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Performance Space

Paramour marked Cirque du Soleil's Broadway debut, with star-crossed lovers set in a kinetic world of song, dance, and acrobatic feats, from trapeze to trampoline. Under the artistic supervision of creative guide Jean-François Bouchard, Paramour was directed by French director and choreographer Philippe Decouflé, whose design team included set designer Jean Rabasse, costume designer Philippe Guillotel, lighting designer Patrice Besombes, projection designers Olivier Simola and Christophe Waksmann, and sound designer John Shivers.

[ Set & StageProjectionSound Design ]

Set & Stage

Jean Rabasse, the scenic designer, found that "working on Paramour was extraordinary, but there were a certain number of specific constraints related to this spectacle, and one must understand that, in producing Paramour on Broadway, Cirque du Soleil wanted for the first time to unite three very different universes," he says. "First, the universe created by Philippe Decouflé and his design team: costumes, choreography, video, lighting, and scenery. We all tried to find a different angle, a spirit of contradiction, the desire to show things in a graphic or abstract manner, but also to try and mix styles, and the ways to tell a story in a linear and figurative way but also be elliptical, in a more abstract manner."

The second universe for Rabasse is the world of Cirque du Soleil, where, he states, "acrobatic performance, or the showcasing of the artists is balanced by a style close to that of Commédia dell'Arte, with a strong sense of direction, that is dreamlike, festive, young, and above all, always looking for the highest level of acrobatics, without doubt the best in the world."

The third universe in Paramour is the world of Broadway theatre, "with its high level of music, the exceptional quality of its singers and dancers, an incredible sense of narration, and the incredible quality in the creation of scenery, costumes, and lighting," says Rabasse. "So, while uniting these three universes was exhilarating, rousing, and magnificent, it was also difficult, sometimes conflicting but possible. It took an incredible amount of energy by creative guide Jean-François Bouchard from Cirque du Soleil, by producer Jayna Neagle, and, of course, Scott Zieger to drive all these teams that are so different yet so creative together."

Rabasse also finds that creating scenery for Cirque du Soleil entails certain technical constraints. "This is the very essence of Cirque and its demanding performance style, as well as its concern for the safety of the artists," he explains. "Every acrobatic element is a long, patient discussion that includes trainers, coaches, the director, choreographer, engineers, scenic shop, and the set designer. It is a huge job to succeed in creating a new number."

For Rabasse, "The number with the trampoline on the rooftops of New York, in the spirit of Warren Beatty's film, Dick Tracy, was extraordinary but long and laborious to create. Even the choreographer for this number took a really long time to create the impression of lightness and ease," he says.

"The Western tableau was also a long process, even though the basic idea was to create a light, joyous number. You often have to put yourself at the service of the performance to make these tableaux successful, while remaining true to your convictions," Rabasse notes.

Rabasse's experience of many years working with Philippe Decouflé, followed by three spectacles with Cirque du Soleil, gives him what he feels is "sufficient experience to be part of the creation of these tableaux and propose scenic solutions in the service of the acrobatic performance," he adds. "It is truly a team effort, with a lot of strong personalities and strong convictions."

In addition, Rabasse found that working on Broadway with American crews was a true joy. "I had the good luck to have Christine Peters as associate designer and David Benken as technical director," he says. "I was also able to discover techniques that are specific to Broadway and an ease of getting all the scenic elements coordinated. I also really enjoyed working with the team of painters and have great memories of their work."

"Voila!" concludes Rabasse. "At the end of the day, these three universes, with their knowhow, their desires, and their convictions, created, I hope, a light and enjoyable production. I hope that the audience senses my pleasure at being invited to create the décor for Paramour."


Projection designer Christophe Waksmann notes that one of the most challenging things for him was to find the proper camera for the use of live video in the show, with the least latency possible. "As the lip synchro is important for live cameras, we had trouble finding the right model. After a few weeks trying different models, we finally found the right one," he says.

Another challenge for Waksmann is that the show is run without a projection operator, which is not the way he's used to working. "Usually in every show I design, an operator is necessary to run the show properly," he says. "So the challenge was to find a way to get rid of the operator and launch the cues with the lights on a timecode. Actually, it seems to work."

Sound Design

When Cirque du Soleil Paramour, the organization's first show created expressly for Broadway, took flight at the Lyric Theatre, Sound Designer John Shiver and Associate Sound Designer David Patridge were putting the finishing touches on a custom audio equipment package provided by Masque Sound for Cirque du Soleil's first musical.

In designing the sound for Paramour, the duo wanted to ensure the audio was evenly distributed while maintaining its transparency. "The principles of sound design are the same regardless if you are doing something super simple or very complicated," says Patridge. "We want to provide every seat in the house with a clearly audible sonic experience. One of the luxuries on Paramour was that we had the band for almost six weeks with the cast on stage. This is very unusual, as typically we get the orchestra at the last minute and for a very short time before going into performances. This allowed us to really get things dialed in and we were able to achieve what we set out to do."

The biggest challenge faced by the designers was the acoustics of the venue itself. "The Lyric Theatre is one of Broadway's largest houses with more than 1700 seats," adds Patridge. "The theatre has been beautifully renovated but did have some acoustical hindrances. There are many surfaces of flat reflective plaster in the theatre that are not ornamental, which makes the sound coming out of the speakers bounce around on the walls and ceiling. This is where we found difficulty in balancing intelligibility while also making sure we had enough fill speakers to overcome the reflective energy. I think in the end we managed to meet the challenge and every seat in the theatre has good sound."

With the theatre's acoustical obstacles, speaker selection was critical. The team relied on Masque Sound to provide a custom PA system from Czech Republic-based, KV2 Audio. According to Patridge, "We went in a new direction with our speaker selection for Paramour by using KV2 Audio speakers. We were exposed to them when we did a show in Germany a few years ago and really liked the sound. They make point source speakers as opposed to line arrays. They are large and therefore have a lot of low-frequency information in addition to detailed high's and mid-ranges; they sound like a high-fidelity speaker. We asked Masque Sound to make a large purchase of KV2 equipment for this show and we were very happy they obliged. We have a variety of KV2 boxes in the show including most of the main PA, surrounds, delays and fills. They are a newcomer to Broadway and the sound is incredible."

For the console, Masque Sound provided the designers with the tried-and-true Broadway main staple, DiGiCo SD7 with theatre software and Waves audio plug-ins. Another interesting component to the custom audio package was the use of Lectrosonics SSM Micro Belt Pack Digital Hybrid Wireless audio for compandor-free digital quality. "The form factor of the SSM is really excellent for theatre work," says Patridge. "It fits very well under a costume or wig without feeling bulky and is quite a bit smaller than what we have been using. It sounds really good and has great battery life. We paired those with Lectrosonics Venue 2 six-channel single rack receivers."

The designers also used Clear-Com's HelixNet intercom system for the first time. The system is one of the larger, if not the largest on Broadway. It's fairly new to the Broadway market and allows for multiple channelization over a single XLR. It does a lot of things that traditional partyline intercoms don't do without going into digital intercom, which can be a more complicated and expensive set up.

"In addition to the HelixNet system, we also utilized Clear-Com's FreeSpeak II digital wireless intercom system," adds Patridge. "It uses Wi-Fi type frequencies and operates in a different manner then we have been using, which is the standard UHF type Telex wireless intercom. It was not entirely risky because we had good reports before we put it on the show. There was a small learning curve, but we managed to push it to its limits. We used 16-20 wireless intercoms and it ended up working really well; everyone is very happy with it. The Clear-Com products are new to Masque Sound as well and they were very interested in following the set up and learning from it. Masque Sound treated us very well and provided lots of support."

Rounding out the sound package was a selection of microphones including DPA d:screet 4061s for the cast, and DPA d:dicate 4011s and Neumann TLM 102s for the orchestra. Paramour also marks the first time the designers have ever had to put a wireless microphone in a vacuum cleaner.

"Scott Kalata at Masque Sound continues to be a go-to person for us," adds Patridge. "He brings it all together in a big picture sense and we certainly call upon all of Masque Sound's technical expertise when putting the show together. We love working with Masque Sound. In addition, our Second Engineer Lucas Indelicato and longtime Production Engineer Kevin Kennedy both did an incredible job as did John Gibson, head of sound at the Lyric Theatre. John has been a pleasure to work with and turned out to be a vital asset to us. Thanks to this wonderful collaboration, Paramour looks and sounds great."

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