Through the magic of Tivo, I watched the first two episodes of the very riveting Cirque du Soleil documentary mini-series, The Fire Within which debuted this week.   This series shows us the 6-12 months prior to leading up to the launch of Cirque’s latest show, Verekai (launched summer last year).

So here is my book report for those of you who don’t get Bravo.Okay.  For obvious reasons, I was hoping to take notes on how innovative theatre is created from concept through production.  Unfortunately, the show immediately zeroed in on the personal lives of individual performers.  (not that that’s all that bad, but I was hoping to glean some more creative tips and was a little disappointed to see yet another reality tv show letting us “get to know” the people).

The first sequence was filled with teaser shots from the completed show… a lot of tension, butterflies in stomach, loud drumming, really wild costumes, screaming, etc.

Then the documentarian announcer says something like, “It took a lot of work to get to this point.”  Cue blur-transition to demonstrate flashback to the first day the performers arrived at the studios in Canada.  Note that we have no idea what happened to get them there. (i.e. we’re leaving out the interesting bit where the creative team talks about show theme and lists out potential acts)

The episodes I saw focused on a difficult, bratty male acrobat (performing in a very cool foot-tumbling/juggling routine called Icarian Games… imagine one guy laying on his back with his feet stuck up on the air which he uses to JUGGLE the other acrobats who do flips and very dangerous seated landings (dangerous for a guy, most definitely)).  This guy (a Brit) had a miserable attitude, “It’s so boring here.  I don’t know what I’m doing here.”  We learn that his mom was diagnosed with cancer before he left, but I’m having trouble giving him sympathy.

By way of contrast, they showed us a very slick character named Oleg who is a seasoned performer with lots of charisma but very low-key.  He does a dance number (Pas de Deux) with a girl who probably weighs no more than 75 pounds but has a face that is disrturbingly stern.  I recognize that face from the broadcast of Quidam and it makes my blood curdle.  Shiver.

They DID spend some time on a talent scout who was looking for the singers for the show.  He had an incredibly difficult job because the shows directors gave him no clues as to what kind of voice they wanted!   He’d travel the world and bring back maybe a videotape of ONE person and the directors would take 2 minutes and just flippantly say in French-Canadian accents, “For me… no…”  Then, the scout, clearly frustrated would say things like, “Ok, this is good.  Because that’s another tiny clue I can use to continue guessing what it is you need, here.”

That was actually something surprising… that the show wasn’t nearly as thought out as I would have expected  6 months out.  In fact, it was mostly a loose set of ideas and everyone was figuring it out as they went.

There were LOTS of different people working on the show… individual coaches for EACH act, for example.  A physical trainer, a training coordinator (who, among other things, worries about the mental state of the performers), a “movement director” (choreographer), costume designer, sound designer (which is different from the music composer which is different than the music director, mind you)…on and on… That’s not even counting the logistics people, the technical riggers, light and set designers, sales & marketing…

And then the staff rotates in TOURING teams that deal with things like advance preparation, tent set-up, road chefs…

It’s a big business, no doubt…

Then again, they’ve been at this for a while, now.