‘Show must go on’ proves an empty slogan here

Oct 23,2005

Auto racing, samba dancing and a film score composer’s concert in Korea were all canceled this year after promoters failed to make good on promises. [JoongAng Ilbo]

What do Ennio Morricone, Sangju, World Champ Car racing and Brazilian samba have in common?
You would have to be quite familiar with the goings-on in the Korean cultural milieu to come up with the answer: They are all associated with events that never happened here.
There has been a string of high-profile shows this year that were planned but then canceled, including celebrations on national holidays involving domestic pop singers and shows planned by international artists. Some of the cancellations were understandable - a concert by the German rock group Rammstein was scrapped because of an injury to one of the band members - but most were caused by poor planning or execution by the promoters.
That has some people in the entertainment industry disgruntled and worried about whether Korea’s reputation is taking a hit among international pop, artistic and sports promoters. But it took a stampede outside a stadium in Sangju, North Gyeongsang province, to get the alarm bells sounding furiously. Poor planning was not just a matter of wasted money, a loss of a bit of pride or lost chances to see race cars hurtling around a track or a rock star screaming into a mike: it resulted in the deaths of 11 people and injuries to 100 more.
The common theme in most of these flops was that the promoter was a small, newly formed company. The principals had little or no experience in hosting such events, large or small, and usually won the contracts to promote them through personal connections or by falsifying their credentials.
The big bucks they expected never materialized.
Inexperience played a role in some problems. For example, there was to have been a performance called the Sambodromo Carnival at Busan’s Bexco convention center on Aug. 15-21.
Conceived of as an event splashed across an outdoor stage at the convention center site and featuring the Sambrazil Revue dancers from Rio de Janeiro, the show was first postponed and then canceled when rain rolled in over Korea’s south coast and lingered there.
“The company was totally unprepared for bad weather. We should have been more particular about setting a certain standard to select a credible event organizer before giving them the space,” said an official at Bexco, itself a fairly new convention center.
The inexperience of the organizer there resulted in nothing worse than disappointment among Busanites, perhaps particularly adolescent male Busanites, at missing the opportunity to see some plumed, scantily clad Brazilian women strutting their stuff, but in Sangju, the problems were horrifying. Waiting for a free-seating concert by vintage and new Korean pop singers, eight elderly people and three children were trampled to death when the crowd waiting outside rushed the single open entrance to a stadium to get good seats.
Unix Communication, a company founded only in March, organized the show, sponsored by the Munhwa Broadcasting Company. With no experience in promoting events, it wrangled a contract from the Sangju city government for the event, the finale of a three-day city festival.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, a series of lapses came to light. There were no ambulances on the scene, the organizer did not report its arrangements to the local fire chief for his required review and there were no professional security guards on the scene, only college students making a bit of extra money. The concert, of course, was canceled.
In other cases, rookie organizers have faced merely embarrassment and financial problems rather than horror and criminal investigations. Unpaid advances to international performers have disrupted several events.
In May, the new M Entertainment and Sion were working on a concert series to mark the 60th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese rule. Three of the concerts were to feature the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from Great Britain with a featured Korean artist. A week before the concerts were to start, however, the organizer was unable to make down payments to the artists and the concerts were cancelled.
Last month, the film score composer Ennio Morricone was to have performed some of his works with the Rome Symphony Orchestra in Seoul. The venue was the World Cup Stadium in Sangam-dong, and nearly 30,000 people had bought tickets in advance. But two days before the concert, Ticket Link, the online ticket vendor, discovered that Mr. Morricone had not arrived in Seoul although he was scheduled to be here for five days of rehearsals before the show. Checking further, the ticket company learned that he had not been paid the advance required by his contract.
“The guarantee was about 400 million won ($385,000) for Mr. Morricone and the 100-member orchestra, but none of it had been paid, which was why the artist didn’t even bother coming,” a Ticket Link official said. The company posted a cancellation notice and refunded the ticket payments to its customers. There has been no apology or comment from the promoters, whose telephone numbers are not available from directory assistance.
A similar case happened at the Etpfest international rock festival, which was scheduled in Ansan, Gyeonggi province, as the closing event of the Champ Car World Series Grand Prix on Oct. 16.
In its fourth year, the day-long music festival was to feature heavy metal and hard rock bands from Korea, Japan and the United States and a Korean rock icon named Seotaiji. According to Seotaiji Company, the host of the festival, it was waiting for a 150-million-won advance from The Racing Korea, the organizer of the Champ Car races here. The racing company’s pockets were empty, and so the rock show was canceled.
Bad enough, but The Racing Korea’s problems were not over yet. On Sept. 29, the U.S. promoter of the Champ Car World Series announced that “lack of preparation” by the local promoter had forced a cancellation of this year’s race in Korea.
Entertainment industry sources here said that such flops happen because of greed, not to put too fine a point on it. Since the phenomenal success here of the local production of the musical Phantom of the Opera in 2001, the gold rush has been on.
“The recent successes of large performances have been causing new, small companies to jump into the market with no money and no experience,” said Han So-young of CJ Entertainment. “It’s not just about money, either, but marketing and planning skills. Many people don’t know, or forget, that those are important factors in organizing events.”
And wishes and pipe dreams sometimes aren’t enough to allow small companies to get big contracts legitimately, and corruption sometimes rears its head.
When Ticket Link learned that Ennio Morricone was not coming, it looked carefully at its contract with Sion, the organizer, and discovered that some of the documents supporting that contract had been forged. They reported the problems to police, who arrested the man allegedly responsible for the forgery. He is awaiting trial, Seodaemun police officials said, and faces only about a month in prison if convicted.
“The man was detained not because he violated a contract with a foreign artist but because he tampered with the civil documents of the person who supposedly stood behind the business arrangements,” the official said.
And the greed is not confined to event promoters. Lee Ha-yeon, an official at the Ansan city government, said The Racing Korea was not the only one to blame for a lack of money to pay advances. “How can you expect a company with only 200 million won to organize a project that is going to require 25 billion won?” He asked. “Obviously they’re going to have trouble, but the city pushed forward with the project because it wanted to host a big event. Of course, the decisions were made almost entirely by the mayor, who wanted to have something to his name,” he said.
In the case of the tragedy at Sangju, police said they have confirmed that family ties between the event organizer and the city’s mayor were behind the decision to give the event to such an inexperienced company. Police there handed the case over to prosecutors on Friday.
While fans are disappointed at cancellations, those working in the industry are even more disturbed, fearing that the blot on the reputation of Korean concert organizers will cause foreign artists to stop coming to Korea, or ask for immense advance payments to do so.

by Wohn Dong-hee

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