I was in Vegas June 16-21 for a series of meetings and conferences, and am just getting caught up now and getting things written up, so just a quick note before I go onto my trip to Quebec and The Image Mill.
On Monday and Tuesday, I was lucky to be part of a group that got to meet a bunch of people throughout the Cirque du Soleil organization. I have known people in Cirque for many years, have written extensively about incredible shows like Ka and Love (copies here and here.) and have always had a high opinion of the company. But what really surprised me is that everyone I met throughout my time there was amazing, was contributing a lot, was apparently being treated well and seemed happy. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it, and I've been backstage at a lot of places.
On Monday, I got to "shadow" the Love automation department during the afternoon work call and during the first performance, which was pretty amazing, because every day brings something new. On this day, a 480V breaker malfunctioned, which took out a key winch. The day crew discovered the problem during their routine testing. While they got the winch working before show time, they didn't have time to test it extensively so they didn't want to put it in the show, especially since the same winch was used to hoist performers up and down throughout the show. This show is in the round, so when they cut this winch, they also had to cut its mirror image, and this affected the run of the show. Literally 10 minutes before show time, everyone gets an email with that show's run down, and they discuss the whole run down with the stage manager and then start right into the show. The headset traffic on Cirque shows is surprisingly quiet, since lighting, sound, spot, etc cues are all taken by their respective operators. Automation cues were often called by stage management after being cleared by the riggers (riggers are the ones actually loading the performers on and off the systems). I had seen the show from the audience (I was there soon after it opened to write an article about it) but it was pretty amazing to watch from the booth.
The next day, we were lucky enough get a detailed backstage tour of Ka. I had seen this show once from the audience, and once from the light booth (listening on headset), and I wrote about a 6000 word article on it, but I had never been backstage, and it was unbelievable. Cirque has a phenomenal commitment to safety, to an extent that I've never seen before. And this is not just for the performers, but also the technicians. Fall protection, for example, is taken very, very seriously. There is a walkway right on the edge of the stage, and no one is ever allowed to walk there unless they are protected by an airbag (performers) or a fall arrest system (techs). When they had an open pit below, they surrounded it with railings. The guy who was putting the railings in also had a fall arrest system clipped to his harness while he was installing the railings. This is a regular part of their jobs--after spending hours backstage at two shows over two days, I don't think I ever once saw anyone take a safety risk. They also have contingency plans for every situation they can imagine, and they do emergency and rescue training (performer stuck in the air due to a winch failure, etc) on a regular basis.
We saw the early performance, and then Alan Hendrickson, Dennis Dorn and I were lucky enough to watch the show from backstage with Technical Director Eric Walsted. I was exhausted and almost bailed, but boy am I glad I didn't. We followed Eric on his "track" through the show, which basically put us eye to eye with all the action throughout the show. We walked from the basement to the grid and back several times, and Eric apparently does this "track" a few times a week It would take me 10,000 words to describe what I saw, but it was absolutely incredible. I think I've probably sold about 100 tickets to Ka, but I'll say it again--it's probably the most amazing technological spectacle ever done. Go see it.
On Wednesday, I went to Infocomm (apparently this year the largest A/V show ever) and that night saw a great cover band with Jamie and Karen Anderson. Thursday, I went with Alan Hendrickson out to visit the Fisher Technical shop, which was also amazing (yeah, I know, no photos but people get touchy about that kind of stuff).
(Off topic) On Friday, I went to the first day of The Amazing Meeting (TAM--I've been to every one). And of course, since it's Vegas, Friday night I got drunker than... Well, uh, drunker than I can ever remember ever being, and did some very stupid things that I regret. But, you know the marketing cliche: "What happens in Vegas"...
At 4:30am local time Saturday, I headed for the airport and that night here at home saw Richard Cheese.