Last week I was offered a rare and wonderful opportunity to peek (and linger) behind the curtain of Cirque du Soleil. In Atlanta, where I live, Cirque is mid-way through the run of Kooza, the latest traveling spectacle from the Montreal based circus phenomenon who has revolutionized and redefined the “circus” of our times.
I am the biggest of Cirque fans. I’ve seen ten different shows, including touring performances and permanent shows in Las Vegas and Orlando. I’ve also had the privilege to work with Cirque du Soleil’s outreach program, Cirque du Monde, and to visit and train at Cirque headquarters in Montreal. Although the company has attained unprecedented success and has grown into a global entertainment empire, Cirque has always remained true to its artistic roots. Furthermore, through worldwide social outreach efforts and contributions, Cirque leads the way in responsible corporate citizenship.
World renowned juggler Anthony Gatto (in my book and in the record books, the best there is) is one of the featured acts in Kooza. Anthony invited me, my wife, and our son, Eddie, to sit in the “Artists’ Tent” during the performance and hang out with the cast and crew who make the magic happen. This was for me (a lifelong student of world class performance) the equivalent of Willy Wonka’s “Golden Ticket,” and way better than a front row seat in the big top.
Anthony and his wife, Danielle, have worked with Kooza for about 1 1/2 years. Their rigorous schedule calls for 9 shows per week, each demanding a near super human effort from the entire, 40 person cast.
In the Artists’ Tent we were able to watch the performance via widescreen television, a single camera shot that captured the events taking place in the “Grand Chapiteau” (performance tent), just a few dozen feet from where we sat. We could clearly hear the crowd’s roars and applause. But the real show, trust me, was taking place all around us. The sizable space we occupied housed a trampoline, aerial apparatus, a tight wire and plenty of floor space for rehearsal.
When Dorothy peeked behind the curtain (with Toto’s help) to spy on The Wizard of Oz, she was devastated and disappointed to learn the secret of his illusions. In stark contrast, my peek behind the curtain of Cirque only amplified my admiration and astonishment.
This production, like every Cirque experience, is a fantastic, seemingly flawless work of moving art. From my vantage point, I watched the precision flow of performers and props, the efforts of the production crew to coordinate the backstage action, and overheard conversations in at least six languages – a testament to the global and universal aspects that make Cirque so special.
I didn’t understand all of those conversations, of course, but I did gain some insight that will have an impact on the way I approach and evaluate future performances, as a participant, as well as a spectator.
Thank you Anthony, for the experience of a lifetime. I’ll long remember the “hang time” backstage with you and your amazing coworkers. And I’ll strive to apply the experience to improve my own performances, relationships, and roles … on and off the stage.