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?

Acid Reflux

Out of nowhere The Rocker told me that there might yet be a chance for the acrobatic project at the Taipei Film Festival.  This was great news, and I started putting everything in place to re-notify our potential performers before they schedule other gigs, but it all turned out to be a false alarm. They were able to scrounge up about 1000 USD for the film festival performance project which is obviously not enough to make it worth our while, so it’s all dead in the water.  But at least they let us know.

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From an Internet Terminal (50 cents for 15 minutes) in Cheongnyangni Station in Seoul

I have been as busy and sick as a dog the last three days in preparation for the festival in Korea.  I finally finished cutting the trailer video for the project in Taiwan this fall after about 100 hours of work in the cutting room (See?  I can never be specific.  Just this last week as The Rocker and I were jetting around Japan on a quick promotional tour, we found out that there has been a major change in plans.  It is not a problem, but it has changed the concept of the show 180 degrees.  This is why I talk about projects as little as possible until opening day.  Special thanks to my good friend, The Clown, who instilled this idea in me early in my career.  Even the video concept changed at the last minute, but sometimes such destabilization can play to your advantage.).

To tell the truth, I am very happy with this video; I tried some new techniques, and it is about two times longer than the previous longest video I have ever cut.  The eclectic music presented special problems, but I think I was able to work around them all (Imagine trying to find a way to make Marilyn Manson, Pink Floyd, Nine Inch Nails, traditional Chinese drumming, an avant garde percussionist, Mongolian Buddhist chanting and Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ in a way that will make sense!  I hope to post some links soon.

For this trip, I have been writing old school style in my notebook every chance I get.  I met up with the daughter of my former German teacher and her friends in downtown Seoul and had drinks early into the morning.  I will transcribe some thoughts as time allows.

Travelling like this is really the best part of my life right now.  Tonight, The Political Scientist will be arriving as well; the special Lithuanian envoy to the Korean arts scene.

Off to Chuncheon!

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Thai Dinner With the Producers

I have been working like mad on the trailer video for the new creation, but keep running into problems getting the videos ripped onto the computer.  I have also prepared proposals for the artists we want to work with already (saying that nothing is certain, of course) so as soon as The Rocker give the word, I can send them off.

On the networking front, I met with a French circus artist, Christian, and his friend who produces 20+ festivals a year in Japan and who is very interested in seeing the Taiwan festival.  The Author also introduced me to two producer friends that helped him get the job at the Toyota Pavilion.  They invited me to come to the office of their company, Tokyo Productions, when I get back from Korea to talk about possible projects we can do together.

Circus, Shaved and Naked

Too much writing for work, and not enough writing for fun, but that’s life.  I am writing a proposal for a project.  I don’t want to go into details because nothing is certain, but this is the motivation behind it.

Long Lost Cousins

It is a fluid and flexible performance style which lends itself to surrealistic imagery and interpretation.  It is inspired by and borrows from an eclectic amalgam of sources while carving out a niche for itself in a strange limbo between dance and theater.  It is one of the youngest styles in the world of performing arts; emerging on its own in the latter half of the twentieth century to define itself in its own terms on a grass-roots basis.  In contrast to more formal performance styles with emphasis on formalized technique and universally accepted style, these rebellious artists focused on the simplicity and individuality of the human body itself.  In doing so, it was the performer as an individual, rather than the choreography, that came to define a performance.

As with most young art movements, each new generation brings with it a new voice, and in recent years, there has been a trend toward an intimate “humanization” of the style while preserving its extraordinary and almost cathartic physicality.  Although accepted and celebrated by audiences around the world, especially in France (one of the creative centers of the movement), it remains virtually unknown to Japanese audiences.

The name of this groundbreaking and unclassifiable art?  Well, take your pick, as the preceding paragraphs describe both Butoh and the modern acrobatic dance movement known as Cirque Nouveau, two apparently dissimilar performance styles that, closer inspection, could be long-lost cousins.  We are proposing a first-time creative collaboration between Butoh performers and Cirque Nouveau acrobats.

Critics of Cirque Nouveau are quick to point out that, while visually stunning and spectacular, the art form has a tendency to stay at a superficial level – “full of sound and fury; signifying nothing,” so to speak.  Butoh works, on the other hand, are critically praised the world over for its brooding depth and “simple complexities.”  We are hoping that by introducing Western acrobats to Butoh through workshops and collaborative creation, we will be adding a new dimension to their performances as artists and as individuals.

On the other end, while it is often noted that there is no “ideal body” for a Butoh performer; that having great flexibility and/or strength will not necessarily help you in learning the art.  While this is certainly true, working with Butoh students who possess a contortionist’s flexibility or a handbalancer’s strength might allow a Butoh director to tread into previously unexplored territory.  We believe that it is exactly this potential for discovery that excites all artists and creators.

We are very excited about the possibility of working with an established Butoh company under the auspices of a joint residency.  This proposal is only the first step towards what we hope will be a mutually beneficial and groundbreaking collaboration between practitioners of two of the world’s youngest art forms: Japanese Butoh, and Canadian cirque nouveau.

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!

Inflate the Reality

So at the end of March The Rocker has included me in a pitch he made to a festival in Korea and three weeks ago I got last-minute confirmation that I would be going with him.  Like he says, forget about things and sometimes you get some nice surprises!  It will be a great networking opportunity, and also the chance to meet face-to-face to discuss a lot of the Taiwan festival details.

I’m supposed to write an article on “The Creation Process of Canadian Contemporary Circus” and to present “Three years training process in the National Circus School of Canada and how Canadian circus became a more theatrical, unique style.”  The Rocker will be presenting on “why Canadian circus and physical theatre grew to be such important and successful part of Canadian culture.” He will be introducing his past work in music fusion in China, the visual movement, and physical theatre in New Circus in Quebec using a lot of DVDs.  He says that when working in a different language with an interpreter, he prefers to let the images speak for themselves.
Following this advice, I’ll show how I developed my number, showing many versions of my number as it evolved through the school from its first version to the one we see in the DVD, why I went to circus school, and what exactly is the process of training, the new groups coming out of the school that are moving away from Cirque du Soleil style and creating a even newer form.
We’ll also talk together about how I ended up in Japan, the Rocker ended up in Taiwan, and where we are going with all this.  So far, the video I’m preparing is looking really great!

He told me that we need to present the school and Cirque du Soleil in a positive way, offering only constructive criticism as we are in no position to make enemies (he also told me remind him of what he just said, because sometimes he has a big mouth).  The Rocker quote: “Keep the lies, that’s the way we do things…not even white lies…just inflate the reality.”

Looks like it’s going to be fun! Too bad the focus has changed away from “the picking up of girls; theory and practice.”  I had already finished my first draft.

Since The Rocker is able to stop over in Japan on the way to the Korea festival I have set up a meeting with the Canadian embassy in Tokyo to formally introduce The Rocker, his work, and our plans are in Taiwan.  I will explain that I have been in contact with the National Theater of Tokyo and that they expressed interest in receiving a proposal regarding a potential residency and that we would like to have the embassy’s backing, and also to find out what resources we would have available to us as he represents a Canadian organization that is dedicated to bringing Canadian art abroad.

If everything goes well, I’ll be asking her for her support as we contact my people at the National Theater to set up a meeting for us on our free days. I’m also trying to find some local production companies to meet with but so far no luck.  He knows a small circus company that seems very sincere who are trying to set up a circus school in Tokyo and The Tokyo International Festival is also reviewing our materials to see if they can make time for us to meet with them.

He’ll be staying at a ryokan in Ikebukuro that he found online.  I just want to make sure that he knows that he’ll only have communal restrooms and a communal bath.  At least it will be a new experience (assuming they don’t have ryokans in Taiwan…  they very well might!)  Just to be safe, I’ll send him a primer on ‘ryokan etiquette’ so that he’s aware of the differences between hotels and rokans (there is no bed; the maid will come in to set up a futon during dinner time; which slippers to use where, etc.)

Oh his side, he’s been busy connecting with his contact from the Singapore Arts Festival this week and getting info on a Shanghai project run by one of his Macau friends.  Evidently some things he pulls together are very good, and some just drop out of existence.  He even met with some Japanese buyers – evidently there is a lot of support for Canadian/Japanese collaborations right now – and he’s thinking of travelling to Kyoto to meet one of them when he is in Japan later this month.  Japan is a very small country, really.  Nothing more than a half day away by train.  Kyoto is about two hours or so away by bullet train and costs about 200 dollars one way, so if the guy is interested in what we are going to be working on in Taiwan, then it would definitely be in our interests.