Wintuk Creators Notebook

Wintuk Creators' Notebook

February 9, 2007

Members of the Production team have barely taken their places, but already we have the complete storyboard and an acrobatic skeleton.

Some of the images from the storyboard for the show, which was completed by Robert Massicotte on December 6, will be presented to Daneil Lamarre shortly. Fernand Rainville, Director of Creation, and Richard Blackburn, Director, are working feverishly to complete the casting and confirm the acrobatic disciplines. The troupe will be made up of a total of 50 artists. We signed our first artist’s contract last week.

On January 23, a preliminary set design was delivered by designer Patricia Ruel, while François Barbeau has submitted all the preliminary costume designs. These designs are aesthetic intentions that will be used in defining the language of the show in concert with the director. We should have the final designs by mid-March. A small team is starting to assemble in the costume workshops, under the supervision of Mona Tremblay, to produce the first few prototypes.

Two puppeteers from Théâtre de la Dame de Coeur demonstrate a handling technique using a puppet from one of their shows. Designers have made a first visit to the workshops at Théâtre de la Dame de Coeur to learn about their working methods and puppet-handling techniques.

Almost 40% of the show’s numbers will involve puppets. One of the project’s challenges will be to harmonize our know-how with that of our collaborators: artisans from the Cirque costumes and props workshops will have to work very closely with those of Théâtre de la Dame de Coeur, who have the necessary expertise in “marionetics” (a word we coined for the technique that lies behind this discipline). Fifteen of the fifty artists will bring these puppets to life during performances. Their coaching and training will involve techniques similar to those used for our athletes.

The next steps: Simon Carpentier’s musical intentions, auditions in New York and the final concepts by mid-March...

March 9, 2007

On February 19, in New York, Fernand Rainville, Director of Creation gave a presentation on the show concept and storyboard to our partners at Madison Square Garden. Here’s what one of our partners, Mr. Tim Schmidt, had to say afterwards:

"First of all, let me say again that we all loved the presentation. The show has the feeling of a timeless fable that will appeal to all ages. We all feel like we may really be witnessing the birth of a new New York institution. I can't say enough about it! You guys have really outdone yourselves! Again, we’d like to thank everyone for their work so far. I think this show will have a unique universal appeal."

Needless to say, these were encouraging words for the Creation team, which will have to outdo itself in this unique, tremendous adventure. The work is being carried out at an unbelievable pace, and the atmosphere is incredibly intense, because the final concepts are going to be presented in mid-March. So soon? Oh yes!

Spring is just around the corner, and the snow storm of a few days ago was a good reminder of nature’s beauty and strength, and of how unpredictable and fragile it is. You will soon meet the Folk of the North created by François Barbeau, Costume Designer and see Patricia Ruel’s inspiring and evocative set design, which takes us from the urbanity of the big city to imaginary wide-open spaces inhabited by disturbing shadows and Ice Giants. For this innovative winter tale, the Creation team is exploring several original avenues.

First, a puppet plays the show’s protagonist. Last week, the initial prototype for an oversized Whimsical arrived at the Cirque workshops, enchanting our teams and making everyone aware of the stimulating challenges that lie ahead. The Whimsicals are magical dogs—not the kind you’d ever find in a pet shop, which are absolutely adorable, whacky, funny, wild and silly; they’ll be sure to delight the audience, not to mention the Merchandising Department!

Second, the show includes songs. Jim Corcoran has joined the team as songwriter. That was some of the good news from February! He is currently working on the musical cues with composer Simon Carpentier. The cues are bits of song that provide information and move the story along. As a joke, Mr. Corcoran challenged himself to producing the next holiday season classic. I have had the privilege of hearing what these two artists have been working on and, I have to say, Jim may well achieve his goal.

The Winter Show project is unique in that the acts are all justified in the script, meaning that the guest artists’ expertise and acts will serve to illustrate the story. This very simple tale is about a little boy on a quest to find snow. His search takes him on an extraordinary adventure.

A small Casting delegation, including Director Richard Blackburn and Fernand Rainville, will be going to New York at the end of March to look for the rare gem to take on the role of this pivotal character in our story.

April 6, 2007

Only two seasons to go before the carpet is rolled out for this much-anticipated event. At that point, we’ll be talking about a carpet covered in snow and a wonderful winter’s tale sure to be enjoyed by adults and children alike. These seven months will be needed to finish preparing the show. Initial training got underway on March 12, and will continue until August.

Rehearsals will be held in Pointe-aux-Trembles, in a refitted space that will be a carbon copy of the show’s venue. A 150-foot wide stage with acrobatic ramps will be built, allowing artists to rehearse their respective acts. Also planned is the setup of a big top at the intersection of Highway 40 and Boulevard du Tricentenaire (near Montréal). These conditions will enable the Production team and designers to put the finishing touches to the work. This is an interesting challenge, considering we have only eight weeks of rehearsals. It’s worth noting that the show’s preparation period will be the shortest in Cirque’s history!

Apart from acrobatic numbers, the Winter Show’s concept rests on the introduction of puppetry. At the workshops of the Théâtre de la Dame de Coeur, in Upton, the prototypes of the most complex giant puppets have been completed and artistic intentions finalized. At the Costume Workshops, research and development is making good progress. The mock-ups are done, while color testing and fireproofing of original, never-before-used materials are in progress. At the Follow-up Props-making Workshop, development work on the manufacturing of puppet coverings is on the right track, which is quite a feat, if you consider that we have to dress 14-foot high ice giants!

As regards the set, Scène Éthique will submit the design and manufacturing plans at the end of April. Given the special nature of the project, which will see the light of day during the Christmas season, we like to say that Santa’s workshops have opened a few months earlier to ensure on-time delivery. And like any self-respecting Santa’s workshop, we sometimes have to put up with grumpiness!

As far as Casting is concerned, most of the show’s artists have signed their names on the dotted line. Numbering fifty, they come from just about everywhere, including Germany, Argentina, Belarus, Canada, the United States, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Italy, Mexico, Russia and the Ukraine. As to the leading roles, the artist who will play the part of the young boy has yet to be discovered. On April 1 in New York City, auditions were held to find the boy whose character will be questing for snow on the stage at Madison Square Garden.

This all-new Cirque du Soleil production will be presented from November 1, 2007 to January 6, 2008. Madison Square Garden, our partner in this adventure, is deploying every effort necessary to ensure that this story becomes a big hit. On May 2, the show will be performed before the owners of MSG, as well as some 150 sales reps from New York State. The aim is not only to spike the interest of retail outlets, but to present the scenario in the hope that that this story will, with the passing of the years, turn into a classic.

Geneviève Barrière and Michel Granger

April 24, 2007

“This new creative challenge is very inspiring for us,” said Gilles Ste-Croix, Senior Vice President of Creative Content. “Creating a new show based on a family-oriented storyline and theme has made us look at different artistic forms. We’re using large-scale puppetry and transforming traditional acrobatic numbers into fun and games experienced from a child’s perspective. We really hope Wintuk’s tale will create a sense of childlike wonderment in the audience.”

Cirque will experience many firsts with this new production. Wintuk has been designed exclusively for The Theater at Madison Square Garden, Cirque du Soleil's first permanent address in New York for a show presented outside the Big Top. Additionally, Wintuk will be the first Cirque du Soleil show created specifically for a family audience. People of all ages will identify with the lead character, Wintuk, and his quest to find snow and adventure. And Wintuk will be the first Cirque du Soleil production to be built around a specific precisely defined premise: the theme of winter. With all of these firsts, the new production is certain to amaze everyone from long-time Cirque du Soleil fans to those experiencing the excitement of Cirque for the very first time.

Richard Blackburn & Fernand Rainville

May 4, 2007

The name of the show that will be put on by Cirque du Soleil at Madison Square Garden was recently unveiled: Wintuk. The name evocative of wide-open northern landscapes, with a seasonal resonance and amusing sound is also a breed of dog! Look up Wintuk on Google and, past the links referring to our show, you will learn a bit about this breed of Alaskan malamute. Come to think of it, we also have dogs in the show, but ours are funnier. But do you pronounce it Win-touk or Win-tock? It is Win-touk. I would have pronounced it Win-tock, like tick-tock!

Time’s a-wastin’! It is passing very quickly.

Not a moment to spare. It is high time to reveal to you the names of the designers who are working on the show. Listing off the highlights and accomplishments of all the show designers’ careers would keep me tied to this computer for days. If you don’t mind, I will keep it simple.

In set design, props and puppet esthetics: PATRICIA RUEL - Patricia made the props for LOVE and KÀ. This is the first time she is in charge of décor for Cirque. In costumes and puppet esthetics: FRANÇOIS BARBEAU - François made the costumes for Dralion, the FINA show and, well, François does it all. Makeup: ELENI URANIS - A partner of François Barbeau on Dralion and FINA. In musical design: SIMON CARPENTIER - The music in Zumanity is his! In puppet design: RENÉ CHARBONNEAU - René designed the puppets for the Théâtre de la Dame de Coeur for almost 30 years. In acrobatic rigging design: GUY ST-AMOUR - His name has been associated with Cirque shows since the early days, most recently with LOVE. In acrobatic performance design: DANIEL COLA - From artist for La Nouba to designer for LOVE. In lighting design: YVES AUCOIN – “A New Day” for Céline, LOVE for Cirque. In choreography: CATHERINE ARCHAMBAULT - Catherine has worked with Cirque for several years. She did a remarkable job on DELIRIUM. In projections: FRANCIS LAPORTE - Soon to be an old hand at Cirque. Varekai and LOVE come to mind; he is also working on the magic project for Vegas in 2008. In sound: JONATHAN DEANS and LEON ROTHENBERG - Jonathan, master of sound for several Cirque shows, and Leon who just did the sound design for KOOZA.

Fernand Rainville

May 11, 2007

If you believe that the milder weather of the last few weeks has melted the enthusiasm of the team behind the Wintuk show, think again! The Cirque blizzard destined to sweep through New York City next November is approaching on the horizon, and our teams are busy getting ready for it.

Last week, Director of Creation Fernand Rainville and Production Manager Michel Granger went to the Big Apple to present the Wintuk creative concept to our partners responsible for promoting the production. They showed a short video tracing the show’s storyline and unveiling a few of its creative and technical surprises. Among other things, our partners were able to see the Inuit and Siberian influences apparent in many of the costumes as well as the techniques developed to move the show’s puppets. The response from those in attendance was very positive, suggesting great things ahead for Cirque’s first show in New York City.

After several weeks of intensive research to find the perfect home for the Wintuk team until it leaves for New York City, a former garden products factory in Pointe-aux-Trembles, a district in eastern Montreal, was chosen. The 40,000-sq.-ft. structure will be renovated to provide a fitting space for our artists and creation staff, and even the production offices. Bringing the various teams closer together will help them make the most of a very tight production schedule. Let’s not forget that the entire Wintuk team will have only eight weeks to deliver the goods. A big top will also be pitched along Highway 40, near the factory, so that equipment and materials required for the show can be put in place.

June 29, 2007

It’s official! After a mere 11 months in development, Wintuk, a winter tale for the whole family, will be ready for its debut! With a furious work schedule, creators in high gear and ideas in abundance, the story of Wintuk is taking shape beautifully in preparation for its premiere in New York next November.

With this extremely tight creation deadline, Director Richard Blackburn is carrying out the demanding and meticulous process of exploring the space and the interactions between scenes, in order to get an unequivocally precise visualization of the show. Inside a large-scale 3-D model of Wintuk’s set design, each scene is examined under the Director’s microscope.

Surrounding the model are miniature cardboard characters, patiently awaiting their moment in the spotlight. The artists and their costumes are printed to scale, the giant puppets are resized, cut, and placed on their handmade bases, and the timer is set so that every second is accounted for and used to its fullest. Allowing himself to be carried away by his own imagination, and with the invaluable contributions of the project’s collaborators, Richard Blackburn creates the detailed sequence of events that will define this show, in writing and in images. Day by day, as the images accumulate and develop into a storyboard worthy of the movies, the on-set dynamic begins to take shape, issues make themselves known, and Wintuk’s Great North becomes a reality. The Director’s process is spectacular and fascinatingly methodical. Visualization allows the Director to pinpoint the opportunities for fun and surprises which will make Wintuk a playful adventure, with high-level performances and unpredictable action!

Further to this rigorous preparation and visualization, the artists will have a short rehearsal period, during which they will be able to devote their energy to the story. This is when the visual score takes a backseat to the electrifying energy of our artists so that Wintuk can come to life as an inspiring, imaginative metaphor and an unforgettable show experience for the whole family!

Mathieu Gatien
Assistant to the Director

July 27, 2007

Are you familiar with the tale of Alice in Wonderland? The passage I enjoy the most is when Alice finds herself surrounded by oversize objects, including a huge cup with a spoon the size of a shovel! And now here I am, right in the middle of the creation of Wintuk, surrounded, in turn, by giant props. Our own Alice, Designer Patricia Ruel, is working closely with our mad hatter, Costume Designer François Barbeau. Together they are creating the aesthetics of the giant puppets that will be part of Wintuk’s cast of characters.

Our wonderland will be inhabited by a family of dogs that are perfectly irresistible despite their impressive size. To create these enormous bow-wows, our designers drew inspiration from the personalities of six dogs suggested by our Stage Director. The Costume and Props teams were charged with the task of covering the dogs’ puppet structure. The result is simply magical! The dogs are garbed in coats made of crazy white fur dyed in different shades for each member of the canine family.

On stage, these large, friendly beasts amble between swing-style lampposts. The streetlamps—our other giant puppets—have their own personalities as well. Inspired from the swing singers of the 1930s, they sparkle like stars in their sequined costumes.

For a few weeks Cirque’s costume and props workshops morphed into ice cube factories. All were busy building giant cubes made of fabric which were modified and patinated to make them look like massive pieces of ice. Once assembled, these cubes become ice giants. In total, three gargantuan monsters will be manipulated on stage by puppeteers.

From ice factory to feather factory: To clothe two mammoth birds, we needed some 400 giant feathers, each of which is composed of four or five different fabrics superimposed, assembled and fastened on the birds’ bodies. Altogether, we used more than 20 different fabrics to give these birds their splendid look. Putting together these giant props proved to be an extremely stimulating challenge for us. The results of all this teamwork will no doubt sweep the show’s audiences into the unique world of Wintuk!

Marie-Eve Lemieux
Props Assistant


What is This?

The following entries are excerpts given to us by an anonymous Cirquester from the Wintuk Creators’ Notebook, and they feature some very interesting behind-the-scenes notes regarding the creation of the Madison Square Garden show. Picking up just following the official announcement, we hear from Richard Blackburn (Director), Fernand Rainville (Director of Creation), Mathieu Gatien (Assistant to the Director), Marie-Eve Lemieux (Props Assistant), Geneviève Barrière and Michel Granger – in their own words – as they experienced the creative process of brining Wintuk from the page into the theater.