love, weekends, rigour and compliance on planet circus

September 20, 2008

I am starting to encounter some of the effects of the physical rigour and routine physiological demands on the popular theatre performer performing many times a day, many days a week. Slowly healing tendonitis of the elbow from over-use in training. And tenderness in the shoulders which have always been subject to inflammation of the tendon sheaths. Slightly aching patellas. That might be the stilt work, Elizabeth the acrobat and my landlady warned me before she left. Requires a good deal of time and attention to maintain a sustainable physical regime for consistent frequent performance. But I am every day working to look after everything for the long term.

Thinking of the company and its workings leaves me feeling conflicted. Whenever I am drawn to feel critical of decisions seemingly based on wrong motives because of what I perceive as a corporatisation of the company; ‘Too big too quick. Losing its heart.’ I turn the other ear and hear myself saying that the focus of Cirque seems to be absolutely toward the artists. To provide more and more opportunity for more and more popular theatre performers to have the dignity of well paid employment and benefits etc. The work is apolitical and concerned with the popular theatre energy of spectacle and entertainment and distraction and amazement. This fits the entertainment industry in the US in spades. So by dancing to this piper and indulging the moneyed classes and keeping the content issue free, the machine creates an unprecedented number of employment opportunities as well as providing stimulating environments for artists to develop themselves and their talents. Without major funding this is impossible. So Cirque milks the big cash cow in Vegas and invests in more opportunities elsewhere. The East is also another big cash cow. To the point that investment corporations are betting on Cirque for good returns. No company has ever done so much for performers in the popular theatre genre. No one brand has supplied so may jobs, created so many opportunities for so many artists, and shrewdly made itself available to a world-wide audience which has embraced it with an enthusiasm which speaks to the authenticity and integrity of the work. As well as brilliant marketing and branding. It’s difficult not to see the brand as a major driving force. Here in Vegas. All this activity provides relative measures of demanding and rewarding creative opportunities to artists for them to create work and develop their skills for which they receive a relatively worthwhile monetary reward which is appropriate to the time of creation or level of skill. Unequaled. Isn’t it?

So what a weekend. With some planning and a determination to make sure that it didn’t just slip by in sleep and sloth. So lying in bed its 9.30 and the alarm goes off; time to skype home and see Janet. This is a good regular time when she is pretty sure to be home of an evening. Then by ten thirty or so she has to go to bed and, often, so do I; just because I can. But this Tuesday… no way. We are going to fill this weekend with activity and stretch it out. Wake Daniel;

‘Come on my boy we are getting out of town.’

‘Where dad?’

‘O don’t know, what about Lake Mead? See the watery sights around this desert town. A lake, you know, whatever, watersports and all.’

‘Okay.’

So we get in the car and drive out of town; south. It takes forever to get out of Vegas to the South through Henderson. But eventually we get to the edge of the valley and find ourselves near the lake. Well it’s actually a dam. This seems a point of contention here as the body of water is called a lake. Even if man-made, and the wall itself is the dam. The Hoover Dam. We drive down to the water’s edge. Somehow I always expect next to water for there to be some kind of vegetation. But not here baby. Just dusty desert and rock right down to the water line and the water line is at about 46%. And not a plant in sight. Weird. Dry and sandy and hot and then suddenly wet. We carry on looking for a suitable place to stop and maybe have a meal but its just endless dry shores of sand and rock then water. And then we are at the dam wall. Where we were on the trip to Death Valley… no, on the trip to Grand Canyon. With Luke and Casha. Good memories. We stop in fact at the same spot and gaze at the blue green water far below us for a while. Dan pretty hung over and me just a little. And what do you know? It starts to rain. Well it starts to what we used to call ‘spit’. The clouds are threatening and there is the odd flash of lightening and rumble of thunder and then some random drops along with the precious smell of rain on hot tar and dust. We stand in the car park and soak as much in as will fall on us. Eyes closed, we turn our faces skyward and occasionally blink at the tiny cold wet impact.

As we do this, a short discussion ensues about Daniel’s compliance. Any suggestion one makes and he says ‘Yes okay, lets do that.’

‘Oh no, I’ve changed my mind.’ I say ‘What about this?’

‘Good idea’ says Daniel.

‘No no the first idea was better.’ I say.

‘Yes you’re right.’ says Daniel.

‘C’mon boy. Object. Have an opinion.’

‘I’m hung over dad, give me a break. I came to the lake didn’t I? I got out of bed didn’t I? Now just shut up and make the decisions.’ (actually he doesn’t say the bit after ‘give me a break’)

‘Well I can’t do that your whole life my boy.’

‘No dad. Just today okay? And stop speaking so loudly, okay?’

‘Okay’, I say compliantly.

We hit the road again and head back for town. We get some sushi at our favourite sushi place near our old hotel at Paradise and Flamingo. You’ll notice how casually and nonchalantly I use the geographical markers; the points of reference known to two people who are getting to know Las Vegas, and can pretty much find most places in town if you give them a grid reference. Anyway, we both know the way to the indoor skydiving wind tunnel. Daniel’s navigation, though sometimes inconsistent, is generally supported by a very good instinct. But even this sometimes lets us down and it’s up to me to say… ‘no we’ve done more than 0.1 miles and the road you say we should see is nowhere in sight.’ and then I follow my equally inconsistent instinct. But we find our way to the indoor skydiving wind tunnel. We both sign up as frequent flyers for cheaper flights and have a couple of sessions. It is great. No I mean it is really great. We are starting to learn a measure of control. The instructors have turned the wind speed up to full so we are jumping onto 110-120 km per hour wind and learning to control our bodies in flight. It’s much more turbulent than skydiving but the physics are the same and its amazing how quickly one’s body learns to adjust without one telling it to. So we both experiment with forward flips and altitude control. We have a ball. Daniel gets an idea of why I became so hooked on skydiving while I could afford it at home. The closest I have come to the sensation of dream flight. Really great fun. We then head home only to head straight out again to watch the new Koen brothers movie. It’s okay. Not as good as Fargo and Lubowski. Mcdormand working too hard. Clooney very good. Pitt also too much. Tilda Swinton excellent. And brilliantly judged cameos. Altogether worth seeing but not as wildly exciting as I had hoped. Beautiful titles and credits.

Then home to bed.

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2 Responses to “love, weekends, rigour and compliance on planet circus”

  1. phil Says:

    Holy shit, bubbles! Nothing like a light read on a Sunday afternoon. I appreciate the years of academic rigour have transformed your light-hearted penchant for witty discourse into the considered tones of thesis-grade discussion, but for christs sake, post some bloody pictures! People also pay for the cheap seats! Pity we haven’t coincided on the same continent this year – my fiasco got pushed till January. Hope all is going swimmingly with you and Daniel in the land of moral subsidence. I’ll send a real mail when my thoughts and actions collide (as they occasionally, but not often, do).

  2. Devlin Says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Fantastic reading. Particularly your writings on the Cirque. Tell the hung over son I say hi, and if you ever bump into Elvis or the lead from CSI please send my regards..

    By the way, the government inspector has arrived.

    Your indebted student..


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