Postcard from the Edge of a Stage

So beginning of the year arrives with its inevitable non-achievable resolutions, and another permanent fixture – the series of sales kick-off meetings that are run in January. Having recently taken on a new role, one of my official responsibilities is to be a showman at these events and so after rather a lot of preparation, I grabbed my 2 two very heavy PCs and we headed off to the airport for stage #1 – Las Vegas.

Reality and the Las Vegas Strip seem intent on diverging. We arrived in a surreal setting, the Venetian Hotel (itself bizarre) and the closing of hours of the “Adult Entertainment Expo” i.e. porn convention. People watching was taken to a new level as stunning, buxom ladies were followed by a flotilla of traditional large “mid-west” guys brandishing very big lenses. But tired from the long flight, we bypassed all these attractions for a short stroll on the strip and took one of the 87 lifts up to the room.

Room is actually an understatement – it had 3 TVs, 4 phones, a DVD player, fax, printer and copier and a sensory mini-bar (which meant if you touched anything it was automatically charged to your room). It also had a large desk and working furiously over the weekend, we got everything ready and I did my presentation, which went down well. After that we had a bit of free time, so departed for that great American past time, shopping. Due to the low dollar rate this was really a pleasure and we braved the freezing temperatures to visit all the bright and shiny malls on the strip.

I also managed to catch a couple of shows. The classic Phantom of the Opera, has had a Las Vegas make over, and has been shortened both in name and content. No longer a 150 minute musical with a nice interval for ice cream, “Phantom” has become a twice nightly, 90 minute “experience”. Despite the eradication of sub-plots and its Hollywood style, it was an improvement. The theater was purpose built for the show so the sets and special effects were awe-inspiring – the broken chandelier that opens the West End show by meandering up to the ceiling was replaced by a massive 4 piece construction that flew round the theater before majestically assembling itself. However, they did skimp a bit on the actors. During the firework encrusted masquerade scene, many of the “people” on the grand staircase were not actually moving and conveniently, and rather unnaturally, slid to the side as the phantom descended.

The second show was a Zumanity by Cirque de Soleil – reflecting the show’s theme of “the human zoo”. This show is billed as the “sensual side” of Cirque de Soleil and you had to be over 18 to enter – and let’s just say, the costumes were probably not the biggest cost in the production. But it certainly lived up to Cirque quality – from the incredible acrobats swimming in a giant wine glass to the beefcake that did nothing much really, the show was vibrant and very enjoyable.

From there it was off to tour stage #2 – Barcelona and back to a reality. The hotel room was normal (about ¼ the size of the Las Vegas room), although the receptionist said ‘just follow the signs to the odd rooms’ – which I did waiting at one of the 3 lifts for the 80,000 guests. Still, the city has a decent public transport system and the number of recognizable porn stars was minimal. Thanks to all the preparation we had done in Las Vegas and a really professional crew, set-up time was remarkably short so I ducked out of the preparations and stopped off at some of the Barcelona highlights.

The Gaudi masterpiece La Sagrada Família is, as ever, a must. Every time I visit this awesome building I keep hoping they are further to completion – and each time I am sorely disappointed. The entire knave is still filled with scaffolding and this time you were not even allowed to ascend the spires – some newly updated posters, informs that it is not scheduled for completion until 2026 – so a few more visits yet. Another highlight is Las Ramblas the main drag in Barcelona – with its shopping streets and individual boutiques, not yet soiled by uniform mega-commercial chain stores. The evening started off well, strolling past the street stalls selling colourful parakeets, bunnies and, somewhat disturbingly, dwarf hamsters. We were looking for a nice restaurant and found one, with delicious seafood; prawns with huge quantities of garlic, mussels, calamari and baked something fishy, which made a nice change from conference food. Sadly, the evening was marred on the way back by the colourful and rather aggressive prostitutes who did not want to leave us alone (you have to be wary, several wallets had been), and this blemished the otherwise pleasant stroll back up Las Ramblas.

With a one day back in cold, cold Germany is was then off to the stage #3, hot, hot, hot, humid, humid, humid Singapore. Due to screaming children, unpleasant neighbors, and being packed in like sardines, the flight to Singapore was not the best. Singapore Air is not what it used to be and upon arrival at 6:00 am the heat and humidity pervaded the plane at Changi Airport, adding to the discomfort of zero hours sleep.

Arriving at the rather posh hotel I was told that, despite a check-in confirmation for 6 am, no room was available and I should “come back later” – at this point, it was no more Mr. Nice-Guy. Hot, sweaty, tired, laden with baggage, Mr. More-than-usually-Obnoxious emerged and started waxing lyrically on how crap the service was, and how I was not going to move from reception until a room was available. Miraculously a room suddenly became available, with a nice balcony, a wide screen TV and an ironing board that came all the way up to my knees. Still, myths of Asian efficiency were busted.

Several other Singapore myths were also busted – “Singapore high-tech capital of the world” was rubbish – Internet connections were painfully slow and made the demos drag, “Singapore shopping capital of the world” no-way. Perhaps “Singapore rip-off capital of the world” would be more appropriate – shopping for high-tech stuff was a real disappointment – I kept being offered Japanese equipment with a completely unfathomable user-interface (although perhaps not for a Japanese speaker).

Still things went otherwise well, you just have to get in to the Asian mid-set of expect the unexpected and just go with it otherwise you drown in frustration. Just before the final session, a whole load of people turned off and started getting undressed – not sure what was going on the stage manage politely asked who they were – “the aerobics warm up team” they replied. OK. The motivational speaker who kept changing their mind on what to present and what entrance music to play. OK. I suppose I could put it down to the preparations for Chinese New Year.

The event rounded off in splendid style with a “beach party” for 2,500 people. Luckily the showers that had been plaguing us for most of the day stopped, and the party was a great success – but we were not allowed in the sea due to concerns about mixing alcohol and water. Sadly, I had to leave early to catch my return flight, where Singapore Air redeemed itself somewhat by giving me a whole row to myself. Still it is a long flight, 13 hours, and gives one time to reflect. Yes, the world is a stage…. (what, expecting something more philosophical? Get real, not with 98 movies on offer).

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