KA Creators Notebook

KÀ Creators' Notebook

October 3, 2004

Robert Lepage is in Las Vegas and we're concentrating our team efforts on the staging by providing him with as many of the show conditions as much as possible (sound, EFX, lighting, video, costumes, etc). We also showed him the work that's been done during the last two weeks to get his artistic input. Robert's goal for this week is to prepare this Sunday's run-through, at which Guy Laliberté and Lyn Heward will be present. He also wants to work on the show content. One of our biggest challenges is telling this epic tale to the audience without words. In order to achieve this, we must focus on the artists' acting skills (body language, gesture, posture, facial expression) and on the interaction between all the characters during the show. The acrobatic performances ("Wheel of Death," "Wushu," etc.) are in good shape. In terms of acting and linking everything to support the storyline, we still have some work to do.

We're also trying out new EFX and props objects (retractable spears, body arrows, flash devices, etc), and integrating them into the staging. The devices were tested during their manufacturing, but we are now testing them with the artists during rehearsal time. The cueing work continues. We're trying more and more to respect the transition time between the scenes. The more we practice, the more efficient we'll become. The pre-set time will get shorter and the show run-through will get smoother. Also, backstage and in the dressing room at each rehearsal, we're asking the artists to act as though they were actually performing for an audience in terms of how quickly they change their costumes and do their make-up.

This gives us a good idea of the amount of time required for them to go from one scene to the other. And speaking of make-up, Nathalie Gagné (Make-up Designer) has started to teach the artists how to do their own make-up. As she said: "Until they memorize the technique, we might see some Picasso artwork running around!” So far, though, it hasn’t been so bad: not too many Picassos have been seen backstage! Last Monday, we also presented the flame and pyro effects to Robert Lepage and to the Clark County Fire Department (CCFD). This process is still in progress since the CCFD needs to make sure that all effects are safe for the cast, crew and audience.

Anh-Dao Bui
Assistant to the Production Manager

October 10, 2004

2:28 p.m.

The entire KÀ team is on alert. Creative team, department heads, Guy Laliberté, naturally, Robert Lepage, Guy Caron, and many, many more are here. In just two minutes we’ll start the very first run-through: a start-to-finish rehearsal of the whole show. This will be the first assessment of the transitions, including recent costume changes. That means the artists must behave exactly as they would during a real performance. The idea is to go as fast as possible, but safety must not be jeopardized in any way. In Guy Caron’s words, the run-through is a testing phase. No one knows yet whether there will be changes, but with six and a half weeks until the premiere it’s likely, so it’s important to be very receptive.

4:45 p.m.

After more than two hours of performance, we’re about 22 minutes into the show, according to the script. After every scene, the whole technical crew and the dressers go into high gear preparing for the next step. Technology is a prime component in KÀ and a considerable number of operations are involved in preparing for a scene. It’s also the first time these operations have been conducted in a “real life” situation. This is another important objective of the run-through: to assess the feasibility and duration of the transitions.

6:30 p.m.

We’ve broken for dinner, to everyone’s relief. The artists have an hour ahead of them to recharge their batteries and rest. The sofas in the green room will serve as makeshift beds for some while others change to go out to eat (costumes are not allowed outside the theatre!). Meanwhile, the technical crew works on, using this break to make some headway on a longer-than-average transition.

8:10 p.m.

The run-through continues. As the artists take their turns on “stage” and the technical crews go about their business below, above, or right in the middle of the equipment, some lucky souls get to sit in the theatre and act like an audience. These are the KÀ team members who aren’t directly involved in the performance. Everyone’s heavy workloads notwithstanding, they shuttle between their offices and the theatre, trying to take full advantage of this unique opportunity.

10:35 p.m.

The artists are standing by for a scene that comes about 12 minutes from the end of the show. Everyone is tired, but at the same time, the tension from earlier in the day is gone. The end is in sight, and the jokes have begun flying thick and fast.

11:20 p.m.

It’s over! The longest day is now officially a thing of the past. The house lights have come up revealing smiles on every face. Guy Caron announces that there will be few changes: Guy Laliberté was extremely pleased with what he saw and the remaining work will primarily be a matter of polishing what’s already there. He thanks all the artists for their patience and praises the quality of their performance. After the smiles of relief this good news brings, the next announcement prompts unanimous jubilation: they’re all invited to a very special party in early November, organized in their honour – a present from Guy Laliberté!

Céciles Vignes
Internal Communications Advisor

October 15, 2004

There was a first run-through on Sunday for all the designers, the production crew, the team from the Montreal Costume Shop, Robert Lepage, and Guy Laliberté). The run-through came six and a half weeks before the première. It was a long day, with pitfalls galore, but we got through it in seven hours. The reactions were very positive. For the team, this was a perfect opportunity to get a unified view of what everyone is doing and imagine the full effect when all this potential is realized.

The day after the run-through, there was a production meeting with Robert and the thirty-odd members of his team. We still have a long road ahead of us and we’re in the process of combining all of the show’s ingredients so we can do a second run-through on October 24, when Robert comes back.

In Guy Laliberté’s words, “The horse is still wild.” It’s a highly technical show, but it’s also very complex in terms of the various performance disciplines. So it’s really exciting to finally see the framework of the show emerging, and above all, to see what was a theoretical design now bearing fruit and full of potential.

This week was marred by a minor mechanical breakdown affecting our stage machinery (gantry crane), which resulted in some schedule changes. But every cloud has a silver lining: this breakdown gave us a better idea of the system’s limitations and prompted us to establish stricter protocols to ensure the system is reliable in the long term. We must remain vigilant and be ready to respond to any glitches in the system. What’s important is that everything remains under control and safe.

Bill Close, who designed and invented the harp in the lobby, is here to teach the musicians how to play the instrument. The effect and the music will be extraordinary. A lot more is happening, but that’s the basic picture for now.

Stéphane Mongeau
Production Manager – KÀ

October 22, 2004

Incredible, but true: this week in Las Vegas, the weather was grey and depressing, and it even rained for a few days! We’re almost ready to compete with Montreal weather... Electricity is in the air, and we’re preparing for the next run-through, taking place on October 24. That date is also when Robert Lepage returns to Las Vegas. Over the last two weeks, Nino D'Introna, Neilson Vignola and Jacques Heim have worked night and day to create, invent and tighten things up based on Robert’s directives. The goal is to present everything to him during the run-through.

October 24 is a crucial moment for the production, because the Clark County fire department will by visiting us to give its final approval for the fire and pyrotechnic effects. A team specializing in radio frequencies will also be coming by to analyze our radio frequencies and make sure they are not in conflict with one another. At the same time, this is when some of our creators, including René Dupéré, Martin Lord Ferguson, Jonathan Deans, Luc Lafortune and Holger Förterer, will reveal a major part of their work. Five weeks before the premiere... anxiety and stress levels are rising within the team. We need to tame the beast!

Anh-Dao Bui
Assistant to the Production Manager

October 24, 2004

We’d been long anticipating this date, and we expected a long workday. It began an hour late. The fire department inspectors, present at the event, were asking us detailed questions. The radio-frequency verifiers, also in the house, had serious looks on their faces. We managed to do the run-through in just over three and a half hours. Quite an improvement compared to the October 10 run-through! That one lasted almost seven hours! Around 6:00, as a pleasant surprise, we announced to the artists that the day was over and they had Monday and Tuesday off. In addition, the fire department gave us the appropriate certificates and permits for our fire and pyrotechnical effects. The day was a productive one!

This week was also marked by the return of Robert Lepage. Michael Curry (Puppet Designer) and Joe DePaul (comic acts) are also back in town. This is the beginning of the final sprint! Robert and his partners in crime (Guy Caron, Nino d'Introna, Neilson Vignola, Joe DePaul, Jacques Heim and Yung Biau Lin) met to discuss the show’s content and to review their plan of action for the coming weeks. Another intense week is on the horizon: the presentation of the first Lions’ Den (on November 5) for an audience made up of the artists, technicians and employees of Cirque du Soleil’s other Las Vegas shows.

Anh-Dao Bui
Assistant to the Production Manager

November 5, 2004

The tension is mounting, and soon it’ll be time to make some decisions. The first lions’ den takes place today (Friday, November 5), but the premiere is still three weeks away.

The last run-through lasted three and a half hours. We hope to pull off the lions’ den in a maximum of three hours. The show’s approximately 150 technicians are in the process of polishing the technical transitions. The creators are programming the special effects and the lighting, sound, music and video effects. Robert Lepage and his team are concentrating on the last dramatic and artistic adjustments. The Props and Costumes workshops are moving heaven and earth to finish up the last details. After this first lions’ den, Robert Lepage, Guy Laliberté, the creators and the production team will take the time to reflect on the show and prepare a plan of action for November 26 (the public premiere) and February 3 (the premiere gala).

Also taking place this week: various magazines (Time, Total Production and others) will be interviewing show creation and production personnel.

Anh-Dao Bui
Assistant to the Production Manager

November 12, 2004

Our first lions’ den was held on November 6. For a big part of the day, the team was busy with last-minute preparations, and a whole battery of tests (sound, lighting, etc.) was conducted. Just around 2:10 p.m., the theatre doors opened. Based on what little they knew of the show, our colleagues from the other Las Vegas shows (Mystère, “O” and Zumanity) and offices were more than eager to discover what KÀ had to offer. At 2:30, the show got underway. The run-through progressed nicely, with everything going smoothly. The crowd reacted with gasps of admiration and warm applause. What a change it was for all of us to have an audience in the theatre, especially after all these long months of training and rehearsals in a nearly empty room!

At the halfway mark, everyone had to take a first break because of a technical problem related to lighting. There were to be two other breaks by the time the lions’ den ended. The audience understood: they knew that the technological and acrobatic challenges facing KÀ were enormous. At about 5:35, the show was over. We came close to meeting our goal of pulling off this lions’ den in less than three hours. The spectators’ comments after the performance were very positive. They will be invited back on November 20 for the third lions’ den, giving them a chance to see how much progress has been made over the preceding two weeks.

Right after the performance, the entire KÀ team was brought together in the theatre. Guy Laliberté, Guy Caron and Stéphane Mongeau wanted to thank them all and to encourage them to continue their great work and stay calm and collected because there is still a lot left to do from now to November 26, the date of the premiere.

This week was another very busy week in which we had to prepare the second lions’ den, scheduled for today. The countdown continues, with only two left weeks until the premiere!

Anh-Dao Bui
Assistant to the Production Manager

November 19, 2004

Our second lions’ den took place on November 12. During the first one, the show stopped three times and lasted just over three hours. But this second lions’ den left us all with smiles on our faces. Just before the audience entered the theatre, Lyn Heward found 25 cents: “It’s our lucky quarter,” she said.

“Each cent represents a minute that we’re cutting off the show!” And while I’m not really superstitious, wouldn’t you know it—the show went off without a hitch and with no interruptions. This was the first time we managed to perform the whole show without stopping! And the length? An hour and 45 minutes total! The artists, creators, production people, operations team, technicians—everyone was overjoyed. We applauded ourselves and shook one another’s hands. The energy was beautiful and intense. And the public? Thrilled. Some people even compared the first and second lions’ dens: “During the first lions’ den, from the opening scenes, we were immediately wowed by the acrobatic and technical prowess. We didn’t want it to end! But every time the show stopped, we had to be patient and wait for it to start again. It was totally not the same the second time around! Truly amazing!”

Now, we are now barely a week away from the premiere—and we’re starting to feel it. Some of the production tables that were in the middle of the theatre have been removed and replaced by seats. Soon, the last tables will be replaced. This week, we’ve been preparing for the last lions’ den. Next, we’ll prepare for the three dress rehearsals, to which the MGM and suppliers’ employees will be invited. Next, the premiere...

Anh-Dao Bui
Assistant to the Production Manager

November 26, 2004

We have been waiting for this day for such a long time. Due to the five-month delay, the project required most of us from Montreal to spend 9 to 12 months here in Las Vegas. Now, we are only a few hours, only a few minutes from the premiere. For some of us, it is a time of anxiety and last-minute preparations. For others, it is a time of relief. No matter what each of us is feeling all our energy is focused on our joint effort to make the premiere a success. We all hope that this show will live up to expectations. Working in the theatre day after day, we know the show inside-out and we become its most demanding critics. We often lack perspective, which is immediately obvious when we hear the reactions of members of the public and Cirque colleagues who enter the theatre for the first time.

November 26 will be a decisive step for the production team. That’s the day when we hand the reins over to the operation team. Our work is not finished, however. Robert Lepage and most of the creators will remain in Las Vegas until December 3. The opening gala (for the media) is scheduled for February. In the meantime, they’ll be working on stabilizing the show. In short, there is a lot left to be done, but at least the premiere will be behind us.

Anh-Dao Bui
Assistant to the Production Manager

January 7, 2005

It’s already been a month and a half since the launch, and we’re already at our 51st show! In the last few weeks, the operations team has gotten the show rolling with a masterful hand, while preparing backups for various roles in case one of the main characters is unable to appear in a performance. This week, Robert Lepage is back in Las Vegas, along with certain members of the creation and production team. One of their goals is to examine our priorities and plan what we want to accomplish by February 3, the date of the official premiere gala. Some see this date as being all about the big party, but for us, it’s mainly about stabilizing the work. We are currently in the stabilization phase; we can always make changes to the show later, but they will need to be minor, since the creation phase will be over.

Anh-Dao Bui
Assistant to the Production Manager

February 4, 2005

A few days before the premiere, Charline Boulerice, Assistant to the Costume Designer, explained to us that they were still making changes to the Forest People costumes, with the aim of making them as visible as possible.

The scene’s original lighting was blue against a blue set, and the entire costume, including the headpiece and make-up, was blue with white highlights. Just before the show opened in November, the Costume people decided that the headpiece and makeup would be yellow instead. A few days before the premiere, final touch-ups were made. Amber accents were added to the primary-color yellow to create texture and add sophistication to the entire look. The make-up was also adjusted as a result, with added shading in the same colors. The costume’s paler parts are now yellow, and they fade from yellow to green to blue with the characters’ movements. The shoulders are now yellow, too. So Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt redesigned the costumes, the Textile Design team created a new pattern and reprinted the cloth, and all the Forest People’s costumes were remade!

The Twins’ costumes were also changed. They are now wearing two very distinct colors: red for the female twin and green for her brother. The entire Imperial Family’s costumes were changed to help the audience better recognize them in the Epilogue scene. The twin sister wore her new costume for the first time this week to get used to moving around in the new garments.

It goes without saying that on the night of a premiere, the entire Las Vegas Marketing team is mobilized! For the past eight months, all 18 members of the team have been busy putting the finishing touches to the logistics surrounding the launch of KÀ. Premiere night is, of course, the culmination of all their efforts. A number of other people also lend a hand for the occasion, including not only the publicists for La Nouba, “O” and Mystère, but also members of the internal Box Office team, the Public Relations team from Montreal, Marketing representatives from Amsterdam and Melbourne, and dozens of MGM Group security guards, as well as a number of other resources called in for reinforcement.

Journalists from all over the world Since the aim of the premiere is to ensure maximum visibility for the show, everything has been scrupulously planned to achieve this goal. The list of guests includes journalists from all over the world, celebrities and numerous business partners. The premiere of KÀ is, without a doubt, an excellent opportunity for us to show off Cirque du Soleil’s talent to all those with whom we do business.

To provide journalists with the best conditions possible, Cirque has set up a special press room where they can write copy, send faxes, connect to Internet, edit videotapes and even transmit images by satellite. But who exactly are the chosen few who have access to these privileges? Of course, they include journalists from the Quebec media (La Presse, Radio-Canada, TQS, Musique Plus, etc.) and local media (Las Vegas Sun, Las Vegas Review-Journal), but they also include international journalists (New York Times, Time Magazine, US Weekly, Le Point, CNN, Algemeen Dagblad, Globe and Mail, El Pais, Wall Street Journal, Telemundo) and specialized media (Kung Fu Magazine, Backstage.com). In all, over 200 media representatives, armed with microphones, cameras and notebooks, accepted our invitation. In addition to backstage access to KÀ, they also get to see “O”, Mystère and Zumanity, allowing us to kill two (or three or four) birds with one stone! Over a period of three days, everything is organized to give them access to as much information as possible.

Of course, there will also be a number of celebrities on hand, with all the usual red-carpet intricacies that entails, as they arrive in their limousines accompanied by armies of bodyguards. All these beautiful people have to be greeted, guided, escorted, photographed and interviewed in the maze of corridors populated by hundreds of potential fans. Several slot machines in the MGM lobby have even had to be temporarily moved to facilitate the comings and goings of the stars between the theatre, the hotel entrance and the site of the party at the MGM Grand Arena, and, of course, to ensure the safety of everyone.

Anh-Dao Bui
Assistant to the Production Manager


What is This?

The following entries are excerpts given to us by an anonymous Cirquester from the KÀ Creators’ Notebook, and they feature some very interesting behind-the-scenes notes regarding the creation of the MGM Grand show. Picking up just following the official press conference on September 15, 2004, we hear from Anh-Dao Bui (the Assistant to the Production Manager), Céciles Vignes (Internal Communications Advisor), and Stéphane Mongeau (Production Manager) as milestones in the show’s creation are reached – including living through a “Lion’s Den” performance!