Leaving Things Unsaid

The Rocker got a response from one of the biggest Japanese producers for our type of work.  Since it took so long to get this meeting, we’re going to stay an extra day in Japan to see the show that he’s producing with a company called “Strange Kinoko Dance Company.”  The email that The Rocker sent him is a perfect example of how to arrange a meeting in this business:

“We met briefly at CINARS. I am the programming director of the National Theatre of Taiwan’s Performing Arts Festival (and a mutual friend of your colleague Marie-Andre). This January 21 to 27th I will be in Tokyo. Could we meet? Thanks for your time, and Merry Christmas!”

Writing to possible partners is all about restraint – basically, ask yourself “what can I leave unsaid?”  Obviously you should never seem redundant by sending something you’ve already sent (unless they’ve asked for it, of course) or to request anything that might take a lot of effort on their part – their time is a valuable as yours, after all.  Ask questions, for sure, but if you don’t know them well, be careful how you word them so that you don’t sound shady or untrustworthy – in the international funding game even friends may find themselves in competition with each other because many organizations seek out funding from the same sources.

Lithuanian Outreach

I hope that the people in Lithuania are not wondering why I have not contacted them – I actually have written them, I just can’t find reliable enough internet to send it off.  The Rocker shared a lot of sample invitation letters with me as I’ve start contacting more and more embassies and arts organizations and this was my first chance to test them out.

To the companies we met:

I just wanted to write you a quick note to thank you for meeting with me last week before I had to return to Asia. I consider my exploratory trip to Lithuania to have been a great success as I was able to see four vastly different Lithuanian productions, visit the only municipal dance theater in Lithuania, watch a class at the Lithuanian Academy of Performing Arts, visit the site of a future center of performing arts in Vilnius, and meet with several Lithuanians who are either artists themselves or who are taking strides towards supporting the arts in their work.

I am currently developing two new projects in India and Thailand for Spring, 2007 and November/December 2008. Our show is confirmed for a small rework and tour in Asia for 2007 and a large international “Chinese New Year Tour” in Asia, Canada, and the United States for February-June 2008, and we are commissioned to create a new project for Fall 2008 at the National Theater of Taiwan where we are still in residence and serving as programming directors for their annual performing arts festival.

So far, I am trying to develop the possibility of creating a new large-budget show with Lithuanian artists in collaboration with a Lithuanian creative team to premiere in 2009, a year which promises to be an important year for Lithuania as it will be declared one of two “capital cities of culture” and will be celebrating the 1000th-year anniversary of the name.

Whether or not this is possible is yet to be seen. The model we have used in Taiwan, Korea, and now India and Thailand has been to start with a small, high-quality show in the context of a local festival to show the collaborative nature of the work. Typical development time to build up to a large-scale performance is typically 2 years.

This is why I am trying to find funding to come to Lithuania in the summer of 2007 to create a small 30-minute show through a workshop with professional Lithuanian actors/dancers (or students of professional schools). The first step in the process is to contact my embassies with official letters of invitations from organizations who would be interested in working with me this summer.

If you are still interested in such a collaboration, I would sincerely appreciate your help in this first step by writing an official letter of invitation on official stationary (I have already drafted a form letter style document as a sample letter of invitation). Since I am contacting both the USA and Canadian embassies, I must be invited through my company, New Circus Asia. Once we find out how these embassies might be able to support us in this project, we can speak concretely about the possibilities between ourselves.

To embassies who might be able to support our Lithuanian projects:

Hello! I am writing on behalf of a Canadian Circus company that specializes in international co-productions, particularly in Asia. We just finished directing the National Theater of Taiwan’s 2006 Open-Air Arts Festival for which we also directed a commissioned performance to open their event. With the generous support of the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei, we were able to invite eight Canadian circus artists to collaborate with local acrobats and martial artist for a performance that played to over 30,000 people and in our festival, which hosted over 250,0000 visitors over one week.

Through our network of Lithuanian contacts that we developed at Expo 2005 in Aichi, Japan, we were able to visit Lithuania this last November to meet with local artists, producers and artistic companies to discuss possible collaborations in 2007 and 2008.

  • Arts Printing House
  • Aura Dance Theater
  • Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater

This inspired us to lead up to a Canadian/Lithuanian co-production to premiere at two major Lithuanian performing arts festivals with the eventual plan of showcasing during Lithuania’s 2009 celebrations surrounding its being named a European Culture Capital and the 1000th anniversary of the name Lithuania.

We are interested to know what support is available through the Canadian embassy in Lithuania for artistic collaboration between Canadian artists and Lithuanian artists, specifically, education, creation, and/or travel grants. Our contacts at the above organizations have voiced their willingness to draft letters of invitation and to work directly with the Canadian Embassy to sponsor us if necessary.

We are very interested in developing Canadian New Circus in markets that are not able to invite such well-known companies as Cirque du Soleil or Cirque Eloize. We have seen that our model of education, collaboration, and creation works well in such markets as evidenced by our recent successes in Taiwan, Korea, and India. We are excited to have the opportunity to work for the first time with a country in the EU, especially in a country with so much interest and talent in contemporary performing arts. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any information that we or our Lithuanian partners might be able to provide.

I am attaching a document that describes our workshops which have been taught all over the world.

We are interested in finding a way to bring two artists to Lithuania for the last two months in June to teach workshops at Aura, the Arts Printing House, and at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater.

Invitation letter template for organizations who want to support our work

Having invited Canadian Composer and multi-media circus Director The Rocker and his assistant director The Travelling Acrobat (Graduate of the National Circus School of Canada) to participate as instructors in a special seminar for students of the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater in 2007, we’re contacting you to ask for your support and collaboration in this exciting exchange between Lithuania and Canada.

The Rocker mentioned that due to the enormous success of Canadian Acrobatics/ Circus and his close ties with Cirque du Soleil, National Circus School, Canadian Embassies have been eager to support his projects in Europe and Asia (he is currently sponsored by the Canadian Embassies and Trade Offices in New Delhi, Bangkok, and Taiwan for special performance projects in those countries).

Please let us know if you would be interested to learn more about our invitation to begin a Commissioned work with local and Canadian Artists in Lithuania this June 2007.

Mixed results

So far, we have letters of interest from a professor from the academy and the Kaunas dance company that wants two-weeks of workshop that results in a 20-30 minute dance piece incorporating acrobatic elements. The idea is to lead up to a Canadian/Lithuanian co-production to premiere at two major Lithuaninan Performing Arts Festivals with the eventual plan of showcasing during Lithuania’s 2009 celebrations surrounding its being named a European Culture Capital and the 1000th anniversary of the name Lithuania.

The idea of creating a performable piece came from their observation that when they invite guest choreographers just to hold workshops, they lose the material as dancers leave the theatre. They’d prefer that we make a piece that can actually be performed which is even better for us – a joint creation that could become part of their performing repertory is in both of our interests, but creations take time and, therefore, budget.  Our first step should be to contact the embassy to see what sort of support they can lend us to come to Lithuania. Once we have an understanding on that end, we can speak more about expectations, deliverables, and budget.

They’re also asking if they can perform at festivals in India or Thailand.  Maybe we can make one project together in a few steps: our coming to Lithuania and then the next is for them to come to our festival.  Certainly, we are excited by any cultural exchanges between Lithuania and performing groups in Asia, either through the auspices of our network of festival contacts or through the support of foreign embassies in Lithuania or Lithuanian embassies abroad.  In order to talk concretely about such options, however, we will need to have a well-filmed video of a quality, acrobatic performance. So, Summer 2007 could be a first step towards having a project that could be promoted in Asia, be it India, Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, or other markets.  We are looking at working with Lithuanian companies to develop projects over a two-to-three-year period with the eventual goal of creating internationally tourable work.  For example, earlier this month I passed the DVD of the Lithuanian director’s production “Under the Mists of the Unknown” to the director of the Arts Festival in India.  He was very interested in the work but I do not think that his festival would have the budget to invite so many people to India.  Everyone performing there was part of a one- or two- person company. You never know, though – interest is always a good sign.

However, things are not moving forwards as The Political Scientist and I would like them to with all of the people we have been contacting.  For example, one producer we met there responded to my email saying that he “cannot be taking care of the things which are going to happen at the second part of the next year when there is so much uncertainty around this year’s events” and that “there are some other Canadian projects I am considering to develop, and right now cannot make a judgement on which one of them will be prioritized.”

I understand his point overall, but all we were asking for was a letter of interest for the workshops in June without any commitment or obligation on his side.  If he is interested in developing a relationship with the Canadian embassy, then it seems to his advantage to show his desire to invite Canadian artists.

Setting Your Price In Asia

After I told The Contortionist that it didn’t look like Mumbai was going to happen and that I was disappointed because if it had worked out my idea was to also invite her to come teach with me in Thailand from February 16th to March 3rd.  Her only plans for that part of the year were a verbal agreement to teach for some friends in her hometown, so I’m considering proposing that she come out here anyways even though Mumbai is cancelled.

I asked her for her fee for two weeks of teaching 3-4 hours of basic hoop and tissus per day to dancers if all her room and board was covered.  For a comparable, my friend, who is considered a highly-paid specialist performer and teacher in this part of the world, earns around USD 500 a month.  This is obviously very low compared to Europe where teachers can earn 30€ per hour and performers can easily clear more than 2000€ per month in a cabaret.

Just after school, I decided to never accept less than 1000 USD a month for teaching assuming that all else was paid for and that it was in a cool place, but now I find myself accepting no pay for my workshops except for minimal support from the Canadian embassy.  What happened to my principles?

Well, I think that foreign artists who want to be part of building something in Asia will need to set the right prices for themselves and live with the consequences – In Asia right now, nothing is ever certain.  For me, an outsider interested in building something in Asia for the longer-term, I need to be willing to accept more difficult conditions in exchange for establishing a support network.  For The Contortionist, if she just wants to get away from home, live well on five Euro a day, and see Thailand, this is a great opportunity.  In her case, a clear fee will at least make it an easy take-it-or-leave-it proposition for the director who is not sure she wants to bring on another coach.  If her price is right, perhaps it will change her mind.

Developing New Partnerships

So, after the Indian project, some representatives from the Mahindra Group asked The Rocker and I if there was any chance of collaborating on a Mumbai project on January 6th and even a possible longer-term project where we would provide 4-5 acrobats for nightly 15- to 20-minute-long solo shows on a monthly rotating basis throughout their many resorts in India.

The long-term project

They were clear that this would be a pilot program and that artistic fee is a concern, so they are more interested in generalists than high-level specialists.  They are thinking of offering a six-month contract and, as a benchmark, gave the fee of a Bulgarian performing artist that they had worked with in the past.

I looked through our artist database to find generalists and sent a rough budget to them based on what they have told us so far.  We still have many questions about their needs and their expectations from us and have some ideas that could help reduce the cost of such a project, while perhaps improving the entertainment value.

Their immediate reaction was that the fee was too high for what they are able to offer and that if we had any idea about how to reduce that fee they’d want to hear about it as well as get a list of possible artists.

The problem is that our fee is what it is because we need to offer competitive fees even for generalist artists and the length of the contract is both positive and negative in this respect.  Six months of shows allows us to offer the artist a reduced fee per show and per week, but on the other hand, the artist will consider this to be one-half of their yearly income and expect due compensation.

I am also worried that the same artists performing nightly at a given resort might become redundant for their guests.  Since it is in both of our interests to make this first venture a success, and the measure of that success is how much their guests will enjoy the variety of the artists, the question then becomes: How can we provide quality entertainment at lower cost while at the same time improving the variety of entertainment for your guests and taking into account the need to tailor that entertainment to the tourist season:

As a possible solution, I suggested two possibilities:

Possibility A

  • Let us assume, for example, that the busiest season is September.
  • We shall consider two periods: July – August – September and September – October – November
  • For each of the two periods, we source a mid-quality comic duo with some acrobatic skills. They should have about one hour of material between them which ensures that they will be able to provide different entertainment every night of the week. (A solo entertainer in the middle price range would find it difficult to vary their material nightly) Thus, guests would know that every time they saw the duo, they would be in store for 15 minutes of new material.
  • During the ‘off’ periods (July – August and October – November) you would have one duo that could perform together at your resorts, perhaps rotating on a biweekly or monthly basis.
  • During September, they would have two duos who could rotate between Mahindra Group resorts more rapidly – perhaps weekly. If they so desired, they could even split up the duos for this month to effectively have four solo performers – one for each of four selected Mahindra Group Resorts.

Possibility B

  • Let us assume again that the busiest season is in September.
  • For each of the two periods, we source a mid-quality comic trio with some acrobatic skills. They should have about one hour of material between them which ensures that they will be able to provide different entertainment every night of the week. During the ‘off’ periods (July – August and October – November) they would have one trio that could perform together at your resorts rotating on a biweekly or monthly basis.
  • During September, they could rotate the performers between Mahindra Group resorts more rapidly – perhaps weekly or split up the trio for this month to effectively have three solo performers – one for each of three selected Mahindra Group Resorts.

If the performers could use the facilities of the Mahindra Resorts where they are staying (e.g. gym, pool, cars, spas) this might be an incentive that could help reduce the artistic fees slightly.

Short term project

I checked first with The Firebreather since he is already in Asia.  He had a conflict with the date at first but was able to influence the producers to shift the date to a week later.  He just got back from “a terrible job” in Hong Kong, but he made some contacts in Singapore where apparently gigs pay much better than in Hong Kong or Taiwan.

I then asked The Contortionist about the possibility of doing a 7-minute contortion number for this three-artist event in January explaining that there was no guarantee that this will work, but she did tell me to contact her for any projects that come up, even if they are 50/50.  Finally, she just got an offer to work in a cabaret starting next week until the end of January but she told them she needed to wait on our answer since it is more important to her to see me if possible.  I asked her to try to delay the decision until today if possible when Mahindra was supposed to give us their final response (in fact, I’m, still waiting on all feedback from Mumbai, Chuncheon, and other – that’s why I hate the weekends), and unfortunately, I have not heard anything from them yet, so I had to cancel with both artists.  Not a good start to any form of longer-term partnership.

Birthday Wishes

Life is good heading into my 30th year.  I am still hand-to-mouth, but it is all building up into a very nice project.

I was in India for my birthday, and I was taken out to celebrate by a group of upper-caste friends. It was truly strange. One minute you are on the streets with death, disease, and poverty all around you – self-built shantytowns with long-horned cattle standing guard, saris and cotton loincloth-clad workers and then you turn into a five-star hotel’s pub for your birthday celebration and you feel like you are in a TGI Fridays back in the states: female skin, a carnivore menu, and alcohol.

Bizarre, and had I not had a week to acclimatize, it would have been shocking, but I am understanding now that such double standards have always existed. Usually, they are sequestered from each other by geography or national borders, but in India, it is all there before you, forcing you to examine your own commitment towards this ideological “common good” that all humans are meant to be working towards.

Almost a week and a half after the fact, I have many people to thank for their birthday wishes. Akvile and Andrius from Lithuania wrote me a short note to see how my travels back to Asia were.  I didn’t really expect to hear from them, but that’s Lithuania, I guess – some of the most charming people on the planet.  Most of my other friends who contacted me have no idea where I am, but it was nice hearing about all the places that they are.  The Aerialist is in Stuttgart in a diner show playing her trapeze number for 3 months after doing her rope number 150 times for Cirque Traditional in Switzerland.  She arrived in a show that has already been playing for more than a week with really famous artists in the circus world like Manuel Alvarez.  She won the special prize of the jury at the European Youth circus festival in Germany where 80% of the artists were Ukrainians and Russians.  In 2007 The Dancer will be in Switzerland and in Germany for the whole year in caravan surrounded by “stupid but lovely goats!”  Even an ex-girlfriend from Minnesota reached out to send her best wishes and apologies for being “mean” to me last year when I missed a Skype date due to no internet access at the Refugee Camp.  Obviously, there is nothing to be sorry about – I have no telephone and internet access is always spotty when on the road, so regular, predictable communication is a difficult luxury to come by.   Finally, The Clown wrote me. He gets the chance to get out of Vegas from time to time, and recently met up with The Artist and The Tumbler for a little reunion.  Would love to get the team together again for one of these projects in Asia, but I know that they will have a lot of opportunities after Love and Corteo.  I would even be excited of course to do some street stuff and festival touring and residencies after these two years of dealing with big shows and big budgets, but I need to make sure that I’ll have enough savings, as essentially, it would be a vacation – not a step up for exposure or for money, but a good time with old friends.  Maybe after that we could even sit down and try to write a small show to tour for real, but then again the last time taught me that even when people like an idea a lot, circumstances can always change. I would hate to put people through that again, particularly since we all are developing our careers quite well at this point. When we were just out of school it was bad enough, add professional risk to it, and we must be very careful!

Honestly, December 5th didn’t feel like my birthday and I can tell already that December 25th is not going to feel like Christmas nor is December 31st going to feel like New Year’s Eve or January 1st New Year’s Day. Maybe it is just that I am getting older and older, maybe it is accumulated jet lag and culture shock, but each day is necessarily “just another day.”

I was hoping to send my family’s Christmas gifts off from India at the beginning of December but locating a suitable corrugated cardboard box proved to be an insurmountable challenge – not to mention the complexities of sending even a local letter through the Indian post, I decided that it would be better to send it from Thailand or Taiwan. As such, I sent my apologies instead; their well-travelled Christmas presents from Lithuania, India, Thailand, and Taiwan will not be arriving in time for the holidays.

Some of them wrote me asking about my Christmas present wishes, and I thanked them very much for the thoughts, but as they suspected, luggage weight restrictions and flying every couple of months from one country to limits my physical possessions to a total of 20kg. I used to think of myself as a turtle, but after they changed the weight limits from 30kg to 20kg I feel a lot more like a snail.

My needs include an appointment at the dentist and a new pair of jeans, but neither of those seem terribly plausible, especially considering that I would need a relatively stable home address for such gifts – and really, no one needs a new pair of jeans.

When I think about it, what will really make me feel happy this holiday season is just a nice email with a photo of my family enjoying Christmas wherever they might be. I wish I could be there, and this way I can share in their cheer just a little bit.

Second Night Out in Thailand

I hit the other side of the bar scene today: Bangkok Bar.  A real college style pub with loud music and dancing.  A couple of points stick out:

  • The Thailand standard seems to be to order a bottle of hard liquor and mineral waters and cokes to mix your own drinks at the table.
  • No dance floor is no problem.  Stand at your table and dance with your friends on either side of you.
  • When the king appears on the TV, many people stop drinking and dancing and face the television a little awkwardly.  "It doesn’t feel right – it’s like he’s watching me.  It’s not right to drink in front of him," they say.  The king is truly revered here, and I can’t say I blame people – he is truly a rennaisance Buddhist who does everything for his people.  Did you know he was the first Jazz DJ in Thailand?
  • It was disconcerting to me that two of the hottest girls in the club were guys – but what is cool is that they were hanging out with their group of buddies and nothing seemed strange to anyone.
  • Hungry?  Run around the corner to pick up a plastic baggie filled with chili-roasted octopus.  Yes, please!  Delicious.  Squishy.  Squishlicious.

I like the little differences from country to country.  Just when I was starting to think that I had seen it all, I see Lithuania and India in quick succession – two countries that defied all of my conventional wisdom.  I’m lucky to see this stuff while living my life instead of taking a break from my life to "discover myself backpacking through Asia (TM)."  There’s a lot less romance, but then no one ever said I was a romantic.

I like that the Thai’s puke up their noodles in little holes in the street unlike the Japanese method of spewing curry and roasted meat over any convenient flat surface.

I like the mangy, fat dogs that roam the streets like tiny, partially-furry zeppelins on twiggy legs.

I see a lot of shopkeepers who sleep on the floor of their stores.  No door, no shutters, just sleeping there until daybreak when they wake up and stark hawking wares again.  I realized that my current situation is not entirely unlike theirs.

Thanks Chun, Min, Jerry, JS, and Pla – despite my initial misgivings, it was a hell of a night.

A Ketchup-Filled Baggie

Hey I’m no Buddhist, but long-time friends attest that I am loathe to kill even the tinest, most annoying mosquito.  I am wracked with guilt and haunted by the memory of one particular mosquito who is still imprinted in the wallpaper of the KDM hotel in Taipei.

The only thing I hate more than taking the life of pesky vermin is making snap judgements about inhabitants of countries in which I have just arrived.

That said, the two Thai mosquitos I have slapped down in my sleep burst open like overripe cherries, practically squirting my own recently-siphoned gore all over my fine white cotton linen. 

Is there some reason why the guts of Thai mosquitoes should lack the structural integrity of their foreign bretheren?