art and the profit queen on planet circus

June 15, 2008

Spent some time talking with Danny Ortiz the performer and skating monster from Puerto Rico last night (at a gathering at Rafael and Ekenah’s house to celebrate winter in Brazil) about the notion of commitment and rigour in performance. He describes how some of the skaters wear knee pads in performance and some don’t, and those who don’t, do so to maintain their focus on the required level of concentration every performance. No room for error so get it right. One of many fascinating conversations with amazing people.

 

So tonight was the Tapis Rouge to say farewell to the artists leaving the show. Phew. What an emotional event. Emotions are released through the ritual of public speaking; of verbally expressing to an audience one’s feelings and thoughts in such a way that they hear the truth. I often forget the significance of this act of standing in front of a group of people who know one and who share much of one’s recent history, and knowing that every lie told will be visible/discernable/obvious. That everything one doesn’t say will imply what the audience already knows. And all this in the limited five minutes or so of time. This is big pressure. Greatest fear territory. But every body does it. And every body contributes. Each in their own completely individual and unique way.

 

It speaks to the TRC and Truth in Translation.

 

The truths expressed spoke only of mutual respect; not always love, but respect given where it was due and expected equally when it was due.

 

Daniel and I went with Tal and Shona to see KA last night. Spectacular technology creates mind-boggling performance space. Floating shifting stages on a scale unseen before. The story a little lost from the distance of the lighting booth but exquisitely beautiful to watch. Performers quite brilliant. Unique theatrical experience. Unimaginable effects and points of view created. And thus endeth the short literary review of the work. Sorry. It’s just that every second word describing the action would have to be ‘amazing’ and ‘extra what what’ and ‘brilliant’ and ‘wow’. The detail you need to relate in order to come near to giving the reader some idea of the brilliant theatrical minds constructing these exquisite performance events and the skill courage and talent of the artists makes for dull reading.

 

So the next evening some Cirque suits come in to the Tapis Rouge and address us and inform us that the Cirque policy had been changed with regard to the number of sick days available to artists. No consultation. No apparent consideration of the impact on the artists, no word of inclusion of a representative of the artists in these meetings. (which they have been having for over six months they proudly tell us.) Nothing. We are just informed that, come January, this is the way it’s going to be, and no matter what we signed on for in our negotiation, it is now changed by the suits/management. And the reason given is ‘the economic climate’ and the fact that ‘this is a business’. I thought quietly to myself; ‘Ooh Guy Laliberte where are your street-performer ideals now?’  And they have the gall to say ‘This is what the company have decided.’ And Ekenah beautifully responds; ‘But we are the company.’ The company openly express their reservations about this decision; apparently more emotionally than other companies. Perhaps.

 

Look, the fact is that the policy may well be a good decision, and to the benefit of the majority of artists, but the difficulty I had was being treated like one of a group of recalcitrant school children and having had no representation at the creation of this policy and moreso, frustration at the sham of a meeting held to simply hand down policy changes which took the shape of a ‘consultation’.

 

This meeting was a real education as to who is foremost in the minds of the decision makers and that is most definitely the share holders. Those who profit or lose by Cirque and you can be fairly sure that they are earning a good deal more than any of the artists who put their lives on the line every night. Also this begins to give shape to the unnerving fear I have had that Cirque has simply grown too big and too corporate.

 

The whole thing reminds me of the idea that capitalism is not democratic. Democracy is just the mask it chooses to wear now. Tomorrow it might be fascism or even communism or perhaps liberalism.. or whatever it chooses. Fear which finds expression in greed and violence will find whatever structure it needs to survive and thrive.  So it’s a few days later, June 10th, and it was interesting to hear the rest of the company express the same frustration; not that the policy itself is objectionable, just that the way it was presented. Which was as if to a bunch of school children who are expected to meekly comply when presented with a new policy which has an immediate impact on their lives. We are treated like commodities who have none of the required intelligence to participate in decisions of this kind. However enough of the naïve, eighties-sounding pseudo-socialist claptrap…

 

We are now on the verge of a three day weekend. Just got home and hoping to Skype Janet at work before I go to bed but of course as fate would have it the server is down for scheduled maintenance so I will have to wait for the morning and her evening. So we have moved out of the hotel into our new house. Elizabeth who owns the house, and Ortzi her one time partner who have been staying on to give them time to register their car or wait for papers or something but who every day have been more and more generous and kind. We go to the DMV tomorrow to have another go at the learner driver’s test so I had better do some studying tonight.  Tonight’s shows I thoroughly enjoyed mainly because I was given a chance, when Joel Baker was watching the video recording of yesterday’s first show, to see myself. I was reminded of the size of the venue and the need for size and clarity in physical performance in order for any of the internal world to be read. So tonight both shows were an exercise in maintaining the truth of the internal world while trying to make that truth available to 2000 people who have a whole lot of other much more spectacular activities to watch. Everyone very excited about the weekend; many plans to go away. We have plans to settle in to the house, go to the DMV for the driver’s test and generally settle into our new home. Slowly getting to know the company.

 

So I generally like to go back stage a fraction early and sit contemplating and settling myself into the rhythm of the task ahead. The seat happens to be at the entrance to the back stage area from the dressing rooms so most artists coming backstage walk past there. It’s a good chance to wish each other ‘good show’ or other witticisms depending on the personality of the cast member. Daniel over the past two nights has developed a reputation for farting in the wings with devastating effect. The second show he is also backstage early since he does animation (ie he goes out with some of the other characters and entertains the audience before the show starts). So he rushes past and I detect something olafactorily, of which I accuse him. He of course denies responsibility but then I see him running past with the wings of his opened jacket held out to disperse the still polluted air. In fact he has to run past several times like a failing superman trying to take off. But I had to admire his courage in admitting it was him and in the determined effort to dispel the rancid effects of his indiscretion. Ah the joys of backstage proximal living. It’s all to do with art you know.

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