Rationale for Racism?

A plethora of projects is taking shape across the globe just now; from multiple, massive theme park projects in a number of countries to Expo Milano 2015 and Dubai 2020, to Olympics and Paralympics and World Cups and myriad, smaller creative production projects and one-off shows of spectacular scale.

Everywhere.

As the globe grows smaller and brands become global; as the professionals who develop, create and build themed experiences become a massive, global body; as the ubiquity of the internet melds standards, practices and methodologies into a greater body of knowledge, long-held assumptions about doing business in parts of the world other than our own are up for re-evaluation.

Some time back, I was consulting as Creative Director on a live show component of a larger property outside the US. Inspired by such shows as Universal Japan’s  “Gift of Angels” nighttime spectacle – weaving projection mapping on the façade of an iconic building with live actors performing at various points on that façade – the client passionately envisioned this project’s own, several-story, iconic façade as the “stage” for the centerpiece, signature, nighttime spectacle.

BTW: these are examples of projection mapping…

3d-projection-mapping_2 projmap1

While it was unlikely that the project could support projection mapping, there was plenty of money for exceptional, architectural stage lighting and, as the façade was as ornate, rococo and balcony-heavy as the Paris Opera House, it offered significant opportunity to create small performance spaces all over the vertical “stage.”

Beyond that, the story being told and the legacy of the culture represented depended heavily on live performance for foundational authenticity.

What I was virtually stunned to encounter was a Producer and Technical Director – in fact, an entire production team – who adamantly rejected the concept; instead, there was an aggressive insistence for HD / LED video screens in those spaces in place of actual performers.

This is in a part of the world where technology is of significantly greater expense than live performers; thus, it wasn’t a budget issue.

The rationale for the resistance to live performers on the outdoor façade was that the approach would require safety rigging for the performers, and (to paraphrase), “…in that part of the world, after a year or two, operators will just ignore the rigging and put the performers at risk.” This was, then, the rationale for developing a show that was, by definition, less than the vision of the client.

Gobsmacked, was I.

There is so much wrong with that statement, imho, that I can’t begin to articulate… Wait; yes, I can.

Remember ”Exploration of Assumption” ? Let’s explore some of the Assumptions I perceive, here:

  • No similar project, actually, had ever been produced in that part of the world; thus, no direct legacy of ball-dropping in the ongoing operation of such a production existed.
  • Such a knee-jerk reaction seems to me dismissive of the client’s vision, intelligence and professionalism.
  • What is the Assumption, here, that drives this point of view? Is it that the people with whom we are working can’t comprehend the critical importance of performer safety; thus will cease paying attention to it as time passes? (Seriously?)
  • There is a quality assumption, here, as well; this being that projected actors in any way equate to the visceral, virtually pheromonal effects of live performance before a live audience.
  • While there are some great shows on this planet with actors projected onto walls, water screens and buildings; none have the emotionally connective, “that could be me” impact of a live performer, up there.

So here’s The Thing; the simple fact that someone is from another part of the world no longer lends itself to demographic, cultural or national generalizations, especially in the professional context. Just as was discussed in this space back in August, the cross-generational assumptions around digital communications and netiquette, one cannot justifiably assume a lesser level of professionalism, acuity, attention to detail or any other thing, simply due to the racial and cultural makeup of a given team or principal.

So, from one Global Professional to Another; let’s watch out for this.

Even were there a history of lackadaisical inattention to detail or commitment to upkeep on a property or show; I dare say that this [perceived] disparity no longer exists…certainly not in any way broadly assume-able. People in Show and Production are interned, apprenticed, educated and initiated out of standard-setting centers, all over the world. Themed entertainment and theatre are no longer relegated to Disney, Universal and Broadway…

…and people can read, view video, listen to lectures and aggressively study the work of the best without having to travel to Disneyland or Manhattan. To assume that today’s executives and operators aren’t committed to longevity of product is, to my mind, unfair, dismissive, disrespectful, a little bit ignorant…and a little bit racist.

Besides, they have you, there to advise, mentor and teach. Is it not our obligation to share information, fully communicate and expect commitment to the best?

“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for…?”

Robert Browning said it and I have often quoted it as my mantra of creating experience. Always shoot for the stars and find ways to create the most amazing thing…accepting less only when it is clear that all options have been exhausted. That is my responsibility as Creative Director, Director, Producer or any combination thereof.

From where I sit, a decades-old legacy of shortfall is no reason to reject the option of going the full distance in realization of vision. Such a legacy can inform one’s process and, if trepidatious, one should address that directly with the client. Share your fears with the client; opening and offering the opportunity for said client to allay any fears by expressing awareness of that same legacy and determination to not fall victim to what may have been standard, years before. Share the knowledge and watch it be embraced. Surprise yourself when discovering that perhaps your client may even be ahead of you, on this.

If you don’t ask, you won’t know: if you ask and they didn’t know; they know, now!

It’s a new generation, we are all global citizens. Assume equal commitment to quality and then be sure all terms are defined.

Communicate.

Up front.

My sense is that more positive reassurance will come from such a process, along with deepened mutual respect and understanding…and a far stronger working relationship; one based on trust and actual understanding rather than on assumption and the acting thereon.

Assuming a client or staff in another country won’t meet one’s own standard of production is, imho and as I inferred above, just a tad racist. While that may have been appreciably rationalized (note I did not say justified) a decade or two ago; I don’t believe it carries even that shaky foundation, any longer.

Yes, there are some parts of the world where the definition of “deadline” is a little more fluid than we may be used to, there are places where bureaucracy and corruption protract timelines and expand expenditure…and, yes, there are charlatans in every country – including the US – who are only in it for short-term gain and bail. This, I do not contest.

That being said, I believe that the great majority of people and companies who undertake to create experience that will draw audiences and make money believe, in their heart of hearts, that they want to create the best, and they want it to last. Few plan to fail.

I believe it is our responsibility to support the Dream and inform the process; proactively enlightening as we collaborate and being open to our own enlightenment as we do so.

imho.

“imho” the book for iPad and MacOS is still free (and always will be) – containing the first 20 chapters of this blog, it contains all the fundamentals discussed and referenced in subsequent posts. Download it and let me know what you think. Thank you.

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