Sunday, June 25, 2006

Dancerpades Interlude - Hacking the Hack

The second and final day of the dance competition was on a Sunday. The highly intelligent organisers had decreed that tickets to that day’s events would only be available from 9.30am and seats were limited to 100.

Rat Off a Sinking Ship
Since the event started at 10.30am, 3A was convinced that there would be a huge queue of people lined up for the tickets as early as 8.30am so she dutifully made her way there to be ahead of everyone else. Typically, she was the first and only one there for a while. Which enabled her to witness a major dressing down of the organiser by the main organiser in full view and hearing of many of the event staff.

Without going into the details of the humiliating airing of dirty linen, it transpired that the main organiser was blaming the organiser for almost all the ills and disasters of the dance competition and was demanding that she account for a number of things. Some of these included the submission of the scoredcards for the competition, her explanation of how the Taiwanese were managed, her explanation of how the Turkish judge was managed and a whole host of “crimes”.

It was an embarrassing and highly inappropriate scene. While there were many things I found issue with in the organiser’s management of this entire event, it is unfair for the main organiser to abdicate all responsibility for the disaster and cast all blame on the organiser. As the main organiser and therefore leader of this fiasco, she had the responsibility to be in control of the entire event and to question and verify everything before allowing them to be implemented. What kind of leader contracts everything out, makes desultory checks and then points the finger at the first sign of trouble?

I felt that she was only too willing to send the organiser up the creek to save her own skin and that did not sit well with me. In later conversations, I listened to her blame everything on the organiser and smear her reputation, and secretly thought the saying that there is no honour among thieves as being surprisingly apt, even if not totally accurate in this case. Say what you like … that I am prejudiced against the organiser … that I am a right cow … but my sense of justice and fairness made me furious on behalf of the organiser, who I count as a member of the community no matter what she has done.

It infuriated me enough to defend her by reminding the main organiser that she should have been monitored or checked if things were mismanaged to the extent that the main organiser claimed. And that as a leader, she (the main organiser) is responsible for all the failures of her minions, and not just the victories.

Casting all blame on her in the bid to keep her own nose out of the shite is cowardly and unfair.

Of course, all this drama was unknown to me as I arrived at the National Museum to face another exciting day of dance competition. I was very eager as it would finally be my chance to see how the Singapore dancers fared against the Chinese and Taiwanese.

Although one of my close dancer friends is Taiwanese, she is not a good gauge as I think she is one of those creatures made to dance from birth and even the Mother Ship would have to bow down to her superior dance skills. I had never met another Taiwanese dancer of our dance form and the only mainland Chinese dancer I had ever met was an absolute knock-out at one of the master workshops, who was another specimen of genetically blessed dance talents.

Hacking the Hack
I made the rounds with the judges again and settled down to record the event in my handy dandy notebook. While I was sitting there, the organisers beckoned me down from my perch and began to question me on my presence at the event. I was beginning to get irate as they asked me to step outside the room to speak to the PR hack on the phone.

Let me just put this in perspective. When the festival opened, I called to ask for my media kit and pass to the event – I presumed it had been lost in the mail. It would be highly undesirable to have a press member who is actually conversant of the industry and art form covering the event! The PR hack actually told me to just “turn up” at the opening ceremony and that I would get my kit and pass then. When I asked for one-on-one interviews with the judges and some of the contestants, he simply told me to “turn up” during the competition and try to speak to them myself, although he did make some obligatory noises that he “will see what they can do”.

At the opening ceremony, he barely spared me two minutes as he told me he would inform me of the arrangements and that the International Contest result would be announced on the Sunday afternoon. He told me I should just “come and see what and who I could cover” then.

Unknown to him, I have been in the business for almost two decades and thus, such cavalier and obstructive behaviour typically does not work for me. Being a DIY type of girl, it would usually motivate me to begin an all-out assault on me own. And I can be pretty motivated.

I did not hear from this PR hack again till this moment, on a bright Sunday morning, before the contest started but obviously way too early for the PR hack to even be at the scene. His concern and wariness that I had been lurking for the past day covering the event was palpable. And I knew the reason why.

He informed me that there was a press conference at 3pm that afternoon, which he claimed he informed me of (I must find out more about this astral communication thing) and tried to convince me that I would be better off only being there at that time. I politely disabused him of that by stating I intended to be there for every moment of the competition and also at the press conference. I again requested for an interview with the judges and the contestants, especially the winning ones, and he told me I would be able to speak with them at the press conference. I asked if there would be a proper Q&A and one-on-ones but all he could tell me was that there was a press conference.

He demurred when I asked to speak with some of the foreign contestants and judges and even questioned why that would be important. Again, I rolled my eyes and gently reminded him that Singapore is not the only country in an international competition.

I will not go into undue details but I was blocked, stonewalled, given the old run around and basically shafted. The so-called press conference was a debacle which was organised as a vehicle for the local papers and television channel to shoot the more “outstanding” contestants as they performed. Some other journalists and I stood there wondering when the press conference would begin as hordes of audience members stormed the stage and began taking pictures and congratulating the winners. In fact, a couple of us left in disgust after spending 30 minutes just waiting for them to get their act together and after they shouted at us (the journalists, not the audience members) to get off the stage!.

Fortunately, I had already made plans, hunted down, interviewed and set up appointments with a number of contestants and judges on my own prior to the PR hack’s interference. The only interview he arranged for me was with Tanyeli, the judge from Turkey and even then he stood right next to us and tried to control the interview. I will tell you why this is laughable later.

He also obstructed me from interviewing the Taiwanese by promising to set up an interview and keeping me in a corner for ages while he made sure that they were finally out of the way, before informing me regrettably that they had left the building. He thought I did not notice this “media management”. In fact, the main organiser then pulled me aside and begged me to help them by not speaking to the Taiwanese whom she claimed “would not have anything good to say” as the organiser had treated them very poorly and managed everything badly. She also asked me to “help them” by saying only nice things and began a litany of complaints about the organiser. She claimed that the organiser had deceived her and kept her in the dark about everything despite many demands for updates and accountability.

So what do you think? Do you think this blatantly transparent attempt at manipulating me worked? By the way, I did write an extremely measured piece in my official capacity. But this is my blog and I can rant if I want to as I cannot in my other life. So bite it.

I will not belabour the point but I dislike being “media managed” by people who should have read the manual I wrote on the subject. Let’s just move on to the contest proper …


Blogger Ed Tep said...

Wow. Having been a hack, this sounds like a complete PR debacle... I hope you were still able to get what you needed for your story.

1:42 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow... I heard about the competition but only after it was all over. I've been following your write up since.

Still waiting for the Asia segment. Is it true that one of the winners was an imitation of Rachel Brice?

12:22 pm  
Blogger MM said...

Sorry it took so long to answer but eh, yes, there were at least 2 Rachel Brice er .. devotees.

1:48 am  

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