk about budget with them, because I still don’t know how to account for the different costs in Taiwan versus Japan.  For example, should we ask for the same rates that we asked for the film festival project in Taiwan or should we be increasing it to account for the different cost of living in Japan?  If we wait until after we have success with the festival, will we be able to ask more?  It’s for these reasons that I’d prefer all budget discussions to take place between Taiwan Production and Tokyo Productions so that The Rocker and I can think about the direction side as much as possible.  After all, Taiwan Productions is interested working in Japan and their connections to France and The Rocker has connections to Canada are a lot more useful than my connections to the US in terms of support for international artists.  I worked up a rough budget for the artistic and production costs that included:

  1.  8 person on the production team (France+Canada)
    2.  5 artists on the stage (2 chinese arcrobats+3 canadians for trapeze)
    3   Salary of the artists (3 weeks work)
    4   Production fee
    5   3 shows
    But did not include:
    1. Airplane tickets
    2  Local accomodation
    3  Perdiems
    4  Local artists fee
    5 Technical equipment and staff
    Based on this budget they’ve already asked for 7 artists instead of 5 and only 1 show instead of 3, and they are also looking for a video artist that can transform paintings into whole worlds and an acrobatic lighting specialist.

Now that they have an idea of acrobatic show budgets they said that no matter how things go with this project, they’d like to create a Japanese model budget for an acrobatic show so that they can present it to their numerous clients.

Today I met with Tokyo Productions and the technical head of the Toyota Pavalion from16:30 to 22:30 and developed a collaboration plan through 2007.  Outside of the opening ceremony idea we talked about big corporate events and possibly bringing a full show or a Japan creation on tour.  They are even interested in having us arrange entertainment for the whole month of December and maybe having us in charge of a Pomp Duck and Circumstance-style restaurant for the entire year of 2007.  This would mean arranging entertainment for a cabaret month-by month for an entire year… a great way for us to get known in Japan and also in the circus world since a month-long contract in Japan will attract a lot of interested artists.  They want a storyboard in the next week or so!  It’s ambitious and exciting but it may pose some logistical issues as The Rocker and I need to figure out how to make Tokyo 2007 work with everything else in 2007.  I know there is a way, we just need to find it.  Things are finally selling here!

Afterwards we did a site visit at Tokyo Station to see what is possible for the reopening event and my goal was to prove that my expertise on acrobatic design was invaluable to the project.  Even though I could have answered most of their questions on the spot, stayed ambiguous and told them that I’d want to consult with Taiwan Productions before responding.  Makes the issues sound as important as they are.

Even better the dinner and drinking that followed (of course).  The Japanese producer who has engaged Tokyo Productions was with us the whole time.  He is a young-seeming guy (though I cannot place his real age) named Opera who was full of questions about circus and the business and marketing of it and I tried to be full of answers.  He was drunk, and I played the trick of just looking as though I was drinking.  Some flirtatious girls showed up later, but they weren’t terribly interesting, so I was happy when Tokyo Productions and Opera asked me to sit with them to continue to talk business while everyone else flirted at the other end of the table.  They seem happy that I am an MIT graduate.  Weird shit. Circus expert, OK, but a circus expert with an MIT degree – now we can talk.  I think this may be unique to Japan.

Then, all of a sudden, today, they tell me that the idea of the show was scrapped.  The temptation was to despair, but I told myself that there was a way to get around this. I shut up for about 15 minutes and thought as hard as I could.  The client told them that they didn’t like the idea of an “add on” attraction, that they were worried about weather, and that they didn’t want a permanent structure during the day.  After thinking of a possible solution brought it up during a lull in the conversation: “What if we don’t sell it as a show, but as a lighting design for the building which integrates acrobatic performances on the balconies, the roof, the windows, and the floor in front of the building?”  The idea went from being scrapped to being the centerpiece of the design and they are interested in hearing my thoughts for a new bar/restaurant/lounge concept that will integrate a live show aspect as well.  Interesting.  Selling acrobatics as just an extra idea made it too easy to cut; integrating us into the whole lighting concept is a lot easier to defend.  Changes our constraints a bit, but we’ll worry about that once people have made up their minds.

As they start to reach out to their other clients, I am struck by how obscenely large the project budgets seem to be – this is all quite new to me.  Given how small our costs are relative to the whole budget, I think that someone will eventually bite, so I’m asking the Taiwan Productions to forward me proposals that they have sent to clients in Taiwan so that I can build off of them by adjusting for Japanese costs.  In the meantime, Tokyo Productions wants to know if they can fly me back to Japan to help them with proposals for a few days at a time during the Taiwan project.  Why not?

Moving at the Speed of Seoul

Korea was quite an experience.  We walked away from the festival with three new contracts until 2009 and I have been incredibly busy ever since.  Unfortunately for me, Korea ended up being all business and very little sightseeing, but it looks like I will be spending quite a bit more time there in the future, I look at it as a good investment.  The bad news that the 2006 edition of one of those projects in Suwan will not go forward due to lack of time.  Nonetheless, they still seem truly interested and suggest that we focus on developing something for next year’s festival.  Furthermore, we are confirmed to return to the Korean festival next year.  Shit, people work fast there.