Monday, July 25, 2011

A glimpse of wow

It's nice to be the family of a Cirque du Soleil artist. Today we got a 2-hour private tour of the Cirque international headquarters (IHQ)!!

Greg arranged this for us , because last year, he was in Montreal for 6 months without us. We never saw the artist residences, or the studio. So it was especially nice for us to be able to explore. We had already looked around the outside of the grounds quite a bit - a change for Greg - he was here in the wintertime and everything was covered in snow, he never spent any time outside. Now it's a beautiful summertime, and there is lots of green space, and people are enjoying the sunshine.

Taking photos is not allowed inside IHQ. In the creation room, where new shows are being staged, you have to check your cell phone at the door. They're not kidding. But they do give tour participants a nice little booklet at the end of the tour, with some photos of the interior.

A couple of figures - CdS employs some 5000 people, 1500 of whom work at IHQ. The building was constructed in 3 parts, from 1997-2007, and it's massive - but they are still outgrowing it, and having to keep some offices off-site.

We saw the 2 cafeterias, the outdoor sand volleyball court (which converts to an ice rink in winter), the physiotherapy area, the training gymnasium, the kids' schoolroom (at Ayla's request), the 7th-floor party room, the library, the rainwater-collection systems, the water-filtration system, the shipping and receiving departments, the head-cast displays, the shoe factory, the prop-making areas, the wood shop, the extensive costume department and the fabric collections, the fitting areas. We capped it off, at Baz's request, with a visit to Guy LaLiberte's personal office. (he wasn't there at the time.) He has a nice outdoor patio. We peeked in the window at the Michael Jackson show in rehearsals. We generally had an awesome time.

Our guide, Frederic, had lots of interesting bits of trivia to share with us. Like the fact that when the artists land in the 8'-deep foam pit, they can't climb out, it acts like quicksand, they need trainers to pull them out. When a show is first developed, the library orders every imaginable piece of media existing about the topic at hand - such as Elvis, or evolution - for the creators to use for inspiration. The costume department, ever-busy, has to replace all of the costumes for O every 6 to 8 weeks. That's what the swimming pools will do. They catalog and archive everything. Every type of material used in a costume is preserved and recorded in a database. Thousands of fabrics are collected and displayed for the designers to reference, but they still, oftentimes, choose to make something from scratch. Wigs, every hair sewn in by hand, can take months of full-time work. They make 3500 pairs of shoes per year.

Besides all of this learning, today's tour served an important role for me - it re-energized the sense of purpose, and passion, that I have being on the periphery of this amazing company. Greg, too, felt inspired by the experience. He says that, in the day-in, day-out of touring with a big company, you can forget the genuine goodness of the people behind the scenes, who are all working hard as well, trying to do their very best for these shows. Cirque du Soleil seems like a truly good company, deeply committed to the welfare of its people, and the surrounding community. If it has any fault, it must be that, by examining every repercussion, thinking through every side of a problem, and carefully considering the feelings and needs of the whole universe, it can be bogged down in slowness and indecision. But cold, or thoughtless? I think it will never be.

We are excited for the Michael Jackson show (it seems the whole company is!) It will debut in October, and tour arenas. A permanent Michael Jackson show is also in the works for Las Vegas, a couple of years down the line. There are always new projects, more things to tackle, and the Cirque du Soleil world just continues to expand.... it is a privilege to witness it.

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