“Underneath an Empty Big Top: Raising the Tent”

By: Keith Johnson

Walt Disney, in describing the layout of his game-changing theme park, took to describing the tall architectural highlight of the lands off the spokes of Disneyland as the “weenie” – the thing that drew the guests eye and enticed them to enter a particular land.

For Cirque du Soleil the “weenie” is the circus tent, or as they prefer to call it the “Grand Chapiteau.” Usually visible from arterials or freeways where they can be seen by hundreds of thousands of potential patrons each day they silently announce the arrival of the Circus of the Sun. Cirque even uses the construction of the tent in each city as a piece of publicity, inviting media to attend “tent raisings,” another way of getting free press on the evening news.

After years of seeing those quick bits of news on local TV, we decided to see what goes on at one of them ourselves. And for that we chose LUZIA.

PART 1: ONE, TWO, THREE, GO!

Friday, March 24th, 2017, 1pm PT, Marymoor Park, Redmond, WA

It is a cool, cloudy day, with temperatures in the 50’s. It had rained the night before so all the surfaces glisten, and small puddles shine here and there. I approach the chain link fence that encircles the asphalt pad that Cirque will use as its headquarters. The gates to the main entrance, large enough to accommodate trucks, are locked off. But there is a smaller gate to its right, with a specially-poured asphalt footpath that leads off the main road and over a patch of grass. A young lady greets me at the entry gate. “Are you media?” she asks. “Close enough,” I reply. She points me to a tarp-covered area connected to a portable office, where everyone checks in.

I ask for and am introduced to Francis Jalbert, LUZIA publicist and my contact. “Welcome to LUZIA,” he greets cheerfully. He’s tall, trim, energetic, in his late 20’s with short black hair under his hardhat and a French-tinged accent.“Thank you for letting me watch,” I reply. “My pleasure,” he responds. After signing in, I am directed to a box containing hardhats of various colors and orange reflective vests.Another person reminds me to please keep the vest (stamped with the show logo on the back) and hat (not) on as long as I am on-site and return them when I am done.We are, after all, at a construction site. They also provide me with a media badge; a triangular sticker with the name of the show, the word “Media,” and the date handwritten in marker on the bottom. As I am doing this there are conversations in French going on around me.

Another publicity person asks the assembled camera crew if they would like to film the outside of the tent,so they have a comparison. There are three TV cameras here:KOMO Channel 4 (komonews.com), the ABC affiliate, KING Channel 5 (king5.com), the NBC affiliate, and KCPQ Channel 13 (q13fox.com), the Fox affiliate.A radio station is also represented, soft rock KWRM-FM 106.9 (warm1069.com). Also, there is local weekly The Redmond Reporter (Redmond-reporter.com) (Marymoor Park, where Cirque is setting up shop, is situated in the city of Redmond). There are also a couple of what appear to be bloggers present, though I don’t get their names or who they write for.

And then there’s me. I stand back a step or two to take it all in. After getting set up with the vests and hats there is a long pause as we wait.

In front of us – the tent. It rests like a half-inflated tire; you know it’s there, but it isn’t good for anything without more work. The top cupola sits about two-thirds of the way up the four 15 meter (82 feet) tall masts and the swooping curve of the canvas leads to the outside walls. The blue metal poles that will soon be pushed into place are attached to the canvas but rest inside the canvas circle. The lowest the canvas reaches is about four feet off the ground. Forward of the tent the top conical-shaped cupolas for the concessions tent are already in place at the top of their respective masts.

Hanging down as it is, one can’t easily see the specially-painted pattern on the canvas. The LUZIA press kit describes the white color of the tent and the pattern painted on it thusly: “LUZIA marks the first time Cirque du Soleil presents a production under a Big Top featuring printed patterns directly related to the theme of the show. The patterns evoke the association between Cirque du Soleil (the sun) and Mexico (the word originates from Mtztli, meaning ‘moon’, and Xuctli which means ‘middle’) and symbolize the meeting of two celestial bodies: the sun and the moon. A bird’s eye view reveals the path of the stars that spiral out from the centre of the Big Top – the symbolic meeting point between earth and sky, sacred and human.”

The rest of the site is busy but pretty barren of structures. Interestingly, the artistic tent is fully assembled; I had thought it would be built after the main tent (I would later find out why.) Sprinkled across the asphalt and lining the perimeter of the chain link fence that marks the limits of the built-to-Cirque-spec asphalt pad are many boxes and containers – poles here, pallets of seats over there, attaching cables there, hot dog machines, popcorn makers, beverage refrigerators behind that. A couple of forklifts scurry around the site, occasionally moving an item from one area to place it gingerly at another. Items seem specifically placed, each having its own unique location on the asphalt – items closer to the tent being needed sooner than items closer to the fence line. Despite its clutter, it LOOKS organized.

While we wait I strike up a conversation with a nearby Cirque employee. This person having years of experience at the company, I ask a question on many fans minds but hard to get feedback on: Have they noticed any difference since Cirque was purchased by the private equity firms (TPG and Fosun). “A little bit. Not so much with creation of the shows; TPG is very well aware that their expertise is not in that side of the arts. What’s changed more is how we approach business decisions. Now that there’s a different type of Board of Directors, now that there’s a group of investors that are looking at the numbers differently, in my opinion we’ve become a smarter business. We were managed very well, managed with heart, we were passionate about what we did. But they brought in an expertise through their advisors and such that have really made a difference in that sense.” So the creation process has remained the same? “That’s all the same. There hasn’t been any change in that, because again they know that’s where our domain is.”

Eventually Francis comes forward, he explains to all of us what will happen next. First, he says, we’ll go inside the big top so we can see the poles that support the big top going up. It takes about five people to put up each pole. Afterwards we’ll go outside where the company manager will be available. She will be able to answer questions about the tent, the space, and anything else we’d like to ask. He mentions the 65 trucks that take the show from town to town. He talks about some of the upcoming stops and mentions that the average lifespan of a Cirque show is 10 to 12 years. He himself has been with the company seven years.

He cautions the camera people that it will be dark inside the tent and to adjust their cameras accordingly. One camera crew person asks if they can shoot the trucks as they move around the site, Francis responds that that would be fine but there is not a lot of movement at any one time. It’s kind of like a ballet; one element gets moved in, then another, then another over the setup.

Eventually Francis gathers the group to go underneath the big top for the tent raising. “Inside the tent you will see four main masts, and we ask that you stay within the line of those four masts. The way we do it is kind of a domino effect, so we start on one side and push the poles up and then move on to the next section. You can move around within the box but don’t move beyond the box. Keep in mind it is a construction site. There is some height restriction when you enter so watch your head.”

As we walk toward the tent Francis pulls me aside to ask about Teatro Zinzanni (zinzanni.org). The cirque-influenced dinner theater in a round spiegeltent had to close to make way for more apartments as part of Seattle’s Amazon-influenced burst of growth. The site on which Teatro Zinzanni sat is only about a half-mile from several Amazon-occupied buildings so the land is quite valuable, much more than a nonprofit circus organization can afford. (In an ironic twist, the land was owned by another arts organization, The Seattle Opera(.org) and leased to Zinzanni for years in a sweetheart deal.) It had long been a performance space where many past and future Cirque artists had performed, it is a sad loss. Some months after LUZIA would leave town, however, Zinzanni would find temporary residence space – on the asphalt we are now walking on, where LUZIA will perform in another week.

We approach the tent single file. In a couple of places we must step over Yellow Jacket-brand power cable protector thoughs, where thick power cables snake across construction walkways. The raised ramps, I note, are custom made with the Cirque du Soleil logotype on them. The canvas at the door 2 entrance hangs down about 4 feet above the asphalt,we have to duck under as we enter. The empty space inside is huge and dark, cavernous, the underside painted the same navy-blue color of the poles. In seven days the show will be ready, seating and staging in place, lighting and sound adjusted, ready for performance. But now it is a large empty space. Sounds reflect from throughout the tent, rebounding and echoing, making any communication from farther than a few feet away difficult to understand.

The team from Cirque heads us towards the center of the tent between the four masts and asks us, for our own safety, to not move beyond the perimeter of the masts.In the center along with us sits a long rectangular black road case box on top of a flatbed trailer, about the width of the cupola above. I believe this is part of the unique-to-LUZIA water apparatus that will be hoisted later, after they kick out crowing seagulls that have already found refuge in the rafters.

From our position in the center of the tent we can look outward toward the entire 51-meter (167 feet) tent circumference. The 10-foot tall metal poles, painted navy blue, are pre-positioned facing inward into the tent and attached to the canvas at the other end. If you consider the entrance to the artistic tent to be 12 o’clock on the clock face they will start their process at two o’clock and proceed clockwise until all the poles have been placed.

Gathered together to put up the poles is a group of around 40-50 people, maybe more, all bedecked in hardhats and orange vests which say “Rhino” on the back.It takes about 65 people to put the tent up, Francis explains. They hire 50 locally and the rest are Cirque crew. We try to listen as they are instructed by one of Cirque’s set up crew, who speaks loudly in a French-tinged accent. His voice reverberates through the tent;there is nothing else to absorb the sound so the echo is strong.The workers are positioned in groups of five around 10 of the polls. “I am going to count 1-2-3-GO,” he explains,“and on GO everyone pushes their mast into position.” His other notes to the crew are impossible to make out, being swallowed up and spat back at us several times over.

The cameramen push to the limits of the invisible perimeter so they can get the best shots. I hang back to allow the TV cameras space. When I snap a picture with my flash on it makes the reflective tape of the workers vests glow white.

The man supervising the pole set-up crew asks, “You guys ready?” Immediately a couple of the pole teams start pushing, but prematurely. For a moment there is general confusion and laughter. The boss gathers his crew again and gives more explicit instructions. “Are you ready? One,Two,Three, GO!”With that command everyone pushes on their poles, making a loud scraping sound that screams underneath the canvas. It takes less than 10 seconds to bring the poles to their upright position.

The media gathered between the masts observes carefully, all eyes and cameras watching the setup crew. After the first set of poles are in place the group moves on. Less than a minute after the first set of poles are placed they start pushing the second set. Again, the cacophonous scraping noise consumes the tent.

And so it goes, repeating and repeating, in a clockwise direction around the circumference of the tent. While this is happening Francis engages me in conversation. We talk about the incorporation of water into the show and how the audience reaction to LUZIA is similar to the response to one of our favorite Cirque shows, KURIOS.

Almost precisely five minutes later, after six sets of pushes, all the poles have been slid into place. A round of applause erupts from the workers. With the poles in place they move on to other tasks. Many work with ratchets attached to a few of the 550 stakes previously hammered into the asphalt,tightening up the slack guy wires, notching the canvas taut against the just erected pole.

With the visual part of our show over we are escorted out and past the perimeter of the tent spray painted in yellow on the asphalt, not needing to stoop as we did when we entered. We are relocated to an area in front of but a bit of a distance away from the tent, where we are gathered in a line, with cameras facing forward towards the tent. As the tent set up continues, a couple of forklifts noisily putter around the site moving equipment into the tent.

PART 2: MEET THE PRESS

Now it is time for press availability by the company manager. One of the publicists asks who will be asking questions. One of the cameramen suggests himself to which the publicist responds, “You win!”

A woman walks to a spot in front of the cameras, dressed in all black with grey sneakers, with an orange safety vest with “HR” written in marker on the lower left pocket. She’s about 5’ 6” and plus-sized with a slightly husky voice. Her yellow hardhat is affixed with a yellow plastic carnation taped close to her left ear. Her name is Heather Reilly and she is the company manager, friendly but no-nonsense. Standing in front of the cameras with the newly raised tent as the backdrop she is fitted with a microphone for sound and sticks the transmitter into the left rear pocket of her jeans.

“Welcome to Marymoor Park and the LUZIA tent raising today,” she begins. “What you just saw was about 100 people altogether that were inside and outside the tent to raise the roof, so to speak, so we can now get ready to install LUZIA and be ready for opening on [March] 30th, [2017]. We’re looking forward to that, and the weather is cooperating with us today so it’s super good.”

The question is asked how much effort is required to raise the tent, and to please describe the process.“We were last in San Jose, California and it took a couple of days for us to get our trucks up here. [It takes] 65 trucks of equipment altogether in order to make this happen. The last two days we started preparation. First of all by putting up the masts. Once the masts are up we raise the central part which is called the cupola and hang the canvas. And today what you saw was the tent poles being put in place by manual labor. It’s a big push, it takes a few minutes and now we are ready to install the rest.”

Does weather play a factor? “Weather is a huge factor for us. In fact, when LUZIA opened about a year ago, we delayed our big top tent raising because it was -40° and a huge blizzard!So weather can play a factor.Wind is a big factor for us, it could lift the tent, so we need to make sure that we’re watching out for what’s going on.But today conditions are right.”(When fully anchored, the tent can withstand gusts of up to 120km/h (75 mph).)

Tell us what happens from this point going forward? “For the next couple of days – it takes us seven days [of setup] before our first performance – [we will be] putting in the stage, all of the equipment needed for putting on the show. Around that is a grandstand with 2,600 seats for all of our guests. And then all the infrastructure around it; our entrance tent, our artistic tent, kitchen, our offices, so there is a lot of work.”

What is the biggest obstacle during set up? “That’s a good question. We are so used to different obstacles that we’re pretty good at conquering anything that comes our way. We can manage weather, we manage heat and cold with air-conditioning and heating so there are no problems there. The rest is just having people come. So we need to get everybody here and the magic will happen inside.”

You say you have about 150 people on-site, are these all staff that travel with you? “On site here we have 115 [Cirque] people; there are 44 artists and about 70 staff, who are all the technicians as well as all the behind-the-scenes staff. We also hire people locally. So [for example] we are in the setup process and there is local labor that is working with us. Those people will go off and do other projects and come back again when we tear down. But we also have local staff that are our ushers and work in our front-of-house and box office, so there really is a large influx of people that are local that are working with us as well. We actually double our workforce everywhere we go.”

What happens to your footprint after you leave? “After we leave Marymoor Park gets this wonderful pad back. We’ve actually had a very good relationship [with Marymoor] over the years, we have used this place many times. It was a partnership between Cirque du Soleil and Marymoor Park to build this actual pad. It’s used for a number of events while we’re gone, and every couple of years we come back and put the circus back in place. So it’s got a good lifespan.”

When we talked with Eric Chalifour – Site Analysis Manager with Cirque for our July, 2012 article “Before the Circus Comes to Town” (http://www.cirquefascination.com/?p=3334) we learned that, for Seattle, the size that has hosted Cirque du Soleil tents for several shows has been a specially-constructed 48,500 square foot pad of asphalt about 15 miles east of Seattle in Marymoor Park in the city of Redmond. (http://www.kingcounty.gov/recreation/parks/inventory/marymoor.aspx). (This map makes a special note of the pads location. (https://aqua.kingcounty.gov/gis/web/VMC/recreation/marymoor_park_map_web_16.pdf)

In the article, Mr. Chalifour discussed how the Marymoor Park site is different from many of the other types of sites they use, and how the site was created. “I was there personally at Marymoor Park. At the time it was a soccer field and they decided to develop the area into a park event area. They told us we were the biggest event they would have so if they build their [site] according to our specs they would be able to receive any other event. So we gave them our recommendations and they did the job according to our specs. They filled the place with gravel and added asphalt over a huge area to allow us to install our stuff. It has several fire hydrants, a sewer connection to catch our wastewater – the whole system is there. And after the work had been done we sent a guy to survey the site and it was perfectly done. It’s already perfect for us. And they can also use it for other events.”

Back at the LUZIA site, the cameraman asks another question. You have about 100 people in this process that you must coordinate, how do you prepare for that?“Our tent master Alex is literally a master of that. It’s all about communication. Everything is put in place to begin with and we know exactly what needs to happen, and it’s about having people in the right place at the right time so that the push is a coordinated effort. We need to make sure that the poles are going in sequentially so that nothing goes out of place or falls back down. It’s all about people knowing where to be and what to do at the right time. We’ve been doing this for 35 years so we’re getting pretty good at it.”

Are tickets still available?“Absolutely, tickets are still available! The best place to go is the Cirque du Soleil website, CirqueduSoleil.com, and select your best seats and we will be happy to greet you all. It’s good to be back in the Seattle area, here in Redmond. Thank you all so much for coming out today!”

That signals the end of the video media section of the press conference. It takes a moment for the microphone attached to Ms. Reilly to be removed. It is now 1:25pm. Now the print and Internet reporters get their chance to question her further. She repeats her name. She currently lives in Ottawa, Canada but grew up in Trail, British Columbia just over the Canadian border, 100 miles north of Spokane, Washington(the major Washington city on the east side of the state), so she says she is used to this neck of the woods.

Prior to this where were you working? “I’ve been with Cirque now just over 15 years. My background is as an elementary school teacher who ran away and joined the circus 15 years ago. You never know where life is going to take you!I would never have guessed that coming from a little town like Trail B.C., that I would ever be traveling the world with the circus. So you never know.”

How many people do you employ for the full entire run? “Over the course of the run it takes about 200 people every day to make this happen. So about 115 people from Cirque – 44 artists, 75 staff – and we also hire local staff to be in our box office and our ushers, merchandise, food and beverage, all those people are local people. So that doubles our workforce to about 200 people every day.”

How do you hire local staff? “Local people are all hired through Adecco, a local temporary agency.[Adecco (.com) is the national temp agency that Cirque contracts with for much of their temporary labor, with many local branches throughout the country.] If people are interested they can get in contact with them. We don’t do the recruiting ourselves, they make referrals to us. So we use local agencies.”

Have you guys been able to take people away from here to join the circus? “Run away and join the circus? People join all the time!A lot of people – we call them ‘followers’ –travel from city to city; if they have friends in the next city they can come and work with us again.Over time, though, some people have joined us and become permanent staff members, absolutely.”

What’s the most exciting city you’ve been able to visit? “I’ve been all over the world. Quite honestly there’s no one favorite. Of course, Seattle is like coming home for me; it’s always good to be back in this area. But I’ve been able to work in Japan and Europe and Russia; so many different places. For me it’s about seeing the different people and having the excitement of what we do come to them that makes it all worthwhile.”

Do you ever get a chance to just sit down and watch the show? “I watch the show almost once a week. Not necessarily the whole show, but I’ll go in and watch parts of it; if an artist is doing something new, if we’ve added a new act or changed something, I want to go in and see what happens. But it’s not so much watching the show, it’s watching the audience and their reaction. There are certain things in the show – and I don’t want to give too much away – that get great audience reaction. It’s fun to see what they’re responding to.”

When you finally decide to go home for good where is home going to be? “That’s a really good question. Right now it’s a wonderful house just outside of Ottawa. If that will be where I end up finally, who knows? Who knows what adventure will come next?So we’ll see.”

How do we get tickets? “The best way to get tickets is online, at CirqueduSoleil.com. There’s a link to all the shows, like LUZIA. They’ll be links for Redmond, and people can choose the dates that they want to attend. And from there they can see the seats they want, it’s a really interactive website. We [also] have a box office that’s available on-site; it’s open about two hours before the show. But the faster, easier way is online.”

If you were to tell a kid that they could work in one profession within the realm of the circus, what would it be? “Oh wow!In the realm of the circus? I think I would be a clown. That would be my recommendation. It’s hard, it’s not easy. Because you have to interact with absolutely everybody that’s there, and sometimes you’re alone on stage. But you do get to see everybody and everybody is there to see what you’re doing. But really there are a lot of [jobs], you can be a chef, an accountant, a technician, there’s all sorts of stuff to do.”

A woman asks how many seats are in the arena – 2,600.How many days are your running? They are in town until May 21 [2017]; over the course of the run more than 100,000 people will come see the show.

Could you bring kindergartners or elementary school children? “Absolutely, our show is really for all ages. And we do have a lot of children that come. This is a very fun show, there are a lot of colors, a lot of music, so all ages enjoy it.”

Is there any kind of preshow? “Not activities so much. We have our entrance tent area for people to look around, merchandise and such to look at. But as far as other activities not so much. Before the show itself starts there’s some animation that happens on stage, just to get the audience warmed up.”

A man asks about the flags on the masts. “Well, we are from Québec, so that’s our roots. So the four flags are the national flag of Canada, the Quebéc provincial flag because we’re based in Québec, our corporate flag, and then our host flag. Which in this case is the American flag. And when the big top entrance tent is up – which is actually where we’re standing – [we’ll have a] parade of flags that looks a little bit like the Olympics, and those are all the flags of our nationalities. But in the middle will be the Washington state [flag] as our host. Flags are a big part for us.”

Now it looks like the rest of the media has finished asking their questions, so I decide to make my move and sneak one of my own in. Something unique to LUZIAthat hasn’t been mentioned yet, something not often asked. What extra challenge does the additional element of water add to set up and maintenance? She’s pleasantly surprised, it seems she doesn’t often get that kind of specific question at these press gatherings. “That’s a really good question!The water element is not set up yet. There is a truck in back that holds 2,000 gallons of water. So the biggest part is getting that and the piping that goes with it installed, making sure there’s no leaks along the line.”

She notices I am wearing an “O” shirt, the first Cirque show to use water as a creative element. “It was a big challenge in the beginning. It’s a lot easier to work with water in a theater where everything is climate controlled and environmentally perfect. In Montréal it was25-30 [degrees] when we set up. Pipes burst, [there was] ice everywhere, it was hard to keep water warm. Now we know what we’re doing. [But] it took a long time to figure out. The insulation of the pipes, the way to handle the water, how hot we need to keep it in the tank because it loses temperature as it goes through the system. We need to make sure that it’s still warm enough when it hits the artists.So those were really big learning curves.”

“Since then, a lot of what we’ve learned has been how to maintain the system. For instance, the water is chlorinated and goes through all kinds of filters, etc. We found that the chlorine was leaching metal out of the fabrication. [The nozzle system used to create the water patterns seen in the show have] never been used in this kind of acrobatic way before, it’s always been used in a mall or some other kind of display. But the metal leaching out was plugging the holes [in the water nozzles] and was causing them to stay open, and we had terrible drips and leaks. So they literally took the whole thing apart, all 200 spigots, to [try to] figure out what was going wrong. Then we ordered all new ones and again we saw the corrosion happening and realized that that was what the problem was. So now we need to find that right balance of – how do we keep the water as clean as we need to and not damage it, or is it just a matter of cleaning the system more often?” Since she has been with the show since creation, she was involved in the decision process forall these issues.

As we’re talking a jackhammer punctures the air with its voice, making it very hard to hear(and to transcribe the recording afterwards). Do you have much of a problem with water spillover into the audience? “No,the audience doesn’t get wet at all, there’s no splash zone. We thought in the beginning maybe we were going to have to do that, but no there is no splash at all.”

Was water the biggest challenge for you? She laughs. “Absolutely the biggest challenge in this show. We have a turntable, which other shows have. We have projections [like other shows]. We don’t have any trapdoors or anything like that because there’s too much mechanics underneath. Learning to use the water was the biggest – not obstacle, but new challenge that we had. As Cirque develops new shows we get better and better at new technology, but no one had ever done this. We’ve got it now, we understand it now, but it was fun at the beginning.”

Now the questioning seems to be finished. The jackhammering continues on an occasional basis. The rest of the media breakaway and prepare to pack up to leave the site. I, however, cannot leave without asking Ms. Reilly about the usual order in which things happen in a site setup, since I now seem to have her to myself.

In noting the already-raised artistic tent, Ms. Reilly says, “That went up yesterday. A few things happened a little out of order for us, because we had trucks delayed for a couple of different reasons and some timing things. Some of our trucks didn’t arrive as quickly as they should have. So they’ve done things in a slightly different order. The artistic tent is normally not finished by now, but it is [for the Seattle set up]. They’ve started the VIP tent; we have a new VIP structure [that goes] here (she points to painted lines on the ground). They just pulled out the cupola truck.” The cupola (placed on top of the tent) takes up one full-length truck, which we had just walked around moments before. “Next they will start to work with the stakes inside, those are all needed for technical. They’ll [also] load in the stage and put up the sidewalls; those will go up pretty soon so that they can keep some heat inside. The stage will be done by Sunday evening, Monday they will finish all of that – the artists are on-site Tuesday, so we have to be stage-ready for them by then. And then we’ll [be doing] things Tuesday and Wednesday, and the show opens on Thursday.”

At this point Francis approaches, anxious to release his company manager back to other duties. We walk away from the raucous jackhammering towards the exit gate. Of arriving back in the northwest, she says, “It felt so good driving up from San Jose, the closer we got we’d see those BC license plates, and it was like, ‘Oh, I’m almost home’.”

Are there others who are from the area? “Kelly MacDonald,one of our artists.” She is the acrobatic flyer in the Adagio number, and Cirque is using her in many of the public relations availabilities while in the city. “And a couple of our staff, so there are several folks that feel like they are home now.”

Is there something you’re interested in seeing while you’re here? “It’s like being home. It’s those familiar places. I have a car on tour so I can get around a little bit more. I’ll head into the city a couple of times, and I may take a quick trip to my hometown. I don’t have any family there anymore but a lot of friends, it’s been awhile since I’ve been there.”

What are your hours like during this setup period? “I work from my apartment most of the time until we get our office installed. But I’m more of a day person during set up than when the show is running. It’s usually ten-hour days, it just kind of naturally happens that way. Right now I’m sort of 9 to 6-ish. Also, since our headquarters is in Montréal [3 hours ahead of Seattle] that throws off timing just a little bit. So it’s sometimes easier for me to work earlier in the morning. Like now, I’ll work earlier in the morning to have meetings with them and stop earlier in the day. During the run itself I’m not here every night for the show but [when I am] I usually don’t leave before eight. I wait until the show gets started and then leave after that. And it’s usually pretty easy to do a ten-hour day. It’s also easy to stay a lot longer, too.”

I mention that the two things I am most interested in seeing are the water element and the male contortionist. She laughs. “Alexey[Goloborodko(https://www.facebook.com/alexey.goloborodko.18)]is second to none in contortion. I have worked with an awful lot of contortionists, but never anyone like Alexey. Women tend to be more flexible, but Alexey is something else. And the water is used in a lot of different ways. Especially the first sort of wild moment of it, and then seeing it at different times.”

While on the topic of water we talk about the rain. “It was going last night, and I thought it was going to be miserable. Last week it rained so hard on the guys[during the site marking session] got absolutely soaked. They have rain gear, but even rain gear was not enough. One of our guys, and I don’t know if he got it here or where he got it, but he basically had a dry-suit type of jacket that was up around his neck so he could stay dry. But it was a mess.”

This is her second time visiting the Marymoor Park asphalt pad with a Cirque show. So she is aware that, despite our local parks system building the site to Cirque’s specs, gravity and bad angles means rainwater funnels right through the concessions tent area. “Yes, right through. But now we have flooring all through our concessions tents, so it should keep peoples feet a little dryer. The panels are interlocking and it’s all carpeted, so it’s a very fancy tent now.”

At this point we finally must part. We say our goodbyes, and I wish her luck with the weather. She says, “Thank you for being a fan, and the good stuff you guys do. I learn stuff from you guys sometimes before I hear it in other places.” I reply that with our multiple sources,especially through artists social media. we tend to hear things that quickly get spread throughout the fandom. She then mentions the good work being done by José, the founder of CirqueCast (.com).

We move back to the entrance gate where I surrender my vest and hard hat. It is now 1:37pm – the whole experience taking less than 45 minutes. The site continues to be a beehive of activity: forklifts puttering, jackhammers hammering, people walking, shouting and pointing. But the further I move away from itthe more peaceful, and organized, it looks. Now it’s a little colder, and a little rainy, and I take some final pictures.

The tent poles now prop up the circumference of the tent. The top isn’t quite at full 19-meter (62 feet) height yet, but it is close. It will soon be accompanied by the other structures that make up a Cirque du Soleil site. And the artists, technicians, and patrons that make the magic happen.

With that, I trudge back to my car in the cool March afternoon.

{fin}