Three months in. I am 1/8 of the way to an MA/MBA from Wharton. I come from show business, so I think in terms of acts. Here they are:
Act 1 – The honeymoon.
You arrive and find yourself surrounded by several dozen overachievers. Everyone is a success. Everyone is multilingual. You speak about your passions with people who understand you ways that no one else ever has. You take classes that change the way you think about business and culture and history – all shit in which we all thought we were pretty genius.
In fact, we were not; not in the way that we are to become in the next two years, anyway.
You can’t even ask questions intelligently. You are larvae in love with the feast before you. Bon appétit.
Act 2 – Cognitive dissonance.
You have spent the last ten years becoming the master of your life and everything in it; you cherish your freedom and your fight for independence from arbitrary metrics. As an artist, the world of performing is one of the lowest lows strung together into a fine chain of beautiful experiences. As a performing arts entrepreneur, your success or defeat depends on being able to sell ideas that your clients have never dreamt of – and then delivering uncompromising quality without fail.
Lauder and business school is not like that. It is about surrender. It is about adjusting to a reality – one that echoes familiarly from decades past, perhaps – in which new rules, norms, ideologies, and vocabularies replace your own for at least two years. There is no success without evolution; you either come from the privileged environments of investment banking or consulting (with all the codes and gestures that project the wealth and success that you will pour out for your clients) or from the worlds of the military, humanitarian work, entrepreneurship, engineering, or science (breeding grounds perhaps for frustration and dissatisfaction with the status quo?). Will we meet in the middle or will one population gravitate inexorably towards the other? Any bets as to which is which?
Coming from the bottom up, you may have believed that your forward momentum would carry you far into the world of an MBA. It is not so; there is no such thing as a level playing ground in business, in politics, or in business school. Similarly, only the relationships around you matter.
But unlike the real world, in business school there are rules, there are grades, there are penalties for being late, there are exams. Still, there is competition, there is pettiness, there is stupidity, and all we have to hold it together is our own affection and affinity for our own. But who exactly are our own? Are they those who share our ethics, morality, and worldview from 3 months ago, or those who nominally share the vision of the institution that we pay to form us into business leaders of the future? Is it possible to respect and enjoy a whole population of people individually but to feel deep uneasy about what the existence of that population implies about the world at large?
The cliché of martial arts training does not apply here. Rather than learning skills to destroy our opponent in the hopes of never needing to use them, in business school we learn these skills with every hope of destroy our opponents – but we save our conciences by doing it ethically. Luckily we take a class on ethics. It lasts 6 weeks. Cognitive dissonance.
Act 3 – Evolution
In the immediate, your environment defines you more clearly than anything inside you.
Assuming no technical support, you are not the same person underwater as you are in a Tokyo wine bar as you are at 30,000 feet without a parachute. So is there any reason why I should expect to be the same person at business school as I am when I’m tracking elephants in Malaysia, selling to a Dubai client, or direcing a Cirque du Soleil show? One of my French track comrades tells me “perception is reality,” which reminds me of a time I told a dear friend “what you do doesn’t matter – all that matters is what people think about what you do.” He hated me for that. But I stand by it and push it even further now: I believe that for any given event, it is only though understanding the sum of all possible human perceptions of that even that could get us anywhere close to the truth – and even that would be insufficient.
Things happen – you hear words and logic come out of your mouth that would have never flowed as easily as before. You have no fear when speaking to people who might have intimidated you before. You understand the value of a pithy question posed in the right way at the right time to the right person. You have learned how to present your own business ideas in ways that are more accessible, relevant, and persuasive to your audience. You read the news with a deeper understanding of how the gears turn below the surface. None of that comes from classes, but none of it would have come without business school, either.
You realize that there is a wide spectrum of students at this school and that we each represent our own niche. We each represent whole communities and that is why we were chosen to be here. You understand that this is the reason why we must all stay as well. If my role is to represent some sort of gypsy artistic spirit here in the world of high finance in order to find ways to better preserve and present it, than it should be virtually inconceivable for me to leave after only 12.5% of my studies.
Feeling at ease in business school is understanding that you add value to the experience of the other 799 and that each of the other 799 add value to your experience. Frustration and conflict is normal in this context, not only between people, but also within you. It is the reason why you are here – when else can you take 24 months to ruminate exclusively on these issues? When else can you shell out 250k for the privilege? So ask your questions and challenge everything – universities are just as much institutions of change as they are of conservation, but only if we want them to be. Fuck shit up. Learn what others have to teach you.
Just get better.
Radisson Slavyanskaya, Moscow, Room 526. Silence. Русский стандарт Империя. 3h38.
This summer, thanks to the kindness and brutal encouragement of my good friend Niels Planel (political scientist, economist, and author of Un Autre Japon, Sur les pas d'Obama, and the classic, L'imperitif comsopolite), I was published for the first time in the online intellectual journal Sens Public as part of Planel's review journal "Embrasser le 21e siecle, enfin?"
A Gypsy Future
by James Tanabe
Abstract : A title, even “Artistic Director for Cirque du Soleil”, barely summarizes all the dimensions of James Tanabe. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he triple-majored in Planetary Science, Physics, and Biology, he seemed destined to continue his work at NASA or at the prestigious Mayo Clinic. However, he drops everything to join the National Circus School of Montreal in 2001 and graduates in 2004. After performing in several shows around the world, he co-founds New Circus Asia in 2007, which produces its own shows in almost every country between Istanbul and Tokyo. Cirque du Soleil spots him and hires him as an Artistic Director in 2009, the youngest one ever hired to that position. A polyglot, he pursues his wandering all around the world and those who were privileged enough to read his writings about his voyages know he is also among the most gifted writers of his generation. At the request of Sens Public, he shared a few thoughts about the future of circus.
Imagine yourself a circus artist: a millennial gypsy. Sometimes you sleep in the five-star hotels of the world and sometimes in the streets below them. Tonight you eat caviar and drink Cognac in the finest Russian restaurants but tomorrow you are squeezing life out of three dollars a day in Malaysia. Your only home is the suitcase under your arm.
You know how it feels to balance on one hand and how to fly spinning through the air. You know how quickly and easily a life can be crippled by another's careless mistake. Your only job is to make strangers love you, night after night.
It is 2010 and you are an acrobat. Like a warrior or a prostitute, the history of your profession is as old as that of humanity itself.
Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, we are told; the evolution of a species mirrors the development of an individual. We begin as a single-cell organism. We grow gills, we grow tails, we lose them both, and then we are born.
* * *
Ten years ago: Circus school teaches me how to drink, how to smoke, and how to love a woman only until morning. My classmates and I are the shaggy, unshaved future of the circus arts, sleeping in the hardwood corners of each other's apartments. In the candlelit Montreal winters we vow to fight the good fight together. "The future of circus," we tell each other through late-night veils of smoke and alcohol, "is whatever we make it."
Six years Ago: Our growing collective of circus artists dedicated to theatrical expression through circus arts has been tapped to receive funding and international tour support from the French government but is forced to disband when two of the four members accept Cirque du Soleil contracts.
Four years ago: I am homeless in the streets of Tokyo until an expatriate Flamenco dancer from Madrid takes me in. She teaches me how to seduce a woman and how to dance with her close. "You smell like cinnamon," she tells me, and then, like a gypsy curse, "you will be the boss of your own company someday."
Two years ago: I am the boss of my own circus company with projects in fourteen countries and annual revenues over 300,000 dollars. The future of circus, it seems, is business.
Last year: February. I live in an unheated caravan somewhere outside of Basel, Switzerland with no running water or internet access. I am directing a show for the Gassers, one of the last European circus families. In the big top, our breath condenses and freezes on the canvas. In the morning, yesterday's breath melts and rains down upon us. When a storm blows in and the tent collapses, I crawl in the mud on my belly to retrieve our props. This show will run as it has for much of the last two centuries: perform in the evening; tear down and drive to the next site that night; wake at dawn to set up the big top, and perform again. My best friend and co-director, Goos Meeuwsen, a 27-year old Dutch clown who has spent his life performing in the streets, the big tops, and the cabarets of Europe and in the shimmering temples of Cirque du Soleil's Las Vegas spectaculars. We drink French wine and cognac toasting to the dream that the future of circus lies somewhere in its past. But from inside this caravan, the future resembles the past so much that it is hard to tell in which direction time is actually headed.
Three months ago: I drink absinthe beside Bangkok's Chao Phraya River with one of my best friends, a French acrobat. Seven years ago we were street performers on the Ramblas of Barcelona. "The future of circus has forever changed," he tells me. We are the last generation of artists who knew circus pre-Cirque du Soleil - just as the generation before us was the last to know the great circus families of Europe in their full glory. The trunk has been severed from its roots.
Tonight: I am drinking Руский Стандарт Водка Platinum on St. Petersburg's White Nights. It is quarter to midnight on the longest day of the year and the sun hangs stubbornly on the horizon. I am the Artistic Director of Corteo, Cirque du Soleil's largest touring show. Two weeks ago, I had just joined the show in Japan where they had been playing to sold-out crowds in five cities over the last 18 months. Three nights ago I made the difficult decision to leave the company. The future circus, for my near future, anyway, lies elsewhere.
* * *
It is 1994 and you want to see something physically impossible; something that transports you to a foreign world running parallel to your cloistered, quotidian experience: a world perfumed by the music of gypsies, of the Far East. Foreign languages and otherworldly costumes swirl in movement. You feel like peeking behind an iron curtain into a world that has languished (perhaps, you have no way of knowing) in the 50-odd years of a Cold War that has just ended.
You want the sophistication that comes from seeing a show that is a work of art; one that others are clamoring to see. You want bragging rights of being the only kid on your block to have seen a show that others have only heard whispers about. "There is a new type of entertainment about - a new form of circus."
There are no animals or sawdust, which makes you feel like an adult, but it's under a tent, which makes you feel the wonder of being a child. The tent is air-conditioned and haze-filled as you enter from the summer heat. Characters break the fourth wall and move among you, inviting you into their world; playing with you instead of for you.
The lighting is inspired by operas and rock show, the live music borrows from opera, Indian modalities, masochistic Balkan passion, and seductive Latin rhythms. The acrobats are carved from stone, and their performance is more than a spectacle, it is, for you, a window into their life beyond the piste; a life of pain, delayed satisfaction, sacrifice, and never-ending training.
These people are the product of a romantic, nomadic ideal - one which was assumed wholeheartedly and with no remorse or backwards-looking. They are you, you'd like to think, or at least what you could have been if only you had known as a child what you now know you wanted to have been.
Three hours later, you have been filled like an empty vessel with a story that you understand only with your heart - your mind has been sent on vacation, and you are overwhelmed with the possibilities of the human spirit.
You return home, barely able to contain your excitement about what you have seen. You tell your friends at school and work about it, but your words cannot do it justice - "You just have to see it for yourself," you find yourself saying. "It's like circus, but different. Better."
But, it's too late. You realize that this band of roving nomad gods has already packed up and moved on to the next city. Perhaps you know someone there and you call them long-distance (remember that?) to let them know that they cannot miss this show. Perhaps you even write them a letter (remember those) with a postscript to check out this show. In any case you are happy that you had this chance; who knows when a show like this might be in the neighborhood again.
This was the world into which new circus was born; the fertile human soil into which it spread its roots and conquered the world. A number of circus companies worldwide came to prominence between 1992 and 2002 - Cirque Eloize, Les 7 Doigts de la Main, Circus OZ, Circus Cirkör, Cirque Plume, all different companies with vastly different histories, but their worldwide success unquestionably facilitated by that of Cirque du Soleil who, at the time, had only 3 touring shows and one resident show - not nearly enough to fill the hungry minds of those who first caught wind of this global artistic phenomenon.
* * *
It's not like finding a dancer to learn choreography or an actor to learn the role - these are just wines that take the form of their containers, the finer the performer, the finer the wine. An acrobat is everything - the wine, the glass, the bottle which held it, even the barrel in which it was fermented.
An actor or a dancer dies and the role lives on, but a circus artist dies and their work dies with them; the walls of the GOP theater in Münster and the National Circus of Vietnam in Hanoi are heavy with black-and-white photographs of long-forgotten performers. Theirs is a fundamentally fleeting existence.
Yet the business has been infected with a poisonous indifference towards this ephemeral essence of the art. Trying to create a blockbuster show by mixing a troupe of world-class performers with a director of some notoriety is like trying to create an elegant wine by simply storing the finest crushed grapes with the most cultivated strain of yeast.
* * *
A piece of metal twists under tension and breaks; a collapsing rig sends an acrobat on a short flight to an unforgiving floor 10m below where he writhes in the pain of a million fractured bones and teeth.
"The future of circus," says variety-show producer Volker Brümer over coffee outside a Berlin café, "is intimacy; performances that reveal the essence of the performer as an individual."
The 24 year old contortionist sipping a martini across the table from me on the 57th floor of Tokyo's Park Hyatt explains his future in the circus: "I have a condo now. I get by on one gala a month."
Yes, the trunk has been severed from its roots.
* * *
Circus artists used to develop and grow their art for years. "It takes three years to train a scholar," goes a saying from the Chinese Opera, "and ten years to train an acrobat."
Our training involved living on the periphery of society, moving constantly from venue to venue, show to show - more at home on the road or on the stage than we ever could be in an apartment or house. Our knowledge of the art, of the audience, and of ourselves grew with each performance, arrival, and departure; knowledge which we absorbed only to reinvent and redisplayed on stage night after night.
15 years ago, no one came into this business to get rich, but today, the dreams of artists growing up in the era of Cirque du Soleil parallel those of aspiring models or would-be Hollywood actors.
Most professional circus artists between the ages of 18 and 30 now only experience nomadic lives from the windows of tour busses, chartered planes, and four-star hotels arranged by tour managers or casting directors.
* * *
Speaking frankly, pioneers of "new circus" only got rid of the animal acts and added choreographic detail and a thick veneer of theatricality; it seems strange to define a "new" art form only in terms of what it is not and of what has been added to it.
Consider: acting is an art form whereas theater and film are structures. At the turn of the last century when silent films came into existence no one hailed the emergence of a "new acting" or a "théâtre nouveau." Neither did they proclaim the birth of "new film" upon the development of sound or color technology. No one suggests that the rebirth of 3D films renders previous films obsolete or out-of-fashion.
But so it was with circus.
* * *
It is no great leap to imagine the devastating effect "new circus" has had on those families and artists upon which an empire was built. Once those families and worldly artist-nomads had been eaten up, the industry preyed on young graduates of advanced circus schools. Now that demand for performers outstrips the number of new graduates, athletes with no artistic or performance experience now grace circus and variety stages across the world. Sometimes only a single week separates their final sports competition from their first artistic show.
* * *
"I do not consider what I do to be circus."
Ironic-sounding words from famed circus director Daniele Finzi Pasca (Cirque Eloize's Nomade, Rain, Nebbia, Cirque du Soleil's Corteo), but he is dead serious.
"What interests me is not the form, but the underlying acrobatics that are present in all cultures whose rituals are very old. In some cultures, young boys go into the jungle to fight wild animals to prove that they are men. There is some of this same mythical quality in what an acrobat does."
We are having a discussion over a pasta carbonara and sushi dinner at a chic St. Petersburg rooftop terrace. The World Cup is on. Argentina destroys Mexico on the projection screen behind us.
"Why are we surprised and why do we dream when we see an acrobat? This is a psychological question, perhaps."
I am struck by my own conviction that this mythical quality which audiences sense and about which Pasca speaks is tied more strongly to the depth of experience of yesterday's nomadic acrobats - those artists of yesteryear, who they truly were and the realities of the life which they were forced to lead - than to starry-eyed aspirations of fame shared by the newest generations of fresh-faced artist-athletes.
"New Circus broke the legs of circus."
So is there no hope for a gypsy future?
* * *
It is 1994 and you want to see something physically impossible; something that transports you to a foreign world running parallel to your cloistered, quotidian experience: a world perfumed by the music of gypsies, of the Far East.
Now, it is a different story. If you want a quick fix of humans doing the impossible, you can search YouTube for acrobatic stunts performed by suburban teens with a webcam and the guts to risk injury and death for 15 seconds of internet fame. ITunes has democratized and flattened the world music and remix scene.
Those languishing communist countries which bred your stoic acrobat-gladiators of 15 years ago have risen to become billionaire-spawning world leaders and in doing so, lost some of that Cold-War mystique that made us love the White Night lives of their tortured artists.
Worldwide there is a glut of contemporary circus companies, many of which have production values hovering around that of a community college production; they put the word "Cirque" in their name, and the poor audiences of South Bend, Indiana flock to them in droves. Their audiences might not be able to articulate the lower quality themselves, but they certainly don't feel the need to run home and tell all their friends about the experience they just had, any more than they would have if they went to see one of the three interchangeable shows of the 100+ year old train-driven spectacle of Barnum and Bailey.
Cirque do Soleil, a pioneer in the field for 25 years, now has 19 shows on all continents. Internet overexposure and fan sites of their shows and their artists in them have robbed them of their mystery. Artists keep blogs and have thousands of Facebook friends - no more sad-eyed mystique to charm people with their love of life.
The internet sets up expectations of jaded mega-fans who are hungry to knock down the next production that does not meet these expectations. Producers are all too obliging. Opinions fly worldwide with a click of a mouse. "One cannot lead," to paraphrase former UK Prime Minister Clement Atlee, "who is afraid to fail." Circus shows are mired in a perennial muck of inevitability - skippable commodities rather than indisposable luxuries.
"A victim of its own success" is the mantra of those critics who care, but I have to disagree. It, like everything else that rises like a meteor only to stall and sputter ten years out, is a victim of its own failure: a failure to kill its babies in order to nurture its future sages.
Contemporary circus is not beyond saving, but it faces difficult decisions about what it is today, how it began, and how it wants to survive.
* * *
It is 2:30 AM on June 22nd in Russia and the sun is rising. My bottle of Руский Стандарт Водка Platinum runs dangerously low, we are in the midst of the greatest financial crisis in 80 years, and in five months I will be out of a job. Thank God.
Circus at its best is an oxymoron - placing what is genuine and real onstage before a paying audience. Its machinery is its acrobats and their collective experience is its only fuel - the essence of what they put before you night after night until their last, anonymous, dying breath.
If today's world is a cloak of artificial knowledge which deadens our drive to seek out the archaic and unknowable, why shouldn't it be philosophical acrobats who lift up the corner of that veil and venture forth to lose themselves in the catacombs of homeless, visceral bliss? Their lives are already dedicated to self-reliance, self-denial, and self-knowledge, so why not put themselves to the test in the real world as onstage? Their own future depends on re-exploring and resurrecting a whole world at risk of being forgotten - for the future of circus itself is to be found in the very stories they will tell.
Radisson Slavyanskaya #526, Moscow. U2. Вода газированная. 0h25.
Four years ago, I would have come into business school with a set of goals - come out making 130k, break into investment banking, get a job with McKinsey, work in microfinance, win a business plan competition, save/rule the world, etc.
Instead, I'm entering the MBA class of 2013 with a number of questions:
1) What sort of toolkit can I use to raise capital for an entrepreneurial venture? My first venture into entrepreneurship was started with a negative initial capital investment and achieved success only through successive leveraging of project after project until I hit a wall of project size - I did not see a way win projects above a certain budget level. If I had the tools to raise a significant amount of initial investments, would I have been able to mak a bigger initial splash and to take early steps to insure longer growth?
2) What data and what sort of business/marketing plans will convince clients and partners to consider live events as a viable marketing strategy? Live events are limited by the number of spectators who can attend. 70m spectators have seen a Cirque du Soleil show in the 26 years since its founding. Compare that to the 13m people estimated to have tuned in to see the Lost finale in May, 2010, 5m people who saw Jackass 3d last weekend, 220m people who have bought iPods since 2001, 20m subscribers to xm radio, or 500m facebook members. Yet something must keep investors coming back again and again for live events - what exactly is it?
3) What are the growth prospects for live shows in the media and entertainment business? Enormous, if you believe the statistics in this Economist article which show that live entertainment is the fastest-growing sector of the music industry.
4) What tools (technical, supply chain, social media) boost competitiveness in a modern live entertainment company? That's great for music, but how do we do the same for other forms of live entertainment. What role does technological innovation play? How can efficient supply chains increase productivity and increase margins? How do we market live shows using the virtual world?
5) How do we turn around the challenges presented by the unique HR/Casting needs of live entertainment? No other industry that I know of requires 12+ years of dedicated and specialized training of its 20-something workforce, most of whom are both 1) irreplaceable and 2) sidelined by their early 30's. This article describes the issue in broad strokes.
6) Can luxury branding combat growing commoditization of acrobatic and multimedia content without sacrificing growth? Just about everyone in the developed world has the money and the wherewithal to see a show at some level of luxury - from the family-branded Barnum and Bailey to the upper-middle class Cirque du Soleil to luxury opera offerings. Unfortunately, the brand of acrobatic content has been diluted by a recent flood of mediocre performers, a glut of amateur companies with low production values, and a relatively undiscerning public. How can luxury branding do for acrobatic and multimedia content what Rolex did for watches, what Louis Vitton did for luggage, or what Rolls-Royce did for automobiles?
7) What is the right size and market capititalization for a nano-cap boutique live entertainment startup? The bulk of the day-to-day work of my first enterprise was carried out by my full-time efforts and 1-2 other people on a part-time basis. We were therefore severely limited in the number of hours we were physically capable of logging. I can not help but suspect that had we been better staffed we would have grown much larger much faster. Of course, too many hands would have spoiled the broth and sunk the company.
8) Which would be a better strategy in the long-term: one-off projects (corpos or galas) or large touring or resident shows? Several small projects or a few larger projects? My experience is that small one-off's, though relatively low-cost to produce, generate no legacy that can be leveraged to land big fish in the future. A series of great 50k to 300k productions will land you a few more like it, but nothing like the 20m-70m budgets that could make a real splash of innovation, artistic quality, and audience reach.
9) How can creative content be managed internationally? In other words, what metrics can be used to flag economic and cultural potentials? Making a show in India is a developing world apart from making a show in Germany, but I am convinced that there is a way to do it. The trick is to avoid casting too wide a net or throwing darts at a map - where is the ground fertile to introduce tailored live entertainment to a given geographic/cultural target?
10) What are the phases of growth for an event production startup and what pitfalls and opportunities exist along the way? The essential stages are obvious - assembling a talent pool, scoring the first big project, performing for as many people as possible, expanding into the next show... and... then what? What are the options? To invest in better infrastructure? To expand an existing project? Hire a marketing or consulting team to sell your concept to their network? What are the paradigms? Which have worked? Which have failed?
11) In the short-, mid-, and long- term, should the focus be placed on the quality of the artistic product or on the rate of production? At the heart, this is the question which faces any company which provides a potentially luxury product or service - are we making Johnny Walker Red or Blue? Zara or Georgio Armani? Holiday Inn or Waldorf-Astoria? A key factor that I have noticed in my experiences with show production is that the price of production does not scale linearly with the quality of the finished work - there is a huge return-on-investment for the first 100,000 dollars invested, for example, but to see a really huge leap to the next level of quality, you will need to leap forward by orders of magnitude (at least with my limited network and supply-chain contacts - maybe there are ways around this non-linearity above a certain investment level). So the question framed another way is the following: Which is better, a single 10m dollar production or one-hundred 100k dollar productions? This begs the question of how to manage the creation process efficiently - I have witnessed easily 30% of show creation projects thrown away on dead ends - is this wandering and mission-spread essential to the creation process, or can better management result in a more efficient "methodology" of creation?
12) For a given geographical area, is there a greater demand for local, foreign, or global performers/directors/productions? The appeal of a foreign production is its exoticism. The drawback is a translation infidelity across production values. The appeal of a local production is the culture being able to see itself reflected in a performance space. The drawback is losing spectators who are jaded by overexposure to local performance. The appeal of local talent and foreign production values/conceptors or foreign talent with local production values/conceptors is the aspect of cultural transendence - what Kurosawa's Throne of Blood did for Japanese cinema fans and for Western Shakespeare afficionadoes, for example, or, conversely, how The Magnificent Seven reframed Kurosawa's samurai epic Shichinin-no Samurai into the Western genre. Reframing cultural icons presents an enormous potential for accessible artistic discourse on international issues.
13) How can a balance be struck beween established (expensive) and up-and-coming (innovative) conceptors? Which will prove to be the better investment in the long term? Consider the star power of great directors and conceptors: Danny Elfman, Steven Spielberg, Robert LePage. While such creators make a project seem bankable, the truth is that their vision alone does not make a show happen - rather it is their considerable workshop entourage who realize their visions in high-definition. Compare that to the relative unknowns Debbie Brown, Daniele Finzi Pasca, and Franco Dragone who helped launch companies like Cirque du Soleil and Cirque Eloize into the stratosphere during the Montreal "circus boom" of 1995-2002 before going on to each form their own creation empires. Who's to say that the up-and-coming lighting desiner, video designer, or choreographer aching for exposure isn't going to be the next creative superbrain? It is up to a producer with an eye for creative vision, enough cash to finance the vision, and the management skill to dole it out judiciously.
14) What synergies can be found between innovative live entertainment and existing entertainment media content and forms (DVD, streaming internet video, cinema, 3D, live concerts, iTunes, TV, downloadable content) and live entertainment? Live entertainment is at the disadvantage of fundamentally advertising only itself. When U2 peforms its 360° tour worldwide, the main product is the band itself. Its major marketing tool is its own brand. Certainly, merchandisers pay to have their goods sold at the event or to have their logo on posters advertizing the event, but, not unlike most shows, the product serves itself. How can demand for live entertainment be build through existing media channels? The Daily Show was a popular program that exploded into the streaming video market where it easily found sponsors. How do we make this demand flow in the opposite direction? What will make a Youtube user decide that he needs to get out of his bedroom and go see a show?
15) On the flip side, what does innovative live entertainment offer that pre-existing "dead media" does not? And how can this value best be conveyed to target audiences?
16) What is the career path which offers the greatest value measured in terms of opportunity cost, knowledge, compensation, travel, and freedom? Or, in other words, how does all this relate to the original dream: to make a good living with my friends creating beautiful, artistic shows reaching the widest audience possible. This is not a question I expect business school to answer, but it is one I hope to keep at the front of my mind through the whole experience.
17) How do I keep my girlfriend from thinking I am boring? Her only request to me when I asked her if leaving circus production for business school was a bad idea was "just don't become boring." The more I think about it, the deeper the request actually seems. If I start to bore myself or those closest to me, I should clearly reconsider the path I am on.
18) Should I give all this up and pursue a career in consulting or investment banking? The consulting and investment banking realm offers great opportunities to explore the deepest roots of the questions above in a variety of contexts and in the shortest terms - I am certain that this would satisfy my urge to understand the way this world turns and I already know that I thrive in a project environment. In a way, it would allow me to focus my entrepreneurial instincts in an intrapreneurial way. My feeling is that a person's goal should always be to increase their own personal utility and interests and then to let the cards fall where they may. So I table this question until more data is available. But, hey... big bucks, right?
Radisson Slavyanskaya #526, Moscow. Goran Bregovic. Вода газированная. 2h11.
Two years ago, the Lauder Institute Director of Admissions and External Affairs called my father in Hawaii to tell him that she was unable to locate his son.
She finally reached me a week later in Berlin on the eve of Obama’s election to confirm what my father and I had suspected - I had been accepted as a student of theLauder/Wharton Class of '10.
Yet a month later in Tokyo, full of regret, I requested (and recieved) a year’s deferral - for just after submitting my application in October, I had been offered a job at Cirque du Soleil.
I had been living on the road (and sometimes on the streets) for the last six years - first as an acrobat, then as a director, as a producer, and finally as a business-owning entrepreneur in the acrobatic and multi-media events-marketing business. Wharton was a chance to ramp up the scale of my company and to fine-tune the scope of my business, but Cirque du Soleil would be a hands-on business experience illuminatingdifferences in scale between my own 250k-300k projects, and those of Cirque du Soleil - easily 2 orders of magnitude larger.
After my decision I felt bit of relief - would leaving entrepreneurship and circus for business school have killed the best part of me? Had I just dodged a boomerang bullet?
More Bad Timing
Summer, 2009: I am promoted to Artistic Director just in time to face the prospect of quitting Cirque du Soleil to enroll in the Wharton Class of ‘11. Wharton does not offer two-year deferrals so there were no guarantees if I were to refused now only to have a change of heart later - but what message would I be sending Cirque du Soleil if I were to give notice just months after a promotion?
I chose to stay the course.
Wharton's Director of Admissions understood, but left me with one last thought – “The majority of incoming Wharton students,” he said, “leave Wharton doing something entirely different from what they had planned at admission.” Curse or inspiration?
A Bird In Hand...
February, 2010: after more than a year of soul-searching to choose between Wharton and Cirque du Soleil, I find myself in London with neither.
I loved the job of Artistic Director; I'd wake up early every morning energized and excited to work 15-hour days with the brightest and hardest-working on- and off-stage talent in the business. But as the youngest artistic director hired specifically for that position, I was feeling that 32 was far too young to be dedicated to long-term pre-existing creations.
I wanted to pursue opportunities to manage my own projects, to create new shows, to be instinctive, and to take risks. I needed to take full advantage of the last of my early thirties to be to be young and stupid.
After December discussions in Madison Square Garden with the General Artistic Director of touring shows (one of the people in the company with whom I feel the strongest connection) we decided that after the seasonal run of Wintuk at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, I would leave the company on the best terms possible and with every hope of returning.
So, with every door left open, I left Cirque du Soleil for Asia.
Tokyo, Bangkok, Taipei, Malaysia, Singapore, Mumbai, and Dubai. Have you seen photographs of the subarctic taiga blasted by the 1911 Tunguska event? That’s pretty much what the post 2008 business landscape looked like. Still, after a bit of doing, seven projects started to take root in the rubble.
Dr. Livingston, I presume?
On day three of a steamy 40° C solo trek to the heart of a Malaysian rainforest, I received a call from my former supervisor at Cirque du Soleil. She needed me as a temporary Artistic Director for Corteo, Cirque du Soleil’s most logistically challenging show, to finish its Japan tour and to transfer to Russia. Japan and Russia are two of my favourite countries, Corteo is one of my favorite shows, and the temporary nature of the contract was a perfect fit for both my professional attention span and for the schedule of my other projects. I accepted on the spot.
As Corteo progressed and I felt a stronger connection to the show, the artists, and the team. I went through huge career mood swings: Had a resolute “professional bachelor” found a show that could permanently commit him to Cirque du Soleil? On the other hand, did my continued passion for team building, management, and marketing (all set against the entrepreneurial work on the horizon in Asia) suggest rashness in last year's decision not to enroll at Wharton? How long could I stay at Cirque without betraying clients who would expect me to finish the projects that I had just started in Asia? As I neared 33 years, was I approaching the point-of-no-return for business education?
Finally, on a perfect 2-day trip to Prague with my girlfriend, I peacefully decided to commit to a Wharton education. After two years of mulling over my three main options (corporate Cirque du Soleil, my own entrepreneurial instincts, or Ivy League MA/MBA), I finally saw that they are anything but mutually exclusive. Here’s my reasoning:
With 10 years of post-MIT experience ranging from NASA research to circus performing to entrepreneurship to upper-middle-management at a global pioneer in the live entertainment industry, I am one of two things: 1) crippled by attention-deficit-disorder or 2) a great business school candidate.
Back to the Gypsy Future
I hope that one day I will return to Cirque du Soleil in a different capacity: as a manager, marketer, and conceptor of elite, luxury creativity designed to leverage itself into a market which has commoditized quotidian creativity for an undiscerning public. The chance to be at the helm of a Cirque du Soleil creation, whether a full-fledged show or a more ephemeral special event, would be the realization of an old dream.
That said, there is no guarantee that Cirque would take me back – 24 months is a long time in their world. Still, an MA/MBA in International Management and Marketing of Creative Content makes it easy to step back into the entrepreneurial shoes which have carried me this far – and an expanded global network of clients, partners, and investors will open doors that don't even know exist.
Then again, perhaps Wharton's Director of Admissions was right – two years from now I might find myself a wide-eyed freshman at a big-three consultancy. I might discover a hidden talent for investment banking. I might invest everything in my own green energy startup on the Big Island. I might start a circus school with my girfriend.
It's the very existence of these questions which forces me to walk this path. The MA/MBA option, rather than a farewell to my nomadic, gypsy lifestyle, is a recommitment to the exact principle which has guided me true: move forward and stay hungry; comfort quietly kills.
Academics @ Wharton
Preterm Sylabi 2010:
The Core Sylabi 2010:
(Classes with * cannot be waived)
Media and Entertainment Marketing @ Wharton
Other Professional Interests @ Wharton
Other Interests @ Wharton
International Economic Statistics
Things I Read While Applying