Business sponsorship of the arts ... and what happens when it goes wrong

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The Independent Online
Concluding our great new business story, "The Person You Have Rung Knows You Are Calling"!

Story so far. In an attempt to get business sponsorship for his small theatre company, Mickey is offering well-heeled businessmen the chance to play a small part in a play if they offer sponsorship (cash). Roger Dunstable, who is boss of a pipeline firm and has always wanted to go on stage, is the first to say yes, and has agreed to take the part of a corpse in a thriller.

Roger attended as many of the rehearsals as he could, and found them not unpleasant. Rehearsals seemed to be very like business meetings in lots of ways. For a start, they never started on time, because the unimportant people were very punctual and the more important people tended to be late. Also, as in business meetings, there were constant breaks for refreshment. Also, as in business meetings, there was a great pretence of democracy, but at the end of the day all the decisions were taken by one man.

At his meetings, it was Roger. At his rehearsals, it was Mickey.

"You must come on diffidently," said Mickey to Roger. "You're the long- lost relative from Australia. You don't know any of these people. You look around hesitantly, and `Strewth, I've come 5,000 miles to see my relations and none of you even look like me!'"

"It doesn't sound diffident to me," said Roger. "It sounds truculent."

"Just pretend to do what he says," hissed Phoebe the actress in his ear. "Never argue with the director. If you really don't agree, do something different, but don't argue or he'll notice."

"OK," said Roger, to both of them.

Roger had such a small part that he didn't have to turn up at all the rehearsals, which was just as well, as a lot of his time was taken up by a deal he was working on, a major water industry deal which it was very important for him to get and he was often on the phone at rehearsals to Don Wellwright, the CEO of the other firm, hammering out the details. The actors would be emoting like mad on stage when they would hear Roger on his mobile shouting: "February 17th! For God's sake, Don, we agreed the end of March!" and a deputation would be sent down to lower his blood pressure, his decibels and his temper.

When he had to miss a rehearsal to go to a meeting with Don Wellwright, he sent along his personal assistant Derek to rehearse instead of him.

"Nobody can rehearse instead of you!" objected Mickey to Roger later.

"Derek can," said Roger. "He knows what I want. He'll give me a full briefing later."

"I don't think Roger understands the differences between theatre and business," said Mickey to the group. "I'm glad he has only got the part of the corpse. I wonder if he can manage it all right?"

As things turned out, he could. On the opening night he said his few words right, he fell dead at the right moment and he didn't move at all during the couple of minutes he had to stay on stage as the corpse.

The only thing that went wrong was that, as he lay there dead, his mobile phone started ringing.

And it was in his pocket. There, on stage.

Roger wondered whether to answer it or to be a professional (actor) and just lie there.

He just lay there.

The actor playing Inspector Hawkins (of the Yard) also rose to the occasion.

He retrieved the phone from the dead man's pocket and answered it.

"Hello?" he said.

He listened for a moment and then replied (in the character of Inspector Hawkins):

"No, I'm afraid he can't come to the phone. Why not? Because he's dead, that's why ... Yes. Very dead."

The man at the other end of the phone was Don Wellwright, who had rung up to mention some last minute detail about the deal to Roger and was horrified to find him dead.

"Who's that talking?" said Don Wellwright.

"Inspector Hawkins of the Yard," said the actor playing Inspector Hawkins of the Yard.

"Oh, my God," said Don Wellwright, and rang off.

The rest of the first night went very well, and Roger got a special round of applause as the corpse. It was also agreed that the man playing the inspector handled the situation very well.

However, when Roger got to work the next morning, he found that as he was now thought to be dead, Don Wellwright had rung up and cancelled the whole deal.

Worse even than that, Roger Dunstable had been replaced as managing director. His assistant Derek had moved into his office with all the speed of a man seeing an empty space to park in central London.

Roger and Derek were never to be quite on the same terms again.

MORAL: Always answer the phone yourself, even if you're dead.