please explain, Simon Taylor, the misunderstanding that has led to the cancellation of study for a passion @ City Art Rooms without causing it, without having the peripheral effect of closure, and returned the two worlds, the one vital, the other visual, between which the misunderstanding is said to have arisen, each to itself, and both somehow poorer

I am perpetuating the misunderstanding. Continuing to misunderstand. Perhaps wilfully. A determined misunderstanding, then, in my position that the gallery, City Art Rooms, withdrew its support from my production of study for a passion [see previous post].

Young Han Sun, curator at CAR, in an e-mail circulated to parties directly interested, announced the cancellation of study yesterday. Why was I so previous? Or was Young tardy?

Young doesn’t say CAR withdrew support. He concedes that there were “basic misunderstandings about the operations and funding model of the project,” that had come “to a head in the past week,” but doesn’t go into what they consisted in or in what way they persisted, until, taking on abysmal proportions, the production was sucked down into them, lost for good, off the map, in a barranca, somewhere between CAR’s position and mine.

Young leaves out where the gallery stood or stands, apart from expressing his heaviness of heart at having to make the announcement. “Unfortunately,” he writes, and: “This was not an easy decision to make.”

Whose fault? Young says “we.” I preempted by saying “the gallery.” The gallery withdrew its support. Which raises the question: What support was given? That on Wednesday night I could regard it as having been withdrawn?

Little. A promise. Here the misunderstanding: CAR asseverates no promise was made, except to book the show and assist in realising it at the gallery, but only insofar as such assistance did not exceed that normally, by precedent and on principle, given to any exhibiting artist.

I misunderstood a general offer of support – which is what I heard – for financial support, when it meant support in keeping with normal gallery practice.

From July, August, 2007, in my earliest discussions with Young about the project, the project of bringing theatre into the gallery, about forcing a strange miscegenation between art worlds, money was present. Young asked how much a show at the gallery would cost. I’d no inkling at this stage that the gallery considered costs related to the production of works for exhibition to be the sole responsibility and liability of the artist.

Young told me early on that the costs of mounting an exhibition at CAR came in at approximately $10 000. However, I knew neither that the exhibiting artist bore these costs, nor that I would in this case be the ‘artist’ and required to bear them. As to the latter, I was not informed, not misinformed.

When Young asked how much a theatre work cost, I answered I’d made shows for between $5 000 and $120 000 but that I wouldn’t consider staging a production without paying the actors and, hence, also, without a guarantee the actors would be paid. The passive mood – “be paid” – is deceptive: Who pays the actors? The production.

This was my assumption: that what Young and I were discussing was a joint production, CAR in partnership with my company, with paid and unpaid members of the loose meshwork of friends and family and called-in thesbs who would actually make the show.

Who is the ‘artist’? And who ‘exhibiting’? Even the gallery knew: without actors no show. But confusion became inevitable once I discovered CAR could not think outside its square white box.

Two quite extensive periods intervened between early discussions with Young and finally coming together to develop a production plan. In the last week of September 2007, the RJF project dissolved for a Grosse Pause: two of the five performers got paid gigs, taking them out of our unpaid, part-time laboratory style project. Brazil entered its final throes, the countdown to September 30, its closing date and some serious realignment was in order.

During this first period, Young and I were in touch. I expressed misgivings about taking RJF to CAR, some related to the size of its cast – and therefore to the cost of staging it – and some were artistically motivated. Young expressed his desire that the project of bringing a work to the gallery continue. I proposed to write something new.

I wrote study for a passion over the next three months, eventually posting it here, to raise interest in the project at CAR, on January 17, 2008. In this second period, Young and I had little contact. But I’d like to submit my reasons for writing it: an introduction for a visual arts audience to theatre in a gallery, it needed to be less a performance-art piece than to draw and extrapolate from traditional theatrical sources, to experiment in a way an audience might find justification for, considering its setting – in a gallery; RJF was five actors and only those actors (I knew Paul Barrett was engaged to appear at the Court Theatre in early 2008); it was also an upright piano and a ceiling of a certain stud height; it would have been too expensive to put into CAR even if we didn’t raise the roof; artistically, on the continuum between performance-art and theatre, I thought it too close to what a gallery audience might expect a theatre company to do in a gallery, that is, to dispense with theatre and pretend to do art; study was and is in all senses a much more modest work.

Forgive this peroration but it’s important to note to what degree study was written for City Art Rooms, with the interests of the gallery in mind, with the interest in a joint production, between the gallery and the performing company, crossing disciplines and institutions, at its heart. With a modesty, then, abjuring all compromise, to produce a blueprint for achievable excellence.

CAR did not commission the writing of study, regardless of Young’s claim in an electronic news release to the gallery’s mailing list that the work was “commissioned” for City Art Rooms. I think Young had in mind with this release the production not the script. (Another reading of the word, “commission” is that portion collected as a share from the sale of work exhibited at a gallery.) However, to me, ‘commission’ suggests what is basic to the misunderstanding: fees, honoraria, payments, wages, pengies, cash, readies, not to mention financial support, capital, underwriting.

On the first of February, 2008, I thought it a good idea to state the amount of money needed to stage study and sent Young a micro-budget – actors’ wages, directors’ fees, costume and set costs – along with the wish-list of material resources he’d requested. Here’s the micro-budget:

_fees and wages (calculated for in-hand rates)_

weekly wages for 2 actors with withholding tax calculated at 19.5%

for rehearsal + performance = 5 weeks * $600 * 2 actors = $6 000 (+ $1170 tax = $7 170)

for rehearsal only = 3 weeks * $600 * 2 actors = $3 600 (+ $702 tax = $4 302)


fees for technical director and writer director

inclusive = $2 000 * 2 = $4 000 (+ $780 tax = $4 780)


_set & costume (gst excluded)_

costume design and fabrication = $ 1 000

set materials and set installation = $ 1 000


TOTAL 1 (with actors paid for full 5 week period) = _$13 950

_TOTAL 2 (actors paid for rehearsal period only) = _$11 082_

In retrospect, I can see that Young asked for a wish-list of material resources knowing that CAR might pay for materials but would never agree to paying ‘artists.’ The budget, it could be argued, was for me and not the gallery.

Hang on a moment. When were the dates set for study @ CAR? Late 2007, Young pushed the study‘s dates forward into 2008, progamming it for March 18-29. This was the reason I knew Paul Barrett would be unavailable.

What’s the use of knowing these costs, wages and fees, on the first of the month when your production is scheduled for the 18th of the following month? Why had sponsorship or funding not been sought earlier?

We met at the gallery, the parties among whom the misunderstanding has led to the indefinite shelving of study on the 16th of February and on the 20th of February. Young produced action plans. Funding through third party sponsorship was discussed. But the bottom line was never met: wages for actors.

Rehearsals commenced on the 25th of February. I’d been auditioning for the role of Dr. K., had cast Stephen Butterworth three days earlier. The terms of his and Jeff Gane’s engagement were simple, reduced from that in the micro-budget to a paid full-time three week rehearsal period, at $500 in the hand per week, and a profit share out of the performance season.

The morning of the 25th, before our read-through, I told the actors there was no money. Always inspiring words: No money. Up to them whether we carried on and, in carrying on, had faith that the gallery would undertake to provide for the bottom line: wages for actors.

CAR didn’t panic. I did. Friday night, I believe it was, the 22nd February, Young had called to clarify my liability, mentioning a contract between Simon Taylor and CAR, which duly arrived, on the day I was to start rehearsing, in the form of a legal document.

If signed, it bound the parties to a 60%/40% split of projected income from ticket sales. Although I was to receive the lion’s share, I was also to assume full costs for mounting the production and pay wages and fees. It was an amazing experience – sort of out-of-body – to look at the regularly recurring name of the artist, Simon Taylor, and marvel at his potential liability, his leonine appetite for risk.

Dominic, my brother and technical director of the show, produced the budget for study @ CAR. The three of us, Young, myself and Dom met on Tuesday 26th February to address any questions raised by the contract. I said, There’s only one problem with this contract, Young: I’m not going to sign it. Dom said, It’s not my job, but since nobody’s so far bothered to do so, I though I’d write up a budget.

It should be clear by now where the gallery actually stood in regard to the budget: our problem, not theirs. We, Dom and I, proposed in response to the quite unworkable model contained in CAR’s contract that Kylie Sanderson, the gallery’s owner, be presented with an alternative: CAR pay wages and fees, assuming complete liability, and receive 100% of ticket revenue. In other words, we proposed that Kylie underwrite the show.

Young asked if we were prepared to negotiate our fees. I said to take what I’d already paid out on rehearsal rooms and what I was about to on illustration for the posters and fliers – already, by this time, designed – from my fees: a reduction of $550.

“Since we are unable to negotiate terms that work for everyone involved, we have to cut our losses and shelve the project for now,” writes Young in his e-mail to interested parties.

Young had a problem. He would get back to us, he said, once he’d spoken to Kylie. But he thought it unlikely she’d accept our proposition. Why? Different worlds. Parallel universes might even explain it. Still I find it unacceptable.

By the end of Tuesday, no word. By the end of Wednesday, none. And at the end of Wednesday, I took the decision to cancel rehearsals.

We had been due to reconvene first thing Thursday morning. But no wages no actors no show. Cancelling rehearsals, of course, set all the dominoes tumbling.

Remember, we were due to open March 18, in a short but highly challenging and technical show. Beyond Thursday February 28, not only would the rehearsal period have been too brief for the show, too much would still have been at risk. Better to pull the production now than endanger it during an intense rehearsal period, or even after it, facing an equally punishing season. Better not to jump. Since we’d no parachute.

This was a pragmatic issue to do with time and timing, or tardiness, more than money. And another cause for misunderstanding.

Did I consult Young before I cancelled rehearsals? No. I’d tried to contact him without success. Then, why should I have sought his agreement? He expected me to wear complete liability.

Instead, I took complete responsibility. For and to the ten or twelve friends and family and called-in thesbs who would actually have made study for a passion. The company that CAR preferred to call Simon Taylor. You see, there’s a group subject here, a groupuscle that CAR refused to acknowledge that I refused not to, even to not accepting liability on the company’s behalf.

Wednesday night, I eventually heard from Young. He had two minutes on his cellphone. He’d asked Kylie Sanderson, the gallery’s director, to foot the bill. She’d said no. Young said she’d offered two arguments. Firstly, Kylie didn’t see what incentive we’d have to make the show if she paid our fees and wages. Secondly, whether they are amateur, professional, or whatever, CAR does not pay artists. This sounded crazy.

Curator and director had removed directors’ fees and BFM advertising from the budget – or cash-flow forecast. But actors’ wages had now been permitted as a legitimate material expense. The unworkable aspect of the 60%/40% split was eliminated, i.e. the impossibility of paying expenses out of a 60% share given a projected 30% level of audience attendance. Since with this large an audience all costs could be borne, apart from directors’ fees. The maximal earning potential of the project was apparently what should be kept in sight, $30 000, of which 60% would come to me. This was substantial incentive to make a good show.

Was the removal of directors’ fees the sticking point? No. In the end it came down to time. It was too late to have the information. It was too late to find that CAR had never allowed for supporting the project in the way I expected them to, too late, then, to discover a misunderstanding. And too late to labour it or justify it by or hang everything off a misunderstanding.

I had a further conversation with Young on the Thursday, before he sent out his e-mail announcing a cancellation I’d already announced the night before. I pointed out that I’d been clear from the start in requiring, as an absolute bottom line, money to pay actors.

Since he was aware at the beginning of February there was none, it was a fair and logical assumption for me to make that the gallery was somehow prepared to underwrite or fund or otherwise bankroll the production. Even if all that meant was CAR or Kylie covering costs until revenue came in from ticket sales and fund-raising. (I would, had there been the time to raise money prior to performance, honestly have accepted such a deal.)

It is therefore unfair and illogical to call a misunderstanding CAR’s withdrawal from the commitment to pay actors’ wages. As to the other misunderstandings:

– CAR would not pay the artist, singular – a theatre company comprises artists, plural;

– 40% commission to the gallery and 60% to even many artists is economically viable for a plurality works; a theatre piece is, unfortunately for this model, singular;

– time is the material we use to make a piece of theatre; it is our capital and therefore to be valued above all, not squandered in administrative disorganisation, and, ideally paid for as a material;

– staging a theatre piece outside a gallery is already an act of good faith rather than of commercial good sense; the experiment of putting a theatre work into a gallery requires an additional imaginative leap or effort of belief.

Let there be no misunderstanding about that which I was simply not given, or only given too late, to understand by City Art Rooms. I see no cause for misunderstanding on the part of the gallery as to what it was being called on to deliver in order to realise the project: money and time. And respect for the fact that I’d provided them, Young and Kylie, with an achievable bottom line for both.

I view City Art Rooms’ lack of belief and failure of imagination as a withdrawal of the support needed when it was needed for study for a passion.