Half a year in advance somebody sends me an e-mail asking if I could give a talk at a conference about piracy or perhaps something like dance and activism, or choreography as critical experience. Everything is laid out: the topic, the money, the context and how amazing.
I say yes, everybody is happy and soon I receive a mail from an assistant – always a woman – who needs to book my tickets, now! The argument is always the same, if we book well in advance… After yet another few weeks I’m demanded to send in my bio and a short descriptive text on what the talk will focus on. Dude, it’s three and a half month away and I haven’t even started to think about the possibility that that talk should be about what possible thing? I’m not very busy, my agenda is not totally thick, but come on why do conference organizers take for granted that I have nothing to do before their conference?
That would mean that I’d be paid every three months and usually 300€, so guess what even if I didn’t want to have another job… The fact is that the 300€ you pay me should also cover necessary preparation, including sending bios and writing abstracts. Considering that I’m not hired by an institution but actually self-employed, badly paid and legal. Then 300 is approx eight hours, and you want me to pop in on Friday evening and only get back to my home base on Sunday evening. Do you really think I can afford writing an abstract, when I can’t even afford coming up with an idea that takes time to execute. Pay me a thousand euro and I’ll deliver a kick ass abstract, a spiced up bio and a give a talk that’ll teleport your audience to a place that couldn’t even imagine tad-talks.
How many times haven’t I said yes to talk at dance festivals for 150€, hotel (or sofa) and travel? How many times have I accepted to give a talks at theatre foyers, lecture spaces in art centres that could have been the set of a movie based on a true story by Solzhenitsyn or in cafés with coffee grinders that sound like terminally sick Lamborghinis. How can anybody expect a masterpiece in such contexts, how can anybody expect respect and good preparation when the talk, lecture, conversation takes place over there, with zero technical preparation and a video projector that was old already 1953.
Of course every dance festival with decency should put up a complementary theory intensive program. Obviously, and yes sir knowledge production is central to dance too, but why is the program always at the wrong moment, in the wrong space, without an audience, badly paid and if we are lucky the programmer pops in for five minutes before leaving for a date to set up another joint co-production? If we want the theory program to be any good we need to offer it some resources. “-Yes, but you know this year the budget is really tough and we have to focus on shows?” Do you now? Says who, the artists, the audience… Who decided that your festival has to this or that? You are a coward who wants to pretend that you take risks.
Consider that say, two nights of a middle sized show by Alain Platel cost 30.000€, just the fee. If you pay me 300€ for a talk, that means I could lecture for 100 days. That’s like sort of every day for half a year. Of course it’s not that simple, I know but then it’s not so much more complex neither.
A colleague tells me a programmer came to see a piece four times before deciding not to present it. Have you ever heard about a presenter traveling and I don’t mean to a theatre or university in the same city but like with an airplane, to see if a theoretician is really the thing. Don’t think so! We say that theory is important in order to renew our practice and that it is important that theory is made in close proximity to dance, but the moment when somebody wants to get paid it’s really not that important. Look, when was the last time you paid Xavier Le Roy 300€ to do Product of Circumstances in a café?
This year the discourse orientation in the program extended to also include breakfast talks. They are great, especially since they are given an intimate form with no more than twenty people showing up. If this format would be of any interest to you, why hasn’t it ever happened that we have morning shows and talks at eight thirty prime time? You know why, because you are a coward that has no what so ever interest in testing your audience behavior.
I have finally have sent in the bio, after seven reminders. The flight is booked. Now silence. A lot of silence until a week before the situation is taking place. Suddenly a burst of e-mails, including a question concerning the possibility to translate my lecture in order to make it available for those that aren’t familiar with English. Look, I haven’t even started to think about it, and what makes you think that I would write it down like a paper. You told me that it isn’t academic but an opportunity for dancers and choreographers to engage in discourse. And now you want a lecture, a paper?
After another too many mails I arrive in the city. I’m picked up at the airport by a guy who knows nothing about the event or festival, who dumps me at the hotel… I find my way to the venue where I after a little bit of confusion shake hands with the director or the assistant who immediately passes me over to the technical director who will show me the venue.
The director is very happy to see me but has no time for further conversation. We will talk afterwards of course, but afterwards there is another event, and the talk wasn’t really what was expected of me so the director comes up to me and says: “-I just wanted to thank you…” but when I respond with a question about what he thought about it… he has suddenly no time but has to clean out the stage for the next event, must set the café for the lunch guests, must a lot of things in order not to have a conversation. It can of course be that I’m not very friendly or something but I have double checked this is the same for all of us that give talks and engage in discourse. So what happens is that I have lunch or dinner or whatever with a friend from the local scene and suddenly I find myself with the same guy that took me to the hotel on the way to the airport and…
If you have invested half a year on me, insisted on the bio, been keen on translating my lecture, so intensively wanting to introduce more discourse into the dance field, why were you SMSing half of the talk, looked absent minded the second half, didn’t talk to me before, during or after and didn’t send me an e-mail afterwards? Why? And btw made an introduction so badly prepared and with a totally stone age bio?
Or consider that this is a weekend conference, and there are eight speakers per day and panels and artist presentations. Why did you still not invest any time in talking to me, but were chatting with your assistant throughout the dinner? And why did you decide to pay all those talkers a bad fee when you could also have changed the template, paid them double the amount and instead of insisting on keeping the schedule allow thing to take time, really long time. Or why did you need to underline that it is really important to let the local audience in, when there anyway was no time for a real q and a?
I just came out of such a conference, flown in the same day thrown in without context, I even got a bottle Havana Club as a thank you gift, but what the hell was I doing here remains simply an enigma.
Check it out, this conference was indeed addressing piracy. Interesting and important subject, but why is the template still talks and dialogues in 45 minutes slots where we know nothing will happen but superficial exchange of self-promotional slogans. Why does piracy want representation visa-vi dominant discourse? Why not set up another forum, why not remix the whole shebang? Why not fuck identity and belonging and community and the fuckin book table.
Well, obviously because you are not interested in piracy you are interested in having or getting a job. Right, now I remember. You don’t become a hacker because you have a mission but because it’s a backdoor into big business. I’m so fucked, I thought you were interested? How naïve, how romantic of me. I wanted to change the world and you just became an organizer of uninteresting events because you weren’t cool enough to organize parties.