Smooth Criminal

Dreamt about the show last night which gave me an idea that I think could be really cool for the show.  If we don’t use it, I will try to get it into other upcoming projects.  Basically, I want to get recordings of various “man on the street” interviews about Taiwan, Asia, China, to capture an honest picture of what citizens in the West honestly think of the East in audio form, edited in an interesting way with music.  I just don’t want it to make people look stupid.  I am looking for honest moments of doubt, confusion, uncertainty, fear, ignorance, whatever people are actually feeling.  At the same time, it’s important to stay away from people who want to be clever which might ring a little false.  Short snippets, little monologues, sampled politicians, samples of TV, more about what we hear than what we think.

What do people think of the Taiwan/ROC/china debate, notions of national identity, statehood, freedom.  What are the differences between the East and the West?  What are the similarities?

Tourists getting tattoos of kanji: these characters you choose are everywhere in Japan, and tattooing “blade” or some other common, concrete noun on your skin is a bit silly.  And having your name tattooed on your body (in any language) is like your mom writing your name on your underwear, but much, much worse.

Evidently, The Rocker has found a beautiful girl who is a Gold medalist from the Wushu (Kung Fu) competition at the Asian Games.  She may be a little too busy to do our show, but the plan is to film her, and use her on video.

My idea is to use this text over that performance of the wushu champion, dressed like a Taiwanese fashion kid, set to this version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ that The Rocker just sent me.

Fuck, with all the lighting and some good acrobatic shit that could be a hell of a finish.  We should see if we could get a great local Taipei progressive hip hop DJ and mix that with some textural guitar.

Circus artist doing a handstand

My First Circus Speech

I just gave a speech at the National Theatre in Taipei, Taiwan about the creation process for the Angels of the Storm with The Rocker back in Montreal:

At our first rehearsal, The Rocker told us that he wanted to create a different circus show; one with a political message. 

For us as circus artists, creating a show to address a problem in the world, even abstractly, was new. 

Our training at the National Circus School involves three years of training in acrobatics, acting, dancing, movement, and creation. 

Ideally, at the end of the school, we are closer to being able to express anything we want to say though circus. 

And after three years, here is The Rocker, asking us what exactly it is that we want to say. 

Not all of us knew. 

We had several weeks to create the show.

The structure of the show was determined early on. 

Every artist was responsible for two or more scenes, and spent most of the day working independently or in small groups on creating and perfecting those scenes.

The Rocker would often give an inspiration for each scene: a book, an emotion, an image.

It was not uncommon to work all day on a piece only to present it later to The Rocker or to the whole group only to find out that you have been going in the wrong direction.

But that was not a bad thing – it might have gives someone else a new idea for a scene which is used elsewhere in the show.

A couple of weeks before opening, your number might move to another place in the show; or the music might change, or suddenly, a part of the show no longer works and is cut.

This created a lot of stress, but it also forced us as artists to always be present and passionate.

It made us feel that we had really created this show. A month and a half before, the show existed only as a vague idea in The Rocker’s mind, and that original idea had changed form innumerable times.

But in the end, we presented a show that was, for us at least, a new type of circus show.

We had been challenged to look out at the real world, to react to it, and to somehow put those reactions in the context of a show that hopefully, an audience would enjoy.

It gave us one more opportunity to place the emphasis not on the technical skill, but on what feeling and meaning can be expressed by that technique.

Circus acrobat in a one armed handstand

Killing The Creative Impulse

Is there something about training in a physical art like handstands that kills the creative impulse?

Since returning to intensive training, I feel no creative drive. 

I remember that when i was in circus school, it was similar; I was really motivated to train handstands and acrobatics, but couldn’t focus on strictly creative pursuits; even reading was a chore…

It seems so strange that after one of the most creatively stimulating summers of my life, it has been so abruptly truncated by something as important to me as handstand training!

Why Bulgaria?!

For the last few months I have been working on getting funding for a project based on Bulgarian author Aleko Konstantinov the author of To Chicago and Back which is a travelogue based on his 1893 trip to the Chicago World’s fair.  He was assassinated by a pistol shot to the heart years later in 1897 and his pierced heart is exhibited today in his house in Svishtov.  

it really is fucking strange.  you ask me “Why Bulgaria?”  and all I can do talk half-stupidly about “signs.”  Just a feeling stemming from lots of little moments and coincidences that lead me to believe that I am somehow working on the right project at the right time of my life.   

For example, I need help from a woman who received this same travel grant to Bulgaria that I am applying for.  What did she research with her grant?  the life and work of Mikhail Bulgakov, author of “The Master and Margarita” which is a book recently given to me by my good friend The Political Scientist. 

In researching theaters in Bulgaria, I come across a site created by a fellow playwright, a Bulgarian playwright, and in reading his first play I find a reference to the role of performers in society and as a social lubricant, laxative, and anesthetic spoken by a young Harry Houdini who quotes a passage concerning the circus from the book “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” also given to me by my same dear friend, The Political Scientist! 

So, there is no rationalism in this.  It is not Bulgaria itself so much as a sticky little mess of a life that sits like a clump of damp lint with little charges of energy zipping around inside of it, bouncing off the static charges caused by its own internal frictions. 

There is no Bulgaria, nor is there any choice.

Til Tomorrow Ticket

Changing Plans And Herding Cats

1) THE QUICK UPDATE:

 Since September, The Clown and I have been involved in numerous creation projects, most notably, perhaps, the first full-length self-produced Barcode Productions show, called “‘Til Tomorrow,” in Arnhem, Holland.  We wrote and rehearsed the show with his girlfriend from school over a two-month period, rehearsing between 3 to 15 hours a week for the most part.  All told, it was an incredibly stressful time, with the image of the show changing almost daily.

The Clown was in rehearsal with another project until the 19th of December (the premiere was the 21st!), so his girlfriend and I flew to Holland in mid-December.  There, we met with the theater to write up all of the sound and lighting designs and adapt the show’s rigging needs to the theater’s technical specifications.  Certain costumes and props needed to be bought/constructed on-site as well.

We also took advantage of the time to perform at a small gala, which doubled as a publicity event for the show itself.

Once The Clown arrived in Arnhem, we had one day to use as a dress rehearsal in the living-room of his parents house.  The next day, we had a build-up time of 8 hours between when the theater space became available to us to showtime.  Thanks to the remarkable skill and professionalism of the technical crew at the venue and our good friend and technical guru Joris, this impossible task was accomplished.  We finished build-up, light setting, sound check, lightboard programmation, warm-up, getting into costume and make-up, and then learning all the technical cues of the show with five-minutes to spare.

Since we had had no time for a technical run and also served as their own technicians, the first show was a bit of a roll of the dice, but it went off with only one or two minor problems.  The second day was twelve hours of intense rehearsal of both tech and acting and slight rewrites followed by a slightly revamped version of the show.

Although the response from both audiences was immensely positive, it was the second show that we felt best represented the themes that we set out to address.  Namely, the fact that a lot of art today is either irrelevant to the outside world or no fun to experience as a public.  In this show, we tried our hardest to be both relevant and fun, while at the same time, playing with an audience’s preconceptions of a theater show, a circus show, and a circus-theater show.

The bottom line for the artists involved was that this project provided room, board, transportation and a salary that is competitive to any other circus or theater group out there.  Given, we had a lot of subsidization and help from family and friends, but we are encouraged that the dream of becoming our own autonomous company is not such a far-fetched one!

 The future of this particular show is uncertain, but it accomplished exactly what it is that we wanted it to.  We proved that recent graduates of art schools are able to produce interesting and popular works, and in doing so, earn a respectable living from it!  The notion of ‘starving artists’ is hopefully not the only way to do theater and circus.

 2) BARCODE PRODUCTIONS TODAY

 The Clown and I, the “artistic directors” of Barcode Productions have been fortunately or unfortunately called away to do contract work with other companies.  This gives us both the chance to save up to support future Barcode Productions as well as broadening out experiences as artists and giving us a little bit of breathing space to take care of the planning and business end of things. 

As the lack of writing over the last four months suggests, producing, creating, rehearsing, and performing leaves little time for other work like writing this post, budgeting, grant-writing, etc.

3) BARCODE PRODUCTIONS IS LOOKING FOR A HOME

One of the major developments in the desert project, “62 Days,” over the last four months is the realization that we need to choose where to plant the seeds of this project.  We have the choice of several countries.  France (possibly,) which would provide salary, rehearsal space, artistic counseling, and an initial tour, for the artists.  Holland, which is the country where The Clown and I have the most experience and support in circus, theater, and festivals, but where government grants are an unknown quantity.  Quebec, quite possibly provide the best opportunity for grants and the ability to set up as a legitimate company, a friendly audience, and strong producer pool. 

However, any long-term touring would most likely have to happen in Europe, and Quebec is not in Europe.  Similarly, Minnesota not in Europe either, though it seems to offer a fair amount of grant money and the grants can be written in English.

4) A PROJECT CUT IN TWO!

So to move forward with the logistical and financial nightmare that is, “62 Days in the Desert,” I’m trying to cut the project into two self-sufficient parts, economically isolated from each other.  The first part is a three-person project culminating in a “tour” of performances which, if successful, will use its momentum to build support for the second part, which is essentially a revision of the themes of the first part, but this time with a creative team of 4-7 performing artists. 

The result of the first part will be a film with an integrated live performance that can hopefully be performed on stage for a theater public as well as screened at film festivals for a film public.  The idea of using The Clown as an “outsider” would still be integrated and should maybe be shot before we go into the desert so that it is available to us during the creation process.

The result of the second part will be much more of a live affair with some film components.  That is, that we look at what we have accomplished with the first phase, and look at how we can humanize the piece and address the themes in a theatrical/circus way with the first show as a common resource/inspiration.

The reason that this project has been cut in two is a simple one.  If we work on a piece for two months in the desert, it had better be performable shortly after we get out of the desert.  Additional rehearsal space and time is both redundant and expensive.  After all, what else do we have to work on in the desert other than this project?  How can we really need more time than sixty-two 24-hour days? 

This also simplifies the project economically in the sense that the first phase will be a fully-functional, self-contained, mixed-media show with three people.  We will be able to play it cheaply and flexibly in any number of venues, both small and large, to see how we like it before risking the big budget of bringing in additional performers. 

Artistically, it makes sense as well.  We can build on the common experience of this desert trek in the creation of this show without having to introduce a lot of other artists halfway through the process.

From a publicity standpoint, the story is simpler and therefore stronger.  “These three artists went into the desert for two months and then went to a studio and rehearsal space where they met their friends, edited a film, and wrote a show,” versus “These three artists went into the desert and came out with this show.”

Basically, it significantly lowers the risk and raises the potential yield per artist, and if it is a success, it will pave the way for the second part of the project.  If we hate it, at least we have earned our money back, and had a great time in the desert.

5) GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT “62 DAYS IN THE DESERT”

For the first part of the project, the three independent artists will probably try to leverage individual grants.  Three separate artists each trying to find local funding will probably have more success than a relatively untested and unknown company applying for first time funding as a non-profit organization.

The budget of this project has to cover everyone’s food, lodging, and transportation as well as the costs that directly relate to the project, ie, camping gear, park fees, and recording/editing equipment.  We also need to determine what we have as assets, for example, would one of us lend the car to the project and under what conditions?  Would one of us be able to secure use of a good camera for the two months, and under what conditions?

Furthermore, I have already done a bit of legwork in terms of the grants available to me as a circus artist in Montreal and as a supposed legal resident of Minnesota.  I know that the other two artists have been doing the same on their side.  If we pool this information over the next two weeks we might be able to estimate our theoretical monetary yield.  We should brainstorm if there are other fundraising tactics outside of grants.

This is the next phase of the project: definition of the goals, and determination of a realistic total budget.

Once we have a reasonable idea of what it is we want to accomplish, we need to see when we might be able to fit such a project into our lives. 

Circus acrobat in the National Circus School of Montreal's atelier de creation.

Angels Of The Storm

As part of the creation process for the National Circus School of Montreal’s “atelier de creation,” we all had to write down ideas for a circus school about the experience of children in war.  The following was my submission.

childhood in war.

a war that kills innocence, shatters dreams…

is “loss of childhood” a euphemism for greater horrors?

or is losing innocence early actually the natural state of affairs?

today, we hide ourselves from death and sickness…we feel entitled to prolong childhood here in the West while robbing other regions of that privilege.

interlude: my childhood as i remember it.

innocence to the point of stupidity.  education the priority.  discipline.  apprenticeship from my father.  a sense of “needing to fulfill.”  dreams of fame, of success, of science and history.

meanwhile: elsewhere, does violence and tragedy prematurely interrupt such childhoods?

do our prolonged childhoods in North America permit  us to act so inhumanely?

ways that cnn tells me you can lose your childhood:

  • hide under the corpses of your family.
  • start college at age 9.
  • live in chronic hunger from birth.
  • become a hollywood child actor.
  • be a 13 year old soldier
  • train in a chinese sports academy at age 4.
  • live stricken with severe childhood illness.
  • endure abuse by your family.

is childhood with soccer moms and playstations and dance classes and circus schools and sneaking into bars and making out when mom’s not home so desirable?  will we end up better suited to this world than are survivors of robbed childhoods?

I ask because we seem to admire the grown-up children who had their innocence stripped from them.  we call them brave, we want to hear their story, we take valuable life lessons from their experiences

childhood can be killed by privilege and complacency.

i had a privileged life as a child.  i lived all over the world.  i grew up mostly among displaced western expats in japan.  my friends were children of soldiers, diplomats, senior-management, and ceo’s.  i went to the most expensive preparatory english speaking high school in japan.  my biggest problem was a self-defeating desire to fail, artistic pretentions, and chronic beatings from my peers.

my life was a slef-contained plastic bubble of privilege punctuated with moments of public servitude.  fund raisers for filipino refugees, riceballs for the homeless, boy scout hunger marathons to raise money for ethiopians, food collections for victims of natural disasters.

history classes were taught with a humanistic perspective.  my understanding of the berlin wall is through the eyes of the children who chased the candy-dropping bombers during the cold-war.

but why the fuck didn’t i care?

because in multi-denominational church group slideshows about the street children of  india, the shocking photos of poverty and disease got the gasps of the audience.  gasps of horror, of pity…  yet i remember assisting at a school for the mentally handicapped with the award-winning service club of my high school.  i remember seeing my classmates recoil in disgust from the students that we were there to meet.

i judge these reactions harshly because i have seen the way that my mother cares for her patients.  i have seen the way that she always treats them with dignity and shies away from recognition for her work.  She tells me she goes to at least one funeral a month for her children, and suffers silently, knowing also that their parents will live an unburdened life.  i am not saying that she is immune to the notion of what childhood is supposed to be, but she did also go to guatemala to care for these children directly, not as part of her job, either, but because she believed she needed to do it for the children.  she treated them with dignity and respect and without pity. 

i want to be empathetic, but i do not know how to be. My privilege gets in the way.  i went to college, i went to circus school.  i want to learn about the needs of the underprivileged, but to name them as such is to be so prejudiced as to prevent me from ever really understanding anything.

this is damned frustrating. i can complain a lot about everyone, but i am everyone. so i can produce no solutions.

twin towers erupting into flames, tons of airline fuel sucking oxygen out of the air, people choosing between immolation and freefall as an exit from this life.

does it take a monster to say there is beauty in that image?  tv documentaries, political ads, people crowding storefront tv displays to see the images over and over again. what drew us to these images? there was a humanity there, an insight into the human condition.  fanaticism, murder, fear of death, the welcoming of death, trapped, liberty, buildings, mortality, fatalism, fire…

in a way, the american public fell in love with those images.  a folklore and a culture sprang up instantaneously around the event… and people fall in love with suffering children.

i love the image of an artist. and that is why i am wracked with feelings of inadequacy.  i want to change the world, but am limited to changing only that world that i know from my immediate experience.  the best i can do is be a part of a creation that makes other people  think of those children and their suffering in a new way, one free of pity, shock, horror, or vapid compassion.

so i want to throw around some stage images in order to finish on a productive note instead of just abstract intellectual masturbation.

  • a child in a scene of destruction who does absolutely nothing to interpret that horror: skiprope in sarajevo.
  • children playing hide and seek, one is killed.  the other does not find him.
  • singing nursery rhymes in all the different languages we know over air raid sirens.  the nursery rhymes stop abruptly.
  • children fighting with a voice-over of an audio book about disciplining your child.
  • Voice-overs about our childhood dreams over photos of children in less privileged situations.
  • some circus guy who wants to do his circus number but can’t because we keep projecting pictures of starving kids behind him.  how is he going to get applause that way?
  • fun with gas masks… taking images of war and interpreting them in a way that a child might if he had absolutely no idea what it was actually meant for.
  • a starving kid talking about how much she hates canned corn.
  • flying.  lots and lots of flying.
  • soldiers fighting wwi trenches style, kids keep running across no mans land and playing: “kids, go play somewhere else.”
  • playstation playing kids suddenly caughtup in a real combat or conflict.
  • kids playing war.
  • kids playing nazi concentration camp.
  • kids playing influenza outbreak.
  • kids playing 9-11.
  • running images.
  • beautiful images, folk dance style, broken by a huge event.  lights and sound and smoke.  intermittent running, panic.  blooming image out of the center from one of the people who was implicated in the dance earlier.

when i say ‘child,’ i don’t mean that we should play act that we are kids, i think that would suck.  after all, none of us are really more than kids, anyways.

Two acrobats performing as part of "Til Tomorrow" during a special event in Holland

Til Tomorrow

The Clown and I just received word that we have a theater in which we can present our show “Til Tomorrow” in Holland this December.  It is the second production of “Barcode Productions” and the first one that is really written with an international market in mind.  We are really excited and starting the creation process like crazy. 

 I am still doing a lot of personal research to help narrow down a theme for the desert show and to figure out how iIwant to progress with the fundraising and grant writing.  right now, I am interested in the idea of a journey, or an odyssey and trying to see how I can work this in to a structure that will allow us to get across the other themes in a dramatic fashion.  I am reading a lot, On The Road, Douglas Hofstadter’s “Godel Escher Bach,” the odyssey…

 I am interested by the anonymous quality of travellers, and I think that this presents an interesting aesthetic.

 It is really important that the images we take in the desert will still look clear when projected on a screen.  I imagine that this will require a camera at least of the quality of the old canon XL-1, but again, I really don’t know anything about it.  It would be cool if we could also have a camera that would allow us to take images of starry nights but we will be shooting mostly fixed tableau images and interviews as I see the project now.

 The Clown would be filming in the cities, maybe in Las Vegas, which could work well with the theme of the project, but that will be intentionally shot with lower quality hand held stuff, and the editing will be more important as I plan on dilating and contracting time in those images. 

People on the creative team are very positive, and we are looking at “Til Tomorrow” to be sort of an advertisement for “62 days” as far as producers and investors are concerned.  I am feeling very optimistic.

In Montreal, the summer doesn’t want to end, but winter is knocking at the door.  Autumn is lost in the shuffle, and will probably not be able to come see us this year.