Whirlwind Tour Part 2: Boston

So I managed to get through yesterday, which entitled waking up in Honolulu at 10AM, flying to Chicago (arrive 5:30AM local time the next day), and then continuing on to Boston (arriving 9:40AM local time) going to my dance company’s rehearsal and exploring the possibility of a month’s work with them if Taiwan is truly screwing me out of that fourth month of work; I’d be in there as acrobatic/circus consultant, co-director for a new piece.  Plus, they gave me the personal contact info on all the promoters for the Boston area.  ‘All’ of them amounts to a grand total of three, but it is a hell of a lot more managable than the millions in Tokyo.

Business in the arts is a very strange thing.  When I sit at home, depressed and alone, when I train in a corner of the gym, I feel like a failure; like I am skillless and useless in the world.  but as soon as I have a project; a CREATION project, I feel like I am really doing something that few people can do.  I can look at a piece, at a theme, at an artist, and just know what has to be done to make that piece, theme, or artist effectively move an audience…  but there is that important ingredient of the other people there.  All alone, I am like a waterwheel in the desert.

Then it was off to MIT to meet with my former acrobatics partner from Bulgaria.  Strange, strange, strange.  It is like looking into a mirror in which your image from six years ago is reflected and superimposed over what you now are.  It was very interesting talking about her studies (system complexity), a Balkan’s view of the United States, and Americans and MIT in general, culture, cultural norms… and all in the context of sitting there in America with Americans all around us…   we were able to switch back and forth from English to French to Spanish as the spirit moved us, and as the sentiment required.

In the end, we realized that six years ago, we really had nothing in common.  I was an ignorant American, and she was a culture-shocked Balkan in a new environment.  Oddly enough, six years later, we have travelled to the same countries, both learned French, both started drinking, and are both looking at our “successful” lives and realizing that we feel like we have nothing in our hands…  that our choices have not been choices so much, but improvisations from moment to moment, and we only see ahead to the next junction.

Something that my friends at the Tabata refugee camp can surely relate to.

I can’t stop thinking about The Model and her visa problems, and The Political Scientist and her visa silence…  my biggest fear is returning to an empty or emptier house…

I hope for the best every day, and think of them often!

I ran into an ex-girlfriend completely by chance in the hallway while looking for a bathroom.  Her first words to me: ‘You asshole!  I knew you’d do this!’

I guess she thought I was trying to be cute by not telling her I would be in town and then showing up unannounced at her lab.  later on, I’d realize the absurdity of this presumption, as though I would research the work address of a former lover just to hang outside and stalk her…  but then when I told her that it was just chance, a happy chance, she said that it was even worse.

But come on, we are not best friends, I have only so much free time this trip, and my main reason for coming was to talk about my friend’s death with my two closest friends in Boston and to meet a woman whom I never really got to know when I had the chance…  realistically, I could not contact every friend I ever had in boston and schedule 15 minute coffee-breaks with all of them…

Then it was to the gym where I trained with my former acro partner…  the last time we had trained, she was helping me get into circus school.  Needless to say, I had improved a bit, but we still had a good time.  She had not done acro since our last practice together six years ago, so I was helping her relearn a lot of her moves.

Then it was wine and Indian with her and her roommates.  I had a million things to talk about with her roommate from Hawaii, very introspective, talking about racial identity of the hopelessly mixed like us, the social structure and climate, good and bad, of the islands, old-time Hawaiian pop culture…  history, it was a good conversation.  the other roommate was a little overbearing in the American sense, talking about how her greek friend should stop worrying about her relationships and just change herself to fit with the guy she is with, that love is worth changing yourself for, and that the Eastern European marrying-for-the-right-reasons is too mental, akin to arranged marriages, and that her Greek friend should be able to adapt to the Hollywood romantic ideal of pushing yourself into the mold of a reltaionship.  I got tired quickly of this and smiled.  Finally, at 4am I went to sleep on the couch (9 pm hawaii time… 36 sleepless hours) only to wake up five hours later to drive my friend to class.

Two bottles of wine between the two of us, but consumed over 5 hours of good conversation with roommates, and I had my first allergic reaction to American Indian food a la what happens every time The Political Scientist takes me to an Indian restaurant in Tokyo!

I try to find a place to nap now, maybe get a haircut, something to eat.  It is strange being in America, my friends.  It is like walking around Disneyland after working backstage for years.  There is no magic left, or what magic that is present is too easily understood.

Business is good, company is good, and I feel busy… just the way I like it on vacation!

Risk of Burnout

So The Rocker was just named Artistic Director of the festival, we have actual dates, I am confirmed to go to Taiwan to support him at the end of June (which gives me a little more time to support the project in Japan), and that I will be in the show too, which makes me even more excited. On top of that, Cirque Human has agreed to be part of the festival.  Loving this business shit.  He’s finally the boss which is fun for a while…  until all the shit hits!

It is a strange thing.  When things start going well, you have to be quick enough to stay on top of all of it or you start to lose control of everything.  I’m nervous, for example, that The Rocker signed a deal with an arts management firm to manage both the production of the show and also any possible Taiwan Tour.  In other words, they are going to be doing roughly what Adco proposed to do for the Tokyo Tour; finding corporate sponsors in Taipei, etc.  If there ends up being a huge connection between the business ends in Taiwan and Tokyo might they just take over everything from me?  The Rocker understands and told me that it would be a good idea for me to connect with them to let them know what I’ve been working on in Japan:

I’ve been approaching the project from two different directions.  The first is the “Big Business” direction as “New Project Coordinator” for The Rocker.  I present the project to advertising and production contacts that I developed as Acrobatic Team Co-Manager at the Toyota Pavilion at the Universal Expo in Aichi, Japan in 2005.  So far they have shown interest in bringing this project to their clients as an advertising campaign for companies that are interested in associating with the “Circus Brand” in advance of Cirque Du Soleil’s 2008 Tokyo permanent show.  They see investing in the circus image and the associated “cool” early as a chance to get a head start now rather than play “catch-up” with Cirque-centered advertising monopoly later.

The other approach I have been taking I call the “grass-roots” approach, and is essentially taking on the role of a representative of The Rocker’s company as a small, internationally-minded, arts organization that is looking to produce a limited engagement but high-visibility show in Tokyo.  I have been working with a partner who has an impressive network of politicians, artists, arts organizations, and philanthropists, and who is very enthusiastic about helping this project come to Tokyo.  We are proceeding in a stepwise fashion, securing one part of the puzzle at a time.  We are trying to get good quotes on theater rental, local publicity costs, and trying to attract smaller companies and investors with the project on out own.

Both approaches are moving forward steadily, and I have a guarded optimism about our chances of bringing the show here in 2007.

On your side, is there any interest in helping to bring The Rocker’s show to Tokyo?  If so, what is the best way for us to pool our resources to work effectively and efficiently?

In any case, now that things are confirmed, casting and its associated drama is accelerating.  For example, The Rocker told me that he just learned that a competing circus director will be working with the circus school to open a circus show on the same day as our festival.  This is the same circus school that we were supposed to be working with for our show but The Rocker insisted on keeping first pick of their artists since, “HE WAS THERE FIRST!”.

The only question is if we can use the school’s rehearsal space or not.  One of their graduates is very excited about working with us to develop a Chinese “rock” circus and shared a video of the student’s personal work that is very interesting.  The Rocker also may be able to sign two straps artists who are former Cirque du Soleil artists.  If that happens we’re increasing our chances of success in Tokyo.

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Even more excited but I’m ever more aware of the risk of burnout.  I am working harder than ever…  somedays I crash so hard emotionally that I can barely open my eyes… other days, I am flying high…  it is like a sick, sick drug.  The only thing I can compare it to is the rush of being on stage!

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Circus Prospectus

Finished writing the “Circus Prospectus” that my contacts have been asking for.  The goal was to explain what New Circus is, how it relates to Cirque du Soleil, and why it should interest people here:

Montreal-style “New Circus” is coming to Japan!

In only twenty years, the world famous “Cirque du Soleil” grew from a small, Montreal-based non-profit organization into one of the world’s most profitable live entertainment corporations.

Montreal is now known as a center of artistic creation, and the local economy has benefitted immensely from housing Cirque du Soleil’s international headquarters in its home city.

Now a team of eight Montreal-based artists are in pre-production of an original, Montreal-style “New Circus” premiering in Fall, 2006 and touring Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Canada in 2007.

The eight members of the creative team include contemporaries and former artists of the Cirque du Soleil, as well as graduates of the renowned “National Circus School,” located adjacent to Cirque du Soleil in Montreal’s “City of Circus Arts” complex.

Although the high-caliber acrobatics and spectacular production values will be immediately recognizable to any fan of Cirque du Soleil, the Directors and Producers have decided to create a show that uses a blend of acrobatics, high-energy dance, multi-media, martial arts and modern music to specifically target younger Asian audiences in a geographical area that includes the metropolitan centers of Taipei, Hong Kong, and Tokyo.

The creative team is currently searching for corporate sponsors who are willing to help support a production in the Tokyo metropolitan area.  They would benefit from the enormous publicity campaign planned for this tour throughout greater Asia and Canada, and from association with a youthful, high-energy production.

This production would be the first step in a three-step strategy to create a Tokyo-based live arts organization that would produce shows like these on a regular basis:

  • A limited engagement run in a medium-sized venue. 7 days, 10 shows (planned for Spring, 2007)
  • Month-long run of 50 shows (planned for Fall, 2008)
  • Produce a high-quality show/tour annually every year in conjunction with artistic organizations from Japan and throughout Asia.

We are now looking for corporate partners for the first step of this business venture.  This is an extraordinary chance to support the formation of a production team that might be able to do for our sponsors and Tokyo what Cirque du Soleil was able to do for their local sponsors and Montreal!

All right, sending this off to Adco now!

Just Take It In Stride

So I didn’t get the job from Global Live Entertainment; it is a bit of a disappointment, but that is the business!

I’m starting Japanese lessons again through private lessons with my former Japanese teacher.  While I’m pretty good at understanding spoken Japanese (except on the phone) I would really like to read and write Japanese, and perfecting my spoken Japanese.  I am still training as much since I only work the mornings…  but I am much more tired when I get home, so I am not getting as much business done at night.  Luckily, I have lots of days off, so I will be able to catch up then.  Unemployed life is fucked up, but at least things are moving.  I am happy, but confused.  I hope when work starts on the Taiwan project in March, it will clear my head.  This producing stuff can drive you crazy!

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My attention is shifting to developing the network I’m establishing here in Japan and showing them what The Rocker and I can do by adding circus and multimedia to their projects.  Multimedia can really make a show look very modern and large and affect a public in an emotional way.  The Rocker did great work with a very spiritual and famous dance company in Taiwan where dancers move in a very minimal and spiritual way with a film projected behind them.  A very moving show…  he said that if Japan ever needs such services, he is willing to contact his people, a Vietnamese and a Japanese couple who work together to create such things.

Japanese MBA

Doing projects in Japan is very different from the way of doing things in Canada and Europe.  There, I used a sort of ‘do it yourself, it’s just so crazy it just might work’ kind of philosophy.  I think my friends here understand it in theory, but the idea of lots of little companies banding together to get something done is a little weird here, I gather.  they are used to a big company footing the bill and taking little companies along for the ride, which I think contributes to why everyone says that it is so hard to innovate in performance art here in Japan.

I keep learning more and more about what my Japanese contacts think are important:

  • Be visual.  I am noticing that the people I am talking to are very visual.  Until they see a diagram or something, nothing registers.  For example, one person asked that I draw up a quick schematic of what a project like this entails.  I can do a basic one, but I need to run it by The Rocker quickly to see if there are any things I am forgetting.  I’m also looking for programs and brochures of The Rocker’s past shows and creating a DVD of his work and starting to work on translating these publicity materials.
  • Have letters of intent. The idea is simply to show that there is interest and the potential for financial support to bring our show to Japan.  They have this “no risk investment” ideal (is such a thing even possible?) and I need to feed it at least in practice.  If they know that another party sees this show as a valuable product, they will be more willing to jump onboard.  This is an interesting thing I have noticed in Japan…  you could have the Mona Lisa here, outside on the street in Ginza, and no one would give it a second look.  As soon as you have a lineup of 15 minutes to see it, though, you will suddenly find that everyone in Japan wants to see it and it will take reservations and a 4 hour wait in like to get a peek.  Same psychology, I guess.
  • Have letters of introduction.It seems that it helps if an established foreign director writes some sort of brief letter of introduction that lends some official weight and credibility to the things I am saying.  My friends at the largest Asian ad company are writing a letter that says that they support my work as an artist and businessman and The Rocker is writing one that says something like “We’re trying to push performance art in new directions in Asia and to show it all over the world” and that he appreciates my work as a showbusiness guy and creator.  I’ve been reading a book about the Edo period in Japan and in an interesting parallel, letters of introduction were just mentioned as well.  There were very strict rules regarding samurai, and being an illegal ‘ronin’ was severely punishable.  As such, unaccompanied samurai were expected to carry letters of introduction from their daimyo, saying that they are allowed to be wherever they are.  Furthermore, a letter of introduction was required before being allowed to meet anyone of great importance so that people would know it was not some rogue samurai on a suicide mission.
  • Look like an actual company.
  • register a website name
  • get a company email address
  • get a mailing address in downtown Tokyo (in Ginza or Aoyama-dori), through friends if possible
  • get business cards made for the project
  • Know the market and meet experts.  Visit theaters to get an idea of space available and range of prices, meet with some people or contact some people who have produced shows in Japan to get a good idea of publicity needs and costs, and definitely keep networking with creative people who can lend their energy and good thoughts to our project.
  • Get used to company profiles. If people haven’t hearD of you or your partners they are going to ask for something called a “company profile” that all Japanese companies are required to put on their website.  It talks about how big the company is, how much money they earn, how long they’ve been around, etc.  Obviously, mine is pretty useless and very easy to do, but to make up for that I do need to get corporate profiles of any potential Taiwanese investor organizations.

Big Dreams And Self-Doubts

My life right now is made up of just three things:

Meetings. 

I have so many meetings – straight up business style, e.g.  suits and money – that is it.  Fucking crazy.

Training 

Training is the most humdrum side of the life, actually, me, alone, in a crappy municipal gym.  Sure, there is some nice scenery from time to time; the foreign hostesses like to come in on their breaks and use the step machines…  but I’m really just there as short a time as possible.  Get shit done and then get on with the other 20 hours of my day.

That said, my handstand number is really getting nice.  It helps to train outside of school and outside of a show.  Just to train and do the technique because it is what you do.

Still, I wish there was more space in japan though, to move and to run around and to dance like crazy movement style…  it is nice to take an hour a day to just do flexibility, though…  it is very calm.

Writing

This writing is just a vestige of the acting days… I still feel like someday i am going to spit something out onto a piece of paper that might make someone smile or change their mind about something, and so I keep at it.  Think of it as the other half of the training.

Planning and uncertainty

Next year is taking form so much more slowly than last year… it takes a year to get anything confirmed, and I am just getting in on the ground floor of this brand-new building, so there is all this uncertainty and confusion combined with the hopeful feeling that I might be able to do something new with this place…

I guess if Taiwan is the plan, I’ll be here until mid-January, and then I’ll need to find something until March.  I was hoping to be in the States soon, after all… I am really feeling like I need a roadtrip.  it is hard to take one of those when you are on an island that is smaller than California.  And you don’t have a car.  Maybe I’ll take some time to put this one-man show together that I have been working on the last couple of months…  It could be really small, like 40 minutes, I think, but I could do it in my hometown with some other artists in the show and split the money…  just to get out of this business mode that I have been in the last six weeks.

Learning To Hustle

Email still not really running, I am just logging in at an internet station in Shinjuku to do business about two hours a day.  Christmas in Holland is up in the air as I need to decide if it would be better to focus my energies on Tokyo right now with some of the projects that are coming up.

As I’m thinking more seriously about trying to develop projects here in Tokyo I’ve had the chance to meet a few people who have expressed interest in helping me out.  Here they are:

The Producer: worked for a major advertising company and a major movie studio, also working on his own projects and starting his own production company.  Sort of all over the map, it is hard for me to get a handle on what he really does, but I know he directs and produces small-scale, but high visibility shows (at Disneyland, shopping centers, that kind of thing).  He studied in the us and is fed up with Japanese conservativism in the arts, wants to do cool LV circus-style shows, but doesn’t know how and doesn’t have the personnel or the money/power to do it alone.  He is supposed to be my partner if we win the bid for East Asian business development with Global Live Entertainment.  He’s well-connected in all the power circles of Japanese entertainment.  Good name card to have.

The Designer: works in an advertising company, as best as I can tell.  His company is small-name, but still manages to land good, high-profile events, like the premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean 2, rock videos, in addition to designing posters, flyers, etc.  He has talked to me a lot of times about wanting to produce a show, what would it take, etc, etc.  I think he is trying to approach his boss with a project idea, but is intimidated by learning how to producing a large acrobatic show in Japan.  He’s may just seem like a graphic designer, but the company is in a posh location and he’s interested in expanding his influence internationally but he lacks contacts in Europe, USA, etc.  I was thinking of exchanging contacts if it will help us secure venues here in Tokyo.  After showing him the kind of work that The Rocker’s done, what we have done together, and giving him some ideas of how we might be able to do with this company, he offered to make a mock advertising campaign for the show that will help explain the project to interested investors in Japan and Taiwan.  He would do this free of charge, and sell it to the numerous clients who pass through his office looking for ideas of things to do…

The Project Guy: a new contact in Japan.  He runs a small production firm, wants to produce shows internationally.  I might be approaching him about a job as an oversees contact manager.  I wonder what he will have to tell us.

Mr. Taipei: actually, an investor I met in Taipei.  Very wordly, owns a bunch of restaurants and lounges in Taipei…  barely know him, but had dinner with him at a party he invited me to.  He was interested in what i am trying to do in terms of produce local Asian shows.  I wonder if he might be interested in what we are doing with the Taiwanese circus school?  His business card mentions CEO of his own company, VP, Chinese/German culture office, polish culture and economic association, chairman of Taipei Poems Club…. among other things.

So I am talking about projects in a very very very “what if” fashion to all these people because I’m still not totally clear on what The Rocker and I can really do.  At its simplest, I’m imagining a well-publicized, limited run in a prominent, medium-sized venue in Tokyo.