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First Thunderstorm of the Year

What a night.  The Rocker just arrived in Tokyo from Taipei and we hung out for a few hours talking circus and strategy for the gauntlet of meetings we are going through this week in Japan and next week in Korea.

I can never let myself evaluate the success or potential of any of the projects that are in development, pre-development, or pre-pre-pre-pre-development.  That would be a recipe for disappointment and depression.

At first, I couldn’t help but but all my hopes on one horse and then feeling completely dashed when it didn’t come through.  Worse, I would be tempted to undersell my services; ‘OK, OK, I’ll do it for half the budget I asked for, I’ll work for free just give me the project!’  This is the danger of developing projects you actually believe in; they are harder babies to kill.

I would say that in this business, only about 10% of all projects make it out of the pre-pre-production phase.  The only remedy is to try to develop 1000% of your actual production capacity in anticipation of the inevitable failures that pave the way to success.

This surprised me because performers only ever hear about a project once it has passed into the pre-production phase, at which point a show has a mortality rate of only about 33%.

Planning for the Year to Come

I still need to know what the schedule for Taiwan is looking like.  The Rocker talked about 2 months of creation being in July and August but he also mentioned that I might be off in July and that we may need a month of preproduction in October.  This may conflict with offers I have to direct in Boston in September and October that I might be able to ask between 500 and 1000 USD a week in addition to per diem, but if July is off, I might try to push their project to July which would give me a chance to go back to the US with a much better idea of budget, cast, etc, to pitch to our contacts there.  I just have to see if it would a problem to fly me in to the festival from the United States instead of Japan.  In any case, for now I am keeping my schedule free after the festival in case there are any opportunities that pop up.

It’s hard for me to explain to my family and friends what I am doing.  I do not like to talk about anything until it is definite; that’s a good way to get a reputation as a guy who talks a lot but doesn’t get anything done.  I have to keep my mouth shut.  As it is, out of about every 10 potential projects we get, only 1 comes through.

I am enjoying my job a lot.  Basically, I organize special events, set budgets, find acrobats, arrange their fees and their airplanes and hotels and all that, and then help direct the event.  Since I am doing the casting, it means that I also get to be in the shows, which is nice.  The Rocker lets me basically do whatever I want, and since he is Canadian, we are eligible for a lot of Canadian support and he is introducing me to a lot of contacts in Canada and Asia.  Our big problem now is just that events come very slowly as our name is just getting out there.  No one really works like this in Asia which means that clients are not used to paying the kinds of budgets we have, so we lose a lot of leads.  Once people see the quality we bring, hopefully business will grow.  So that’s what I am trying to set up over here.  I think that I will know if things are going well by this December.  If things are not going well, I will need to rethink my strategy, but so far, I am happy!

I think my big goal is to keep my eyes and ears way open for the next couple of years to learn everything I can about this scene and about producing and directing and making all the contacts I can in Asia.  Once nice products are being produced, if the door will still be open in Canada and Asia, we’ll see what kind of opportunities are out there.  Hopefully I’ll have a chance to work with my circus school friends again just like what we did in 2003 and 2004, but this time with real budgets!  Two years ago, budgets in the millions were totally unthinkable, but when I saw how enormous the budget is for the festival and the new creation in Taiwan I almost died!

The Delicate Process of Negotiating Without Getting Fucked or Fucking Anyone

After finding out last month that I owed 7,500 dollars in Japanese taxes, I will now be broke at the end of June.  The Rocker asked me to prepare a budget for him my participation in the show in Taiwan.  I’m uncomfortable discussing money matters with friends, so I erred on the side of business.

Despite my situation, I tried to give fees based on what I would ask of any other organization interested in working with me, except for the performance fees, which kept at the “artistic rate” throughout, and for the workshop rates which I kept lower as well.  I assumed that room, transportation, and per-diem are covered as well.

New show creation and performance

I benchmarked myself to a USD $52,000 annual salary – that gives a weekly rate of USD 1,000 for the bigger jobs.  To come up with an “artistic rate,” for my show fee I chose the lower end of what my friends have told me that they earn on a for-show basis with smaller, more artistic circus companies – about USD 120 per show.

Development

I went with about 5x the US federal minimum wage, or USD 15 per hour.

Including my USD 200 expenses to date, I quoted him a fee of USD 9,300 for my work on the show itself.

Festival management

Festival management and performance

I quoted USD 300 per week for the part-time work from April to October and then added artistic show rates for the shows that I would be MCing and performing in and fees for each master class I would be teaching and each workshop for the general public.

The total there came to another USD 8,200, or, a grand total of about USD 17,500 for 5 months of work.

Judging from The Rocker’s initial estimates and the amount of work we are talking about, this lump sum seems very fair to me.  Of course, I have not counted any of the work that I have done on the side for preproduction of a Japan or US tour; that we can work out once (if?) we know that we have sold the show.

I’m also starting to prepare a budget for the invited acts based on my initial conversation with recent graduates.  My rough-draft schedule for the festival is ground-acrobat- and clown-heavy and lacking a bit on the aerial arts.  Beefing up the cabaret with aerial stuff might be a good tactic, but we need to ensure that there is enough space in the budget for, say, 5 of these artists.  If we run into trouble, we could try the approach of offering what we can to a lot of good people and just seeing who is willing to come for that price.

My friend from Montreal is also preparing his fee estimate to help me with festival organization.  I sent him my logic above and he commented that the organizing fee seems very low and that the Taiwanese producers are already playing with the number of shows they want us to do in order to lower our total fee without reducing our fee-per show.  We may need to tweak our fees a little bit in anticipation of having less shows if they play that game – I was assuming they were going to have us do something every day, but it looks like this may not be the case.

The bigger issue is that the Taiwanese producers are already doing a lot of the prep work that we were supposed to handle.  My lower fees and time estimates are my efforts to hold on to as much of the responsibility as possible without stepping on anyone’s toes.  Essentially, I am trying to be as useful as possible without costing them too much with the understanding that if the outdoor shows work well, we will be in a good position with the contacts we make to organize future events in Taiwan/Asia/Japan.  I would rather do a good job now for little pay and be invited back for more pay in the future than to ask for a lot of pay now and run the risk of being cut out in the future.

The Skeleton of a Project

I have this Taiwan project weighing so heavily on my mind that it’s impossible for me to sit still.  In the middle of my recent Hawaiian vacation, I was actually relieved in a way to see that due to a little bit of an emergency, The Rocker needed me to schedule the whole festival for him in a 24 hour period.  This justified my logging in and getting things done.  I started by drafting an initial proposal for artists in the Taiwan festival to provide all or some of the following services in the course of one festival day:

Stage Show: The artists will have the main stage at their disposal for one hour, which includes set-up, performance, and take-down time.  Actual performance time is meant to last about 45 minutes.  The artists will have the outdoor sound system at their disposal as well as the lighting system if the performance is to take place at night.  Technical needs and technical rehearsal schedule remains to be determined.

Animation: Artists will have use of a portable stage if needed.  Otherwise, animation takes place in the general space of the square.  The animations are meant to attract new audience members to the festival space.  A single block of animation is meant to last one hour with about 45 minutes of actual performing time.

Workshop: Workshops are meant to give the general public a chance to interact with the artists face-to-face.  They are meant to be interactive exchanges and demonstrations of the artists work.  A single workshop block is meant to last 45 minutes.

At most, an artist will be asked to provide one Stage Show, one Workshop, and one Animation in the course of a single day of the festival.  Technical needs and equipment for workshops and animations are the responsibility of the artist with the exception of rigging needs, which must be discussed with festival organizers on a case-by-case basis.

 Master class: Some artists will provide a Master Classes to local students and professionals in the performing arts which will be considered a Workshop for scheduling purposes.  Any change in the artist’s fee between a Workshop and a Master Class is to be determined on a case-by-case basis.  For example, if the Master Class is meant to last longer than 45 minutes the artist should be duly compensated.

New Creation:  Artists performing in the New Creation will receive those fees in addition to any fees for other festival activities.

Special Animation:  Another artist and I are MC’s for the nightly Cabaret, and our fees for this performance will also be independent from any other fees.

Nightly Cabaret: 4-8 numbers per night (some possibly from the new creation) may be featured in a cabaret made up of 5-7 minute long numbers adapted to a circus cabaret format with these fees in addition to any other fees received.

The next step was to start fitting all of the artists into a rough draft of a schedule for the outdoor entertainment.   Without knowing the exact show lengths and final duties of each artist as well as final confirmation on their availability I relied on The Rocker’s DVD of the acts he has booked/is thinking of booking to help me with the scheduling.  I’m also using materials from Cirque Theatrical who wrote back saying that they would love to be a part of the festival and are willing to work through us as the sole booking entity.  The show they want to do is definitely family friendly, and won the silver medal at the big annual circus festival in Paris last year.  These materials will also allow me to cut a trailer for my contacts in Japan.

So the final product was two schedule options for the Taiwan team:

Case 1 (Dream Case): Our budget is huge and we are able to have 10 groups there every day of the festival (groups may come or go, but there are at least 10 on site every day). In addition to the main entertainment under the big top, the cabaret, and the new creation, at least 4 of the 10 groups have shows that can be performed on the main stage outside.  6 of the 10 groups have smaller shows that can be performed on small stages or among the public, and all of the groups have something they can present in a workshop format.  In addition, some of the performers from the tent shows or the new creation or the cabaret are able to present some workshops (2-4 extra workshop slots availble per day).

Case 2 (Realistic Case): We have 5 groups every night of the festival with an extra group for the first friday (opening ceremony night).  2-4 of them have main-stage shows, and all 5 are able to do animation/street shows.  All of them can do workshop-style shows.

In both cases, I have assumed that weekdays are going to be dead until the late afternoon for tech rehearsals, troubleshooting, etc.  We will need a lot of time for that, I am sure!  The schedule is designed to give a sense of flow and build towards each night’s main entertainment under the big top which is always preceded by a cabaret “opening act.”  During the main show, the square will not be dead, however, a shorter, smaller-scale performance will happen outside simultaneously.  After the big top show, I have planned to have a “farewell, goodnight performance” on an outdoor stage with accompanying animation going on so that the public feels like the entertainment continues long after they are gone.  The workshops take place throughout the day on the sidelines inviting members of the public to interact with the artists, have their picture taken with them, to try out the techniques, etc. I’ve assumed that most artists will offer a lower level of commitment than what we have already requested.  If they commit fully, great, we have a surplus of entertainment.  If not, we’ll adjust the schedule for the performance hours that they can commit per day (we asked for three, which is more than reasonable from my perspective as an acrobat myself).

Good News From Taipei and Vilnius

I’m feeling a bit schizophrenic switching back and forth between trying to build a career both as a performer and as a producer in Asia.  I am really enjoying learning about the direction and production side of things, but I can never remove that performer’s hat completely, it seems…  crazy.

Taipei

So good news!  Things seem to be really coming together in Taiwan and The Rocker is making sure that I’ll be a part of all of it.  The National Theatre is interested in a three-month development period which I guess covers rehearsals and production.  If it covers preproduction as well it might be a great way to teach a physical acting workshop to work with local artists on techniques of what they see as “Canadian-style” physical acting and movement without the stress of having a final product right away.  It would put us all on the same page when we start rehearsals.

It’s still not clear if I’ll be performing or assisting The Rocker as a director or choreographer or what… to be honest, I would be most excited about doing both, but I should wait until I see what he has in mind.

These projects have me really excited to go out to Taiwan again.  I just finished a huge book talking about the political history of Taiwan over the last millennium!  Had my head spinning.  It’s a complicated history that made me question the very notion of nationhood.

Excited as I am about Taiwan, I don’t think I want to live there right now.  Anyways, it’s cheap and fast to fly there from Tokyo, so if the visa situation is resolved I could work between the two countries for the next year or so, I think.

Europe

In another part of the world, the former Director of the Lithuanian Pavilion just wrote me to tell me that she has been talking about me to a lot of Lithuanian contacts in theater.  Would be very interested in meeting with them, or even just getting in contact with them over email.  To really move forward, though, I hope to go to Lithuania soon, maybe even just after New Year’s.

She even suggested the possibility of discussing possibilities with Lithuanian TV producers which is an interesting idea that I had not really considered but I don’t think that my Lithuanian is anywhere near good enough for that right now.

Combining it all together…

I’m wondering if there’s a way to build on the Taiwan project by proposing a tour of the show in Tokyo?  My producer friends have been asking me what I think about the feasibility of producing a circus show in Tokyo with foreign artists… might be worth bringing up.

Almost trembling with excitement!  Or maybe just another one of these damn earthquakes..