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The Buzz, 12-1: Arrested Development, Too
Cirque du Soleil's HIV Shame; How DRA 'Values' Sponsors in the PC (Post-Cortez) Era

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- Act-Up Paris has posted the banner on fences and barriers around town in recent days. The lettering is white, on a black background: "Everything is regressing except AIDS." You can read about the increasing AIDS toll elsewhere; today the Buzz would like to focus on the regressive attitude of a leading touring show, Cirque du Soleil, towards performers with HIV, and on the regressive way Dancers Responding to AIDS treats long-time partners (well, at least one long-time partner) since the departure of co-founder Hernando Cortez.

As reported by the Associated Press and others, Matthew Cusick, a 32-year-old gymnast, has filed a complaint before the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that Cirque du Soleil fired him as a 'catcher' in a Russian High Bar act and as a Chinese tall pole performer earlier this year, just days before he was to join the spectacle, because of the risk it contended his HIV status posed to other performers. Cirque du Soleil insists, reports the AP, that it does not discriminate against HIV-positive employees, and that Cusick is welcome to work for the company -- just not in a job that requires so much physical contact.

"I believed we had put this kind of misinformation and HIV discrimination behind us in the 1980s," Paul Volberding, the pioneering AIDS doctor, told PlanetOut recently. I'm not a doctor, and I don't even play one on t.v., but as anyone who can read a newspaper has known for the last 20 years, HIV is transmitted via the exchange of blood or genital fluids. You can't catch it by, er, being caught by someone with the virus. That a leading, international performing arts organization could be operating under such a gross misconception in 2003 shows we still have a long way to go in the realm of AIDS education.

Speaking of education, the current leaders of Dancers Responding to AIDS would seem to be in need of a remedial course in how to treat sponsors. I'd like to share a letter I received recently in response to a note to executives at Dancers Responding to AIDS, which the Dance Insider has always had the honor of supporting without expecting anything in return, save the knowledge that we were helping it fulfill its crucial mission.


X-MindSpring-Loop: paul@danceinsider.com
X-Sender: conway@mail.bcefa.org
Date: Thu, 06 Nov 2003 18:57:29 -0500
To: Paul Ben-Itzak
From: Frank Conway
Subject: BC/EFA DRA and DanceInsider.com (sic)
Cc: villarreal@bcefa.org, hurlin@bcefa.org, mooney@bcefa.org
Paul- Ben-Itzak (sic)
Editor & CEO
The Dance Insider Online

I have been copied on all of the correspondence between DRA and danceinsider.com (sic) and been asked by our director to respond. As the associate director of development for BC/EFA and its divisions I helped to create the draft of the sponsorship proposal that you received. I have read everything and understand that you are upset on several levels, including, but not limited to the fact that you feel that DI was not considered (sic) on an equal basis with other media contributors, the subject of the banner ad, (sic) editorial vs. advertising issues and that you were asked if you wanted to contribute collateral materials or tchotchkes at events.

Having negotiated the agreements with Out Magazine, Next, HX and MetroSource magazines, I can tell you that it is standard to "pitch" a story to the same magazine in which you are working on an advertising or promotional relationship. They are cross promotions and one deal is never contingent upon another, but it is good business dealing. In this situation, like the magazines I have mentioned, we are talking about a story that is germane to the editorial content of the magazine or website. It's not like I would ask Out magazine to write a story about the birth of the baby pandas at the National Zoo. And likewise, Ariadne mentioned "possible editorial or featured articles featuring a company (and Dancers Responding to AIDS)...." Is this really such a stretch to imagine that a dance-related web site would want to write a story about a dance company? Again, to bring it back to my situation, when I work with Next Magazine on Broadway Bares, a promotional and advertising partnership that is worth more than $35,000 to BC/EFA, they request first right on refusal on a cover story about the event year after year.

Returning to the situation at hand, what Ariadne sent you was a draft. Your response "try again" was vague at best and combative at worst. Ariadne's detailed response to your e-mail spends the entire fifth paragraph trying to apologize. In your first response to her "try again" as well as your attempted end run around Ariadne, by going to Denise with this, you have not shown yourself willing to negotiate or draft any sort of proposal or marketing plan. The time for playing "go fish" where Ariadne and our office tries to guess what is in your hand is over. Please present your version of a marketing plan and we, unlike you, will use it as a starting off point to negotiate.

Regarding your last e-mail to Ariadne as it relates to "good will" and its cash value. I can answer that, having practiced corporate law for eight years, marketing for four years with the Walt Disney Company and working here in development for the last four years. A dollar amount is assigned to "good will" when one is selling one's business; not in day to day transactions, as there is no actual discernable way to measure good will. But while we are on the subject, the dismissive and argumentative tone that you have taken with Ariadne, including comparing her to Hernando Cortez, a respected forner BC/EFA employee and colleague, but one with a completely different style, seems to be made to generate ill will rather than good will.

Where good will comes into play is in working relationships such as those we have fostered with our other media sponsors like OUT Magazine who found themselves with a additional page of promotional advertising for their January issue and offered us this $12,000 value for free based on our successful partnership of the last four years. We have had similar experiences with most media sponsors. That is where good will comes into play in marketing and promotional relationship.

While this letter has been strongly worded, I want to stress that Broadway Cares and DRA would like to work with DI to the extent that we can forge a successful, respectful relationship. It is based upon this desire that I ask you to provide us with a proposal for a marketing and promotions agreement. If you need a template, I can provide one from Dance Magazine, Lifestyle Ventures, HX, Next or Out Magazine if you wish.

Thank you for your anticipated cooperation.

Sincerely,

Frank P. Conway
Associate Director of Development


That's the letter. I'm not going to respond point-by-point, except to say that by reprinting it here, a decision I took on my own, I don't necessarily endorse as accurate anything its author says as regards what I may have said or done. Also, Hernando Cortez is more than 'a former employee' of DRA. And finally, I have not played Fish for over 30 years, and I did not play it with DRA. DRA neglected to recognize us equally with other media sponsors for its last major event. As the publisher of the Dance Insider, I simply asked that the situation be rectified. Mr. Cortez would have responded by apologizing and promising to do better the next time. His successors responded with unrealistic demands (they would characterize them as 'proposals'), comparisons of the cash "value" of various other sponsorships, and talk of "branding opportunities." Though we were always grateful for program recognition, supporting DRA was never a "branding opportunity" for the Dance Insider, or a "promotional and marketing relationship." It was a way to to help out in its importantwork for the community. We don't deserve to be spoken to like this, and DRA does not serve its clients by alienating a longtime supporter. (That's how I feel, anyway; as always, the Buzz speaks for itself and not necessarily anyone else among the DI's staff or advertisers.)

 

 

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