CirqueCon 2004: Spectacles Abound

“CirqueCon 2004: Spectacles Abound”
By: Ricky Russo – Orlando, Florida (USA)

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It’s 6:30pm on Saturday, May 22nd and what a day it’s been up to now. I started our drizzling morning down in Stanley Park, a large green center in Vancouver, with Keith, Lucy and the rest of his party, who wanted to take a horse and carriage ride around the park. I was certainly up for that; it actually turned out to be quite nice even in the rain. Getting a chance to see the skyline was great, as well as the totem poles Vancouver is so well known for.

The horses Moses & Jim (a Clydesdale and a Belgian breed) led the charge through an hour or more ride through Lord Stanley’s Park (the same Lord Stanley who owns that nice shiny silver cup; Hockey fans will know what I mean). The ride was very relaxing, however, even though it was a nice distraction from the city, we ended up running into trouble on the way to our next gig — the merchandise meeting, which was changed at the last moment to a conference room at the Georgian Court Hotel instead of being on-site as originally planned.

One of the surprises Cirque du Soleil had in store for us was a focus group meeting with Geneviève Bastien, Project Manager of Licensing at Cirque. She flew all the way from Montreal to ask our opinions on new and exciting licensing avenues Cirque may be interested in exploring. It became one of the most fascinating aspects of our gathering because, as I see it, most fans don’t get a chance to speak with Cirque on this level, and we were privileged enough to speak with Geneviève on the types of merchandise we wanted to see! For example, we spoke about authentic show collectibles, home decor, “cirque like” adult clothing, behind the scenes books, clothing/items for pre-schoolers, etc. We spent about an hour discussing individual topics from action figures to video game licensing; it was such an interesting experience! And, of course, one of the most requested items was more live audio recordings of Cirque du Soleil’s productions.

At 1:30pm, we were all met with red clown noses and black Barron hats (from Saltimbanco), at the big top for our extensive behind-the-scenes tour of the site, our second big surprise from Cirque du Soleil. The media was on hand and for a while it truly felt like a circus. Jeff Tolotti, Keith Johnson and I (Ricky Russo) — the organizers of CirqueCon 2004 in Vancouver — became lost in this sea of mass confusion, as we had microphones thrust upon us, our pictures taken at will and questions asked randomly. For a few moments it was overwhelming, but once the tour began I forgot all of that, and prepared to be astounded. And what an amazing tour of the site we had too; to places I would not have thought possible…

* The kitchen, where we saw Mark Ward (“John”), André (the new
male singer), and various other cast and crew in different
stages of show preparedness taking in some nourishment.

* The Technical Trailer, where the crew keep the various
technical aspects of Quidam in top form. The trailer is aptly
named too – the “Phoenix”. The old one, as the story goes,
burned down in Europe and the current one rose from its ashes.

* Behind the Stage, where show props like the German Wheel,
various ropes, skateboards, the house door and the big red
balloon are parked in what they call the “garage.” We were even
given a chance to peek under the stage and see exactly how the
artists see to get to and from their marks — snake lighting!
Inside was buzzing with activity; the technicians were testing
the lighting cues and the téléphérique, the long track structure
atop the big top.

* And, the Artistic Tent, where the performers loosen up, dress
and apply their make-up. You’ll find the artists here during the
show when they’re not on cue. The artistic tent is the second
largest structure besides the main venue and doubles as a
training facility and massage parlor. A few of the artists were
even practicing as we went through!

We had barely recovered from our Behind the Scenes tour, when Cirque announced their third surprise — Tapis Rouge. Tapis Rouge, which literally means “red carpet” in French, is Cirque du Soleil’s VIP experience, reserved exclusively for patrons who wish to experience Cirque du Soleil to the fullest. As Cirque Passionates, the Tapis Rouge was the ultimate social gathering. For over an hour we were able to mingle with Vancouver’s elite, talk with the Canadian press and enjoy Cirque du Soleil’s gracious hospitality. Inside this special yellow-and-blue stripped tent was an array of delicious foods, exceptional wines & champagnes, and a wonderful atmosphere. Video projections of Quidam, Dralion and other Cirque du Soleil productions were strewn upon a remarkable circular screen suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the Tapis Rouge Chapiteau and were accompanied by pulsing music from the Solarium CD.

Tapis Rouge was simply awesome.

The media was still buzzing around and I was being pulled in several directions at once, which was a very disconcerting experience. CirqueMom and CirqueDad, the parents of Catherine Downey (one of the current Zoë’s) and BJ, the show’s drummer, came by to say hello as well. Fans had chatted with BJ online twice from Japan and it was a real treat to finally meet the man behind all those words! And let us not forget about those reporters, who pulled me aside to talk about my website (Richasi’s Le Grand Chapiteau —, the newsletter (The Fascination! Newsletter), and, of course, about CirqueCon. All too soon though our Tapis Rouge experience was over and another CirqueCon special event came to a close.

But as they say, the party isn’t over until its over… and we continued our celebration at the Old Spaghetti Factory down in Gastown. Imagine 30 Cirque fans from across North America slurping pasta together! Which is where I’ve just come from. It was definitely a treat to dine with 30 cirque fans as we slurped pasta. André Bellanger joined us as well as some independent reporter for Radio Canada, who was shoving a mic in everyone’s face throughout the meal.

And so, with a little more than an hour to spare, I find myself on my bed at the B&B, awaiting the curtain call for tonight’s show! Thus far, I must say, even with the last minute problems and changes in schedule, things have turned out better than I expected. Cirque has really gone all out for us, and for that I tip my hat — a baron’s hat — at them, which they also gave to us as a gift. Tonight, after the show, we have a Q&A with some of the artists and a possible (though its very tentative yet) hangout session with BJ (Quidam’s drummer) after that. So, there’s still some great Cirque events to come!

(To Be Continued…)