How to Catch Pneumonia in Sydney the office worker & the art worker

Sydney Harbor Bridge Install

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It felt like a magic windfall. It was my first real ‘booking.’ A curator in Sydney had seen RedBall and wanted to bring it to the other side of the world. This could be the beginning of everything but as the haze of excitement cleared I quickly realized they had 1,000 questions, real questions, and I had no answers. One decision among those would lead me inexorably, months later, to a doctor’s office in Sydney.

I had made something I loved in St. Louis, launched it on the streets of Barcelona with friends of friends, and now someone wanted to pay me to bring it to Sydney. They had questions about permits, insurance, tech specs, crew, the gears and levers of professional production, something I had never done. In St. Louis I stuck RedBall and an antique blower in the back of my car, had a student help me out a few times, and there was only one site. In Barcelona we did a week of sites in a borrowed old Citroen wagon with a handful of expats, and a lot of luck with the police.

This was the City of Sydney, the government, and they wanted what governments want, process, safety, the security of paperwork. Being Australians, this need was only doubled. I have learned through the years the British left many imprints around the world, and bureaucracy was one of them.

Pitt St Downtown Sydney for RedBall Sydney
Pitt St. Downtown Sydney

I kept my head just above water doing the scramble that growth always requires, learning as I went. But there is a difference between asking another artist ‘what is a tech rider?’ as I did over and over, and understanding the purpose of one, as I did by the end of my time in Sydney.

Sydney was a professional trial by fire. I left my teaching job behind, and jumped. At the end of an epic 30 day RedBall performance run the project was a huge success, but one inexperienced production decision in the endless contract had left my body wracked with pneumonia. I was unable to have a conversation at our wrap party as I inhaled steroids and coughed like the dead. I watched as people talked to Brad – my assistant in Sydney – and glanced over in my direction, a leper at my own feast.

After the scramble to land the opportunity, and a negotiation over money, the curator Brigitte Leece and I dug into the endless details. I was to learn that this is the real make-or-break of a project, the expectations and limits that can enable success. I had innocently thought the fee was the real hurdle, and once it was past my job was to just deliver the performance.

When would we begin each day and when would it end? Sitting in their offices, the city cultural staff thought mainly of the other departments that might complain, as this is a primary driver of admin-think. Traffic, Fire, Police – all could be held at bay at no extra cost. They simply requested we install before Sydney morning rush hour, and take down after evening rush. Done.

Since the office staff would not be onsite, the extremely long days in every weather cost them nothing. But a month of 14 hour days (six days on, one off) left Brad and I on the street sleeping in the truck when we could, flipping a coin to nap under the windless muted cocoon of the ball as it deflated for one blessed hour at the end of the day.

I remember the clinic Doctor looking at me with an odd expression, wondering how this American tourist had managed to get pneumonia during spring in Sydney.

RedBall on Sydney Harbor Bridge
RedBall on Sydney Harbor Bridge

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