Monday, February 18, 2019

Christchurch and Nelson Buskers fests 2019. My thoughts on the matter.

Christchurch/Nelson Busking fest 2019 report.


I went to the Christchurch Busking fest and then the Nelson Busking fest and these are my thoughts on the matter.

I’m actually old enough to predate the Australasian and North American applications of the various models of street theatre fests. I’ve worked most of them more than once. That and my powers of observation are my only qualifications of the opinions stated within.

In my defence I’d state that I’m only evil because I care.

Not about festivals but about street theater. It’s always fascinated me in its richness and its unadulterated power and it’s potential for socially acceptable rascality.

At their best Street theatre fests are a community enriching enterprise wherein the locals get to be entertained, families are provided that rare commodity where they are all subsumed into a celebratory mass and collective joy is realised via laughter and hooting and it’s free entertainment with the proviso that they can directly contribute in a generous spirit if they are so moved to do so as part of an honour system older than capitalism.

At their best they are run primarily out of a respect and admiration for the form of street theatre and the unique artists who populate it. Let’s call this the Finkel attitude. Dick Finkel was the original director and instigator of the original North American street theatre festival and his protege was Shelley who has run it with his original attitude for nearly 20 years after his health declined and after many years just hanging out with us at the festival, he died.

The Finkel attitude as far as performers went was a goodwill generator. You would be met off the plane. A personalised party pack would be given to you and the whole festival in no small part was designed to keep you happy. A green room was rented in the hotel that would be open till 3am and volunteers would pour you drinks.
As such it was a festival that could pick from the world's best and the only imposition asked from us was an interesting improvisational obligation where performers would be paired together and tasked with coming up with 5 mins of new material for one evening indoor performance that was ticketed but the performers did for free.
As performers we would happily do this because it was novel to be on the other side of the honour system equation and to return the favor in the face of the generosity that permeated the festivals attitude.
 The Edmonton fest is still run as best it can be with this same attitude and encompasses some satellite fests before and after in smaller Canadian outposts so the ‘hang’ can be several weeks for those chosen for these extra fests.

At their worst Street theatre fests are self serving vehicles wherein the performers are seen as parts of an individually expendable, collectively exploitable, commercially naive nucleus upon which layers upon layers of revenue streams are carefully constructed.

From fees charged to stallholders, tickets sold to events in which the performers are contractually obliged to do free as a kind of ‘add-on’ to the festival contract, to corporate events charged separately and at corporate rates to which the performers are also obliged to perform gratis, to the packaging and monetization of promotional materials for advertising revenue to third parties-signed away as template on most contracts,and the most blatantly venal, group shows where the admin take a % of the hat, you know, like , on principle.

A raft of schemes only restricted by the imaginations of those who reap the benefits of performers being the ‘content generators’ that they are with the temptingly low overhead that self contained units of quality entertainment offer.

Our overheads are air travel/ accom/ retainer.

The designed economic engine we are the fuel for in these business ventures disguised as barely surviving long suffering charities dwarfs our expenses and it takes a tragic amount of naivety to ignore the blatant arithmetic that a full time staff of 3 or 4, with their own expenses of international scouting expeditions looking for talent and just as importantly new revenue angles,
 outweighs the collective expense of the basic overheads irrespective of the grand slush of marketing revenues which are proprietorial and therefore both an asset in their own right and unknown unless purchased.

Sponsors require quantifiable metrics, they purchase these using money. These metrics are packaged and what I mean by marketing revenues.

"financial instruments" such that you can sell a buskers fest without them and then sell it again when the buyers realise these aren't included. Live and learn dipshits. #chchcitycounciltakenforaride

Halifax started the free corporate event to support the sponsors game and then consulted with Jimmy in Singapore who made $3000us per performer per corporate freeby in each of his festivals. [Ask me how I know sometime, it’s a good story] Jodi was the first to try dipping into our collective hats, it’s now a template. And on and on.

Fees interestingly have not increased in over 20 years while it's pretty straightforward to argue that airfares have decreased in the same period. It’s all about maximising revenue and Street performers are kinda retarded commercially, they have more altruistic focus’s by and large and are lambs to the slaughter to those that make bank on their backs until the model gets exhausted and in Christchurch’s case turns into…. Well let's talk about Christchurch specifically shall we.


Now a hybrid commercial fringe festival. First 10 days is street performers until the evenings then indoor shows.
No more group evening outdoor shows.
Outdoor stages finish by 8-30ish at the latest, most well before that and theaters and a spiegel tent with ticketed shows take over from there and after the first 10 days take over entirely for the rest of the month with a couple of token exceptions.

It has no cultural grounding as a Ch-ch fest any more as it’s been deemed to be just too complicated and intricate an endeavor for the brains trust that is NZ’s cerebral capacity to fathom.
Our collective cultural inferiority complex has at last come out from it’s subtextural shadow and been accepted as fact and the task of putting on an international performance showcase has now been given to a young ambitious group of Australians and that’s about the largest admission of our innate inability to succeed as could starkly be admitted.
Add to that the directors of Ch-ch, Nelson and Auckland fests are American/ British/ South-African expats and the underlying lack of cultural confidence is kinda self evident.

Jodi started the Christchurch fest from nothing and ran it for 20 [ish] years and should be commended for putting NZ on the Street performance map. She was employed by the Australians this year to run the heart of the operation while they made bank at the ticket selling end. She also produces the Invercargill fest that is much smaller and follows the Ch-ch fest and is where presumably street theatre directors go to die. But you can never count Jodi out. She’s a survivor and a canny cunning cultural combustualist, in fact she’s a lot of c words but time is short.

NZ’s summer is North Americas and European mid winter and NZ being what it is, and exotic and beautiful holiday destination was a piece of leverage that was used and is still used to make barely financially viable festival invitations attractive.

Late night group shows used to be celebrations. NZ audiences are diabolically difficult to bring to the boil, their natural reticence often take more than one show to crack and the night-time shows with 5 or 6 performances would often take a couple of sacrificial shows before they would cross that threshold and cook and spark and roar.

Although pre earthquake it was possible. Nick Nickolas once did a rare triple peaker, [ a show with 3 crescendos, in effect 3 different shows inside one non stop performance] on Cashel street in the early days.

But back to now, 2019

Christchurch this year is a grin and bear it festival. You get a free trip to NZ, a fee that amounts to a per diem of NZ $100/$150, stages with sound and a tech, accom and a schedule.

You’ll also be contractually obliged [as some were] to be available to do one free ‘bit’ at an evening show run by the imported organisers who charge the public $125 a seat.

You also get potential add-ons of smaller fests in Nelson, Auckland and Invercargill.

The present rendition of the Christchurch Buskers festival is dead, a zombified husk of a dead dream and no massaged metrics can convince me otherwise. It’s been run into the ground, steered initially from a busking fest into a commercial ticket selling enterprise and usurped by foreign interests with no cultural investment in it.

Christchurch is now daytime audiences only as the Australians now running the fest, who I have been told specifically are not less than human as we have been led to believe, are nuking any threat to their nightly ticketed cash cows put on in their spiegeltent and elsewhere during the 10 days of the buskers fest and the rest of the month that follows.

 Also, this year it wasn’t a buskers fest or a street theatre fest is was a new branding exercise entirely. The whole month was labeled ‘Bread and Circus’.
Which is apt and revealingly moronic [which is not to say Australian in principle I hasten to add] as the phrase was first coined as a cynical placebo during the collapse of the Roman Empire and civilisation as it was then known.
 So brain dead marketing presumption of general ignorance or larrikinism, you be the judge.
To me it’s like disaster capitalism has become self aware and honestly doesn’t give a shit whether you know it or not.

The title, ‘Bread and circuses’, comes from a line by the Roman satirist Juvenal, and refers to the practice in ancient Rome of providing a regular free bread (or grain) dole to the lower classes and free entertainment in the city's arenas and circuses, both of which had the effect of preventing civil unrest in the populace.

To me it’s a fin de siecle attitude, sometimes known as fashionable despair. It’s the kind of cynicism the cultural jackals that are Strut & Fret and it’s Bread & Circus producer Jess Rankin employ to convince themselves they’re clever and it seems to work.

They’ve strip mined Adelaide and now they’re raping Christchurch like it’s an attractive car crash victim on the side of the road but don’t worry there’s a really attractive tent on the other side of the street staffed by people who couldn’t get into Cirque.

The Roman public as their social fabric dissolved and Christchurch audiences have much in common. They both know what it’s like to have all semblance of normality removed and replaced by blatant corruption and nepotism.

The Christchurch public post earthquake have had to put up with hastily trained $150 an hour evaluators punching multichoice hastily configured software on hastily purchased iPads visiting their broken homes followed by a 5+ year wait for essential repairs while hastily created LLC’s syphoned off the rebuilding funds in a Russian Dolled subcontracting ratfuck.
 Venal Golems all the way down.
Coupled with a collective metropolitan poltergeist in the form of aftershocks that spat the contents of everyone's fridges and mantelpieces and shelves onto the floor on a regular basis it’s no wonder the audiences are shell shocked and in practical terms terminally withdrawn.

Strut & Fret have a well deserved reputation in the Australasian variety population as not to put too fine a point on it, cunts.
They employ physical performers but have successfully argued that if those performers get injured they don’t actually employ them rather they facilitate their employ with clients. Thus evading any medical insurance costs.

Their business model, once you rip their emperor's new clothes from them is the events management version of Microsoft's 80’s mantra. Embrace, extend, and exterminate. How novel, how innovative.

They are gig economy middle-men parasites who tend to make a profit so that’s attractive to some. They are also marketed as shiny and quirky and various other superficial things.

The Christchurch city council facilitates the whole affair, it’s desperate to have it’s residents reinvest in its inner city. They have a new Art Gallery, they have a new Library, neither of which are expected to make a profit but the Buskers fest has run at a loss for a number of years and that’s just not acceptable because presumably culture should pay for itself and have enough left over for second hand mercedes for all concerned.
Whether running at a loss is simply code for financially mismanaged a whisker short of fraud is not for me to say.
The fact remains that Christchurch central is now ignored by many residents as it offers them little and has all the rebuilt charm and architectural grace of Nicole Kidman's botoxed face.

The city center is itself a commercial conglomerate marinated in corporate welfare that ignores the rigorous dictates it demands of the buskers fest, that it not run at a loss, and whines like the little bitch it is to the degree that it receives 100’s of thousands this coming winter alone to alleviate the reality that the locals simply can’t be assed coming into town for their shopping because parking costs and it’s cold and uninviting and has no soul or semblance of a personality. The fact that the Christchurch city center has less personality than any of the suburban shopping malls that compete with it speaks volumes.

It’s going to take years and millions to seduce the general public into readopting and reowning it’s center. It’s going to take more than murals and a library and international street performers on 5 ish stages during the daytime over 10 days.

So after purchasing a $12 large flat white from a small wheeled wagon. [Typically $5 but buskers fests are commercial dynamos] I catch a few shows.

The sunlight itself is toxic, most of the shows have performers and audiences baking in it. Add that to the torpor index.

Crowds were small and the amount of energy required to transform them from mildly lobotomized to collectively enthusiastic proved too much for most of the performances I saw.

Fair enough too, we’re not miracle workers. I saw performers with decades of experience struggling just to hold audiences let alone take them on any collective journey.

There were performers whose shows were rote with verbiage that was the lowest form of enchantment. Blah blah blah 20 minute skill reveal, blah blah blah 37 minute 3 minute physical demonstration with uptempo music to simulate the required climax. It was not always thus.

I didn’t watch some shows, I simply sat behind the crowds and listened to the patter and the energy levels of the responses. The festival had been going a week before I got there and so I presumed had found its own level. As performers you simply can’t fake it more than a few days without positive feedback as a solo performer.

Daredevil Chickens kicked ass because they are a double act who feed off each other and they were the most successful show I saw for energy levels. Their pacing is relentless, comically frantic, improvisational and they pick on the unenthusiastic while blaming each other for having to which is canny as.

Slower shows that build moods struggled, they are my favorite shows personally to watch and my two most favorite with about a combined 50 years of experience both struggled.

The kindest thing to say is it wasn’t what it could be nor was it anything like it once was.

Of the performers I spoke to none were particularly happy, and these are some of the worlds most self reliant happiness generators

I’d recommend it still if it continues to exist simply because it offers things beyond itself. A trip to NZ with the festival being the price you have to pay. Your pound of flesh will be extracted, be prepared. Bring motivational tapes!

Let me offer solutions, here freely and ongoing at $1000 per day plus expenses as a consultant because why not suck on the middle management teat myself and put any one of the gormless pretenders out of a job on principle. Also in the spirit of ‘Keep your enemies closer’ I should be guaranteed employ. Maybe get to label myself a Chief Momentum Architect.

The wider issue is that the general population don’t consider the city belongs to them any more.

The council and the retailers need to be reminded that cities exist primarily for people to conduct their lives within and not all of life is devoted to goods and services. I know!

Cities are places life takes place and goods and services are in fact secondary to healthy metropolitan life. Healthy metropolitan life celebrates itself and goods and services take up the slack but it’s obvious no sociologists or social anthropologists were involved in the cash grab that was Christchurch's’ redesign which is why it sits an abandoned tourist peppered husk.

It requires a cultural course correction.

Initially it took 5 years from it’s beginning before the people of Christchurch adopted the original International Buskers fest as their own.
This is average as seen also firsthand in both Ch-ch and Auckland fests as well as many in North America.

It needs another 5 year plan with distinct objectives, qualitative metrics and a board that oversees its budget.

It needs to be primary aimed at the general public of Christchurch and their potential to celebrate themselves.

It needs to be spectacular and eccentric and ambitious.

It needs a digital component that strives to create an online audience that dwarfs Christchurch’s population of 396,700

This would provide significant return for sponsors and also allow the festival to be placed under various commercial aid umbrellas associated with tourist promotion and national identity.It would also foster local digital production potential and help invigorate local creative development which is at present bruised and languid.

I have a good friend who last year recalibrated and reprogrammed the entire NY subway ticketing system. Millions touch his code every day. He’s interested.

I have another friend who’s produced festival based ticketed live streaming events. That’s another branch of potential development.

It will take significant investment to realise a vision larger than individual bank accounts and significant intercommunication to distill a vision ready for launch.

It could strive to be a celebration of urban art in its widest definition and involve installations/ 3D Projections, a wide range of public based international performances both big and small and an adjacent skills sharing component where workshops took place after the event drawing both Local/ National and International students.

It all needs to be accessible to the public. Fuck this commercial caste system.

NZ’s successes include production and both real world and digital rendering [Weta and others]

The WOW festival ,Which in my opinion has been crippled by corporate short sightedness the same way Christchurch has chosen to emulate by focusing on ticketed sales rather than wider digital potential, taking a pan culturally attractive extravaganza and deliberately crippling it’s potential audience via a moronic lack of imagination.

NZ is attractive for it’s natural beauty but also for it’s quirky understated authentic self identity as evidenced by it’s comic successes and far more overseas people are interested in it than those who can conceivably afford air tickets. Sponsors and marketing bigwigs have ignored this potential because they are retarded by the pressures of their immediate ongoing metrics.
It’s hard to see the ocean when your pathetic small fish lifestyle is dictated by your miniscule fishbowl.

Onto Nelson…

Nelson employed 5 acts, I only went to the last night-time show because I’m still recovering from a major operation and Christchurch taught me I’m only good for 5 hours or less or I have to spend the next day recuperating.

The cast were all happy and bonded and most were all kept in a nearby rented victorian house with all the trimmings.

The night-time show was MC’d by Basketball Jones who, being of NZ extraction and having decades of experience, took the time needed to wake the audience up at their own pace and then do his solo show.
 It was evident and again a bit of a foregone conclusion, that it takes a while to warm audiences here up.
By the end of the first half and throughout the second it was cooking and the venue, with the audience seated on the road and up into the church steps is as ideal as could be asked for.

It all went swimmingly well and then after the breakdown an Italian restaurant owner invited the cast, myself and Robb Bloor and his dog, inside for a feed. Prior to that, during the breakdown, various food stalls had delivered free food to the performers and local sound and breakdown crew and that kind of gesture, though small, is indicative of gratitude and goodwill and community which as travelling performing folk we find disproportionately heartwarming.

Even I, who was not performing and now have a stomach the size of a room temperature scrotum recognised this small act of love for what it was.

Nelson’s small but coherent in a community sense. The festival’s management has changed hands over the years and is now not directly run by the council but subcontracted as its own entity.
I got a brief history but am not really qualified on the in’s and outs.
The performers were all very happy and really that’s my main concern.
That festivals treat their performers well and the performers as a consequence put on more radiant shows and fulfilled their brief of transforming willing individuals into a celebratory mass.

There you go, I’m done.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

A Wag and a Jape and some Pigeons and Chemo-brain.

Chemo-brain is a condition where after chemo some people suffer lapses of memory.
I think it may come in useful.

Riddiford st is one of the six or seven arterial roads that lead into the central Wellington city and the closest main road to me. It’s where my local shops are.
A one lane road leads off it called Wilson st and cars come off the main rd primarily to get to the residential blocks that lay behind the main rd. It’s not busy but cars are frequently intermittent.
There’s some trees at the start of the street and a park bench I sometimes sit at as I rest and marshal my energy levels on my post operative reality. I just sit and watch the world go by. Sometimes I read or sip a coffee.
Some wag plays a jape I’ve noticed, it’s happened a couple of times now. Someone drops a couple of slices of bread about 20 yards into Wilson street.
Whether it’s ground into the road or just sits there Pigeons soon appear and gather on the road pecking.

These aren’t proudly working class London Pigeons who wear their downtrodden demeanors like badges and would gladly work in coalmines if only equipment was made that their small feet and beaks could operate. Nor are they French Pigeons who would rather starve than eat yucky foreign bread nor are they New York Pigeons who rent their reproductive organs in all manner of perversions for their next hit of meth or crack. No these are robust centered NZ Pigeons and it’s not hard to imagine they go kayaking in the weekends.

They gather and feast on the road and cars turn into the street and I’m not sure if it’s Hindu related but they stop short at the stubborn pecking Pigeons and then so too the cars behind them until temporarily one lane of the main road comes to a halt as the leading cars reluctance to squash a pigeon is telescoped and threatens the entire system of vehicular normality.

I think it’s hilarious and it’s happened a couple of times while I’ve sat and watched.
I’ve even suspected I may be the person doing it. The Jury’s still out on that.
But whether it’s me or not.
Chemo-brain is a thing.