Moving at the Speed of Seoul

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

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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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%.

Casting Calls

The former Cirque du Soleil Chinese straps duo has dropped out of our show.  They have only a military passport and no papers that allow us to process their visas for Taiwan. Because of the artist database I am building, I already have at least three options for replacements and one of those options is The Contortionist. As it turns out she will be available after August when her contract with Cirque Theatrical terminates, I suggested her as a possible replacement.  I haven’t told her anything about the Taiwan project, but I can definitely say that she is a real asset to any project she is involved with, so I mentioned it to The Rocker.  We might be able to use her skills in the creation.  Contortion, Contact Juggling, Aerial Hoop, Singing, and Tango Dance.  I’m not interested in trying to get back with her or anything; this is strictly professional.  I could do straps at the same time that she does her hoop number like I did in Shawinigan.  That always worked pretty well, the audience likes the two simultaneous aerial acts. I would need about a month to get my number back up to speed, though.

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!