Kismet and good living, that’s all I can figure was how I ended up being friends with Jessica Berlin, social media publicist for the wonderful Cirque du Soleil performing troop in Las Vegas, Nevada. Well, social media helped, but I have very much enjoyed the time we’ve spent together talking about the online world, performing arts, and much more.
I have a bit of a background in stage productions, I’ve done lighting and sound for small, amateur productions, and I have certainly spent time on stage as an actor and professional speaker. But the scope of Cirque performances are staggering. In fact, while I was out in Las Vegas in January 2009 for CES I was invited to not only see “O”, the water-themed Cirque show (“O” as in “eau”, French for water), but to bring two good friends along for a behind-the-scenes tour led by the charming “O” publicist Ann Paladie. Fabulous!
This blog post is my photo album of what it looks like behind the curtain, adjacent to the main stage and pool, and a glimpse of what the performers are doing between shows to unwind and relax.
Before we delve into it, however, I asked Jessica to send me a tiny snippet of the production stage notes for “O” to get a sense of just how complex the show actually is. The sheet for just one stage transition is, by itself, quite complex, as you can see by grabbing the PDF document.
Important background info for reading those stage notes is that “the show is divided into 2 automations boards. One is called the tele board (short for telepherique – the steel structure over the pool) and it runs all the aerial automations. The other is called the deck board and runs the lifts and a few other automated features.” Those are the “T” and “D” in the stage notes document.
Okay, enough. Let’s get on to the photos. I will, by the way, post a review of the show itself shortly, but this is a lot of work, pulling this together!
You don’t have to get very far backstage to know that you’re in a professional performance space, but it’s an odd production where they have both wardrobe and warm up pools. Most of the signs were also in both English and French, so I guess they ran out of space on this particular one. Somehow they figured things out anyway…
This is one of my favorite pictures, of the superb athletes that comprise the Cirque du Soleil “O” show, sitting around between performances, face makeup still on, playing cards and shooting the breeze. If you’ve seen the show, you might recognize a few of these performers (or at least their makeup). For example, the chap with the white t-shirt in the back is one of the two witty clowns whose performance is a highlight of “O”.
More relaxed performers, this time laying around, watching TV, and sleeping. What you can’t see is the rather stark glares I am getting from the two performers on the far right who weren’t really enthused about us motley bloggers wandering through backstage. Most everyone else, I have to say, were full of smiles and seemed kind, if rather focused on their own art. Very much like my other backstage experiences in shows, actually.
Remarkably, all Cirque shows make their own costumes and even use hand-dyed fabrics to achieve just the look they seek. You can see here that the main wardrobe area has a number of highly sophisticated sewing machines, tons of different threads, and are quite complicated.
Another shot, this time of the area where they’re focused on what looked like the headgear for the performers. Notice the fantastical hair on the bust on the top left in this photo too.
I loved this sign: just as much as the performers relaxing off-stage, the actual signage on stage to remind performers and crew that they need to remain quiet is a delightful glimpse into the reality of this complicated production.
It says: “Please be quiet!! Watch your volume during the show, keep unnecessary chatter and noise to a minimum” and ends with the rather Orwellian “Management thanks you for your cooperation”. Indeed. And the audience does too.
This is my favorite photo: a few of the performers relaxed between shows by kicking a soccer ball around in one of the training rooms. Notice the sophisticated gymnasium equipment and padding. Also, if you have seen the show, have a good look at the chap in the light blue shorts. Familiar? He should be.
If you haven’t seen a Cirque show or equivalent multi-million-dollar production, you have no sense of the scope or complexity of getting everything to work in one place. You need a big stage, a lot of props, and a highly trained crew who can keep everything intact, everyone safe, and hit all their marks night after night, performance after performance.
This is a small part of the backstage prop set. If you look closely, you should recognize a number of these props, including the A frame of one of the divers swings, used to astonishing effect in the latter portion of the show itself. One of the riggers is in the photo too, just walking out of the gloom. He was delighted to see us wandering around, I must say!
This is a great shot of a fun prop: the way that this house roof is used in “O” itself it truly does appear to be the top of a complete house that’s moving around in deep water. You can see that’s a trick, obviously, and the prop is in fact only an inch or two taller than what you see above-water in the show itself.
Here’s a closer photo of the diving swing that showed up a bit earlier in this blog entry. Note in particular the red cape and white wig hanging to the left too: these should be very familiar costumes for those people who have had the privilege of seeing “O”.
Sometimes the most amazing prop is revealed to be just another gizmo nailed to a wall. Here the striking crescent headdress is just stuck on a wall stage left, waiting for its moment. What I most enjoy about this picture is the juxtaposition of the Purell hand sanitizer on the lower left and the No Smoking sign too.
Here’s a photograph that really shows just how sophisticated the practice rooms are backstage. This is training room stage left, and there were a couple of temporary performers warming up prior to the show. Yes, a multi-year show of top athletes and performers occasionally needs to use temps so that the proverbial show can go on while individuals get a break, have time off, perhaps have a baby (there are many Cirque couples, mostly cross-show, but not all) or even move on to their next gig. I will say the temps were just as amazing as everyone else when we saw the show.
Final picture, alas, but a very interesting one: this is a chance to see how the stage and pools all function from side stage. On the left is the curtain and the foreground item is a scuba tank (critical for underwater support of the performers). To the right you can see the safety-striped ramp that lets the swimmers get in and out of the water without the audience being aware.
This is the second Cirque du Soleil show that I have enjoyed in Las Vegas (the first was The Beatles: LOVE) and I am more and more impressed with the performers and the stage production. It’s quite a team and having the chance to meet and get to know some of them has proven a wonderful experience for me.
December of 2009 they’re scheduled to open an Elvis-themed show in Las Vegas and I am eager to see it when I return too.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this behind-the-scenes tour, and if you have questions about Cirque or the “O” show, please don’t hesitate to ask them here in the comments. If I can’t get an answer, I can certainly ask someone on the Cirque team to help out.