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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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The Politics of Meetings

So we just got out of what was promising to be one of our most stressful meetings: a sodan with the New National Theatre of Tokyo.

After meeting with them in March, I thought that one of the most relevant questions that the New National Theatre of Tokyo would ask us would be which Japanese artists we would like to work with, so I had made it a priority to do some research on that end.  Since this has to be a dance show (there is no theater department at the NNTT which still fucks with my brain), so I contacted seminal butoh companies to show them our work and see if they would be interested in collaborating.  A month ago I wrote to Sankai Juku so see if they would be interested in collaborating to create a new creation involving international New Circus artists in residence at the National Theatre of Tokyo in hopes that these two highly individualistic, visual, and physical performance forms will find inspiration from each other.  No reason to believe that this will work, but nothing lost in trying.  I saw their show in Chiba and tried to use the name of one of The Rocker’s old friends who used to work with them to secure a meeting but it didn’t work.  I did manage a quick meeting with one of their representatives though, and even though we didn’t get to talk about anything specific, I decided to try to set up the meeting with the NNTT and The Rocker.  I’ve noticed that my English emails often go unanswered but The Activist’s Japanese emails gets responses, so she offered to just call the National Theatre on our behalf and also to come with us to that meeting.

That’s when things started to get very serious.  They asked for a professional translator, for someone from the Canadian embassy to be there, and for a copy of our proposal in advance.  This all made me a bit nervous since our goal is not to present a finished proposal, but to find out what they will require from us so that as we meet different performing arts group while The Rocker is in Japan, we can tell them what sort of commitment we are looking for, etc.  The Activist therefore suggested that we look at the meeting as sort of a “sodan,” to get the director of the theatre’s thoughts on the idea and since the Canadian embassy has already said that they cannot send a representative on the day of the meeting, she suggests that we at least get written support from the embassy to show that we are 100% sure that they would support us.  I’m not actually sure if we will be able to get that because it is still far too early.  They do want to have a project, but they’d need to talk with the New National Theater or any other collaborators before they will sign something official.  It goes around in circles.

She was worried that Sankai Juku is not the best option since they actually have closer connections to Theatre de la Ville in Paris, but that who knows, perhaps the NNTT has better access.  She also asked me about the thematic possibilities of a Butoh and Circus collaboration but I could imagine a lot of different possibilities.  I remembered them saying in March that we would need to involve Japanese artists and that it would need to be a new creation.  Now, from my point of view, until we know how the National Theater wants us to structure the residency, there is no way we can start thinking about the theme or message of a new show.  That message and theme will depend so much on what artists we are working with (Sankai Juku?  Dairakudakan?  Another Japanese dance company? Freelance dancers?).

For example, The National Theater might want The Rocker to hold auditions for Japanese dancers and acrobats to cast in a show that he will then direct, they might want to pair us up with a Japanese company (Like Sankai Juku or Dairakudakan) and then let us come up with a concept and let us direct the collaboration ourselves, they might have a show in production that they want to add an acrobatic element to, and The Rocker and myself would serve as consultants for that show.

For example, the residency at the National Theater of Taiwan started when the Theater asked The Rocker to create a new show for the circus festival.  They just wanted to buy a show, and it is up to us to determine the theme, the artist we will work with, etc, etc.

It was very different when he was in residence with another Taiwanese dance company, where they wanted him to act only as musical consultant and composer.  In that case, they knew exactly what they wanted and they directed him very closely.

So again, if this will be a sodan I’d love to discuss how the National Theater has worked in the past and the way that The Rocker has worked in the past to see if there is any possibility of doing something in the future.  Of course, if there is some interest in seeing a live example of our work, we would like to again extend the invitation to see the festival in Taiwan.

Our main goal was to show that we are flexible, enthusiastic, and open to many different way of working, and that it has had good results in the past.  The Rocker has been working almost exclusively an artist in residence for at least the last four years, and helping artists collaborate is his specialty!  So we just want to introduce this fact and then see what ideas can come out of a nice discussion.  Who knows?  Maybe they have been thinking about the meeting from a couple of months ago and has thought of a project already!

In the end, despite all the stress and uncertainty, the meeting with the NNTT, The Rocker, and The Activist went really well. The NNTT gave us a list of people to connect who are doing a lot of new and interesting things in Japan.  Since the person we met with once had a famous dance company and now advises the New National Theatre of Tokyo as a movement coach for contemporary, modern dance shows, The Activist checked in with a dancer friend of hers who knew the producer we talked to by a nickname which suggested that they were quite close.  The Activist’s friend confirmed that the people on the list are the types of people that we should be meeting with, places like the Yamaguchi center for Arts and Media and AN Creative.

The last one is interesting because they brought my dance company from Boston to Japan, worked at Expo, and also runs the auditions for Cirque du Soleil in Japan.  They are involved in a lot of international dance collaborations with Japan and Canada, Australia, the USA, etc.   She’s been great and says that if we decide to move forward, we should not hesitate to ask her for any help that we might need.

Took more notes from the meetings in Tokyo with The Rocker today.

[The Travelling Acrobat] was asked to come onboard The Rocker’s project last fall as assistant director for a circus-themed opening ceremony for the International Arts Festival in Taiwan.

We presented our proposal to the National Theatre and at the same time began researching the possibility of an exchange with Canada to produce a Taiwan/Canada tour exchange of artist groups.  That idea was favorably received and we also heard of interest in a Hong Kong engagement.

It was at that time that I was asked to investigate and gauge interest in bringing the show here to Tokyo.  So far we have had a strongly favorable response, but the problem is always the same – finding a way to integrate this show to appeal directly to a major corporate sponsor.

In Taiwan, we have a CKS Cultural Center and National Theatre residency to create the first collaboration between Taiwanese performers and Canadians.

To make this happen, we are using our connections at Cirque du Soleil, The National Circus School, and Tohu in Montreal.

Canada is famous for acrobatic dance and circus and multi-media performances, e.g. Carbon-14, La La La Human Steps, Robert Lepage.  We work with video artists, choreographers, and musicians.

On the Taiwan side, there are groups like Tai Gu Tales Dance Theater.

This is what brings us to you today.  We know that you represent excellence and progressive thinking in the arts.  We think that a collaboration could be interesting for you because an international circus arts project has the potential to:

  • Create an intimate connection with the audience
  • Appeal to a younger generation
  • Stimulate artistic creation in a new art form for Japan
  • Offer workshops, classes, and coaching
  • Stimulate deeper international exchange
  • Merge with video and multimedia materials and live music
  • Present modern, thematic work
  • Integrate the dance and theatre programs

 

In 2006 I undertook an international arts entrepreneurship appreticeship under "The Rocker" between Tokyo, Japan, and Taipei, Taiwan with a few trips to Bangkok, Thailand, Chennai India, Ahmedabad, India, and Chuncheon, Korea.

The Beginning of the Apprenticeship

Was interesting taking notes during The Rocker’s pitch to the Canadian embassy in Tokyo.  Here’s how he explained our work in a nutshell:

What do we offer?

  • A high-quality product of a recognizable brand at an extremely competitive price
  • An openness and a flexibility to work with your client’s needs and wishes
  • The potential for a long-term relationship with an experienced circus production team and their network of event producers in Taiwan and Greater China.
  • The unique opportunity to have a first-hand role in marketing the circus brand to the Japanese public

Little Plans

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.

-David Burnham in 1909 (maybe) after being commissioned by the Chicago “commercial club” to make Chicago one of the greatest cities of the world.

Corporate Sponsorship

In just two weeks, the possibility of doing a corpo show of 15-30 minutes for Sony in Sri Lanka evolved from a surprise showing of my number at a house party to tonight’s sit-down with a Sony producer.

This is all thanks to The Activist, who has been something of my guardian angel in Japan since I met her at the Expo.  We have a common connection to the emigrant Japanese diaspora – her grandfather has history in Hawaii and San Francisco around the same time that my family moved to Hawaii.  She’s been keeping an eye out for people in her network interested in someone of my experience level with an in Asian policy, international development, political science, and international studies.  She’s even gone so far as to generously offer to help cover my ticket back to Japan if I have to leave, but I feel really uncomfortable about accepting such a favor, even though she says it is her company that would pay for it as an investment in a future artist/political activist.

For this reason, she invited me to a party thrown by the most successful Sri Lankan auto importer in Japan for a famous Sri Lankan singer and the Sri Lankan ambassador.  Unknown to me, she came with the DVD of my number, and after the concert, she put it into this projector and played my handstand number for the whole party.  I was the only non-Sri Lankan there other than her and was shocked at first, but the response was overwhelmingly positive.

Later, she told me that she knew that as a performer I would not be able to do my own publicity well without seeming overbearing, so she decided to just put my money where my mouth was for me… and it worked.  That was when the ambassador came to talk to me about this Sony deal.

While Sony has always worked with UNESCO take care of these gigs which are a bit like Sony commercials in developing nations, the ambassador (who was formerly at the UN and also the minister of arts and culture) prefers the more spiritual side that he saw in my number.  The gig is supposed to be in September, and it is meant to introduce some new robots.  The show’s theme is how spirituality of humans lead to the creation of technology.

So The Activist is working with me right now on preparing our materials because she is friends with the Sony project manager and the ambassador.  She’s like the grease that can make this machine work and it was she who told me that what would be helpful would be these letters of recommendation and intent to show people involved in the Sony project.

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She knows so many people and I’m learning that you never know who might be interested in something.  The more people you can contact, the better the chances of finding some success!  Not only because of their interest, but also because of them spreading the word: I’ve heard that the Sri Lankan ambassador is mentioning our work to other Sri Lankan companies visiting Japan.  The Activist has been working since then to get all the inside information about the project and what they are looking for so that our proposal fits exactly that when they start looking for potential groups.   We’ll be ‘first in line.’

What she’s learned is that there is a Sri Lankan company that wants to help Sony invest in Sri Lanka.  in order to do that, they need to have a little event for Sri Lankan investors to advertise all that Sony can offer them.  If that event generates enough interest, and Sony is convinced that it can work with these investors and vice-versa, everyone is happy, and this show is meant to be a part of that event.  The current option for the show is some Sony robots but some people are not convinced that a robot show will excite Sri Lankan investors, so the idea is that maybe we will do some sort of live show with robots involved.

About a week after that party, I actually had the chance to show my press kit to this company and it went far better than I had hoped.  Even without a DVD they say that this is want that for their event in Sri Lanka instead of the robots.  Of course, I’ll only believe it when I see it because after all, unlike the robots I was not designed and built by Sony, but at least it means they are open to a new idea…

Once Sony see the sort of work we do, the two companies will decide together what they want and will ask for an official proposal.  Still so early to say anything, but things are going better than I imagined, so far.

Interestingly, she is hesitant to contact the Sri Lankan ambassador directly for some reason, but I think we are doing fine with the contacts we already have.  The Activist tells me that they are like her own family and that they are already sharing the project idea with lots of other Sri Lankan companies.  I’ve asked her to keep me informed about these companies’ expectations, so that I can start imagining a show in my mind.  Then, I can suggest various approaches we can take.  She has a very strong energy that makes people excited to work together and to make big projects happen!

That brings me to tonight’s meeting which was a big step forward.  I finally met the guy from Sony who is managing this show…  a very cool guy.  I had to make a “lowest budget possible” in terms of artists fees so that they know what we are working with, so I suggested a team of 5 people, a musical director, a director, me, maybe some acrobats from Canada/Europe, and maybe some of the Taiwanese artists.  Since the National Theatre really liked the presentation I made for The Rocker I’m using what I learned by preparing that presentation to tailor-make this one.

The major costs are like that of the last gig in Taiwan: fees, plus room, board, and travel, but the point is that it will be a big corporate event with all the major companies in Sri Lanka as potential future investors, and we will be televised all over the country.  They are being really perfectionist, and I support that the goal is to maximize production values to make a really good 20-30 minute show.

So I’m feeling positive about the meeting.  He is still in the process of trying to find a corporation in Sri Lanka that will be willing to look at it as a full-on investment, which would allow us to earn corpo rates for each show plus rehearsal, room, board, and travel.

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Staying in the zen zone.