CMU School of Drama

Friday, March 17, 2017

Underwater magic: Hidden tech behind Cirque du Soleil's 'O'

CNET: There's something eerie about seeing 1.5 million gallons of water up close.

I'm standing in the dark -- 17 feet underground -- pressed up against a massive tank while swimmers and divers glide in and out of view.

Down here, I feel a long way from the noisy Las Vegas strip.

15 comments:

Tahirah K. Agbamuche said...

Yay, we have another Cirque post! No matter what the article itself is about, I always love anything cirque related because it is always so inspiring to think outside the box, or in this case inside the pool. Although I love cirque du soleil dearly, I was not familiar with the tech that “O” involved. Of course, it is a show in water so I would assume it would need some unique high tech equipment, but my assumptions were soon surpassed by reading this article. It is absolutely amazing how much complex thought and consideration goes into designing a set for such a large scale show. It is Vegas and Cirque clearly did not hold back from pulling out all the stops. I never would have thought that there would be was for performers to breath underwater and just wait in the watery wings for their turn to be above surface. I am blown away about how well Cirque used their space as well. Not only did they go down below the stage, but also up above it using all horizontal and vertical resources. The part of the article that caught most of my attention was the fact that all the crew sans wardrobe, were certified divers. Looks like we have something new to add to our Carnegie Mellon University DP curriculum!

Julian Goldman said...

I’m not even remotely surprised by how many people and systems are involved in making "O" run, but I’m very happy to be able to read about the specifics. This kind of insanity is one of the main reasons I fell in love with theater. The fact that someone had this idea for this water show and then a group of people came together and found a way to bend reality with technology and make it happen. I’ve never seen "O", and I’d love to see it, but honestly, if I could pick between watching the show from the audience or seeing it happen from backstage, I’d watch from backstage. At the end of the article, Reilly touches on the fact that you can’t see any of the backstage mechanics from the audience. As much as I would like to see all that, I think the magic of theatre is creating a world that seems like it is just meant to exist. Hiding all of the behind the scenes aspects is what allows theatre to create new realities.

Taylor Steck said...

As someone who is usually more design orientated and less technology based, the entire tech set up for this production is utterly perplexing to me. I was inclined to read this article after Boevers had mentioned working on the show sometime in our freshman Production Technology and Management class. I can only imagine what normal or usual technical implements are used in other Cirque shows but let alone one that also feature a giant swimming pool. I wish that the article had gone into more of the specifics of the construction of the pool itself and if there were any implications with finding a theatre space that could handle so much water in a pool, especially after learning about the issues and considerations to take when designing any other pool for the stage in PTM. I am also curious about the scuba divers and the qualifications that they need for the job. Is there an audition? As a diver if none of these summer internships work out then I may have myself a new underwater career path.

Claire Krueger said...

The “O” drives home just how important safety is. What they’ve created is a monster of a challenge to run it and run it safely. I am amazed they manage to accomplish what they do while staying invisible, that even in the front row the tech crew was out of sight of the audience. Weeki Wachee mermaids and underwater strippers work with underwater regulators just like the “O” but they don’t do it in the intensity the “O” does it. The sheer quantity and perfect timing amazes me. For Cirque and their planning every aspect I’d almost expect that even the wardrobe crew would be scuba certified in case of some sort of freak accident. I wonder what the process is to become part of the team, it’s obvious they phase through a lot of workers so I wonder how long/difficult it is to get an interview or get on a labor list.

William N. Lowe said...

I remember this be exactly why my high school Technical Director loves Cirque. He describes how he could sit down, and when he would usually be able to start following the technical choreography of the show, he would completely loose it within the first five minutes and be able to enjoy the show. I personally end up finding myself being able to articulate the technical choreography of a show in far more detail than that of the performers, and yes this stretches beyond my limited vocabulary and eye for performance choreography, I just end up focusing on the technical aspects a lot more. I deeply want to see a cirque du soleil performance just to see if it has the same effect on me. I also just think that the technical magnitude of cirque is something I want to see in person beyond just hearing about it all of the time.

Simone said...

I had the incredible opportunity to go backstage at Paramour, Cirque's Broadway show, last summer with the master electrician of the show. He showed us around a bit and was talking about the crazy timing and care they had to take with the aerial tricks involved in that show and it sounded intense (especially to me, a person very afraid of great heights and swinging around without a harness at said heights). Paramour is barely a fraction of the intensity of "O," so I can barely imagine the time and precision it must have taken to get every automation to run so smoothly and flawlessly. I wonder how terrifying it must be to start working tech for "O," to know that you're helping not only keep the show running and the people safe but also literally keep them alive. I wonder how quickly it becomes routine and if the magic or the awesomeness of the sheer scale of the show ever goes away. I wonder what it must be like to go from that to another more run of the mill show; is it boring? Or is it a welcomed reprieve from a stressful but exhilarating production?

David Kelley said...

So after hearing all of David Boevers rants regarding his time working on O in Vegas it is nice to see all of the objects of said rants. That being said the technical elements that go into making the show run is truest impressive. All of the moving parts and thought that seems to have gone it every single aspect of the show is mind numbing in scope. While the tank and all of the elements with in it are really cool I have heard the rants regarding them, I'm a far more interested in the rigging carousel that was glossed over in the video. However, I can probably get a nice long story about it later. My only true question is where were the magical cabinets that kept Boevers on the show, I feel robbed by not seeing them. But jokes aside, this video is really cool and kinda wish it was a little more in depth.

Sarah Battaglia said...

Not only is this very cool but it is so incredibly scary. I much like Taylor am not so technologically inclined, and so understanding exactly what this means from a purely scientific or mathematic stand point is a little difficult for me but I do understand giant pool in an already giant show. I wonder what the types of qualifications both the performers that will use the pool during the performance and the people who will operate the pool and clean it before and after the performance. Obviously there would have to be some sort of training before any one was responsible for someones life in a cirque show but I feel like the addition of water makes it a whole lot more dangerous and scary for those who perform and work on the show. I would love to see this show one day, because I have never seen a real cirque show and I think that it would interesting to see one with the addition of water. I would also love to learn more about how Cirque works from a management stand point because I can only imagine how crazy that must be.

Megan Jones said...

A few weeks ago in organizational behavior we did a case study on the hiring process that Cirque goes through to find their performers, and I can only imagine that it is even more rigorous for a show like O. These artists already go through an extremely tough training process, which I'm sure is even longer for a show like O when they're surrounded by a huge tank of water. Speaking of that tank, I wonder how they the weight of it and how they keep the water in it clean? That's something I'd like to learn more about in detail. I would love to be able to shadow, and maybe eventually work on, a Cirque show one day because this seems like it would a crazy but a lot of fun from a management perspective. Their shows always think outside the box of what people think of in live entertainment, and that's something that I would love to be a part of.

Claire Farrokh said...

Like Sarah, I would love to see what it is like to manage a show for Cirque, since I can only imagine that it is absolutely insane. I'm glad they have underwater speakers to keep the music and call cues, but it still seems like that would be fairly unreliable. It is generally harder to hear underwater, at least in my experience, but I guess as long as the general beat of the music is followable, everything is fine. I also wonder how often and how intensely they have to heat the water, which wasn't mentioned in the video. It's pretty amazing how fast water cools, so it seems like they would have to spend a lot of money on keeping the pool heated. But I guess with Cirque's budget that's not too hard to accomplish. I've never actually seen a Cirque show but I would love to someday, but I don't think I would want to start with this one or else I would have huge expectations for every show after that.

Antonio Ferron said...

Cirque shows never cease to amaze me with the intricacy, grace, and detail put into ever every aspect of their productions. For years I've told myself that if I ever end up in Las Vegas I have to see "O". This show is no doubt a beast, and it was great getting to read a bit about how it's all handled. With a show lie this one though, a short web article can't even begin to describe how much work was put into its production. I'm personally interested in how the creative process for these Cirque shows happen. There are so many factors to consider, and experts of numerous varied fields have to be consulted for any of them to work. How do these designers handle working with the specifications and necessities of the different acts. These designers are designing for such a unique experience that I can't even begin to imagine how they begin their process. At the same time though, Cirque has such large budgets for their productions that I doubt many things are written off as unbelievable. I would love to watch how a Cirque show moves from creative into development and tech.

Ali Whyte said...

I saw this show before I had a lot of experience in technical theatre, though I did have some. I remember looking at the lights and sound stuff but had no idea how involved and complicated the underwater and behind the scenes stuff is. I think the automation in particular is incredibly amazing. I think it's definitely the best way to do it, allowing giant metal things to be controlled with a very high level of specificity, making the performers and crew members safer. That also has to be one giant complicated com system to be able to communicate with divers as well as those above and on the deck level. I also really liked to see the booth from which all of the automation and lighting is controlled. It's crazy to see just how much goes into and is required to control all of the different elements in this show.

John Yoerger said...

It's amazing to see all of this technology in action. I really enjoy the articles where we get the "behind the scenes" look because who would love it more than Theatrical Design and Production majors? I wish it went even more in depth about the complicated water scenes as I recall Kevin Hines telling us that once you go about adding water on to the stage, things become immensely more complicated from a technical design perspective. I totally get this. With things needing to be waterproof and highly advanced safety mechanisms (like that sonar) it seems very complex. I'd actually be more interested to hear deep technical information about all of this. This article is very 'consumer friendly' but I want the nitty griddy. What type of fixtures are they using in the show? What type of light board(s) run all of that? How complicated is calling the show? And so on. That would help this article improve quite a bit in my eyes because I'm much more interested than "Oh there is a lot of lights."

Alana Clapp said...

Here's a first for me. Commenting for no particular reason, other than many of us at the company and who work or worked at the show also enjoyed reading this article. It made the rounds on social media, and its nice to get these kinds of stories circulated in addition to what gets out from the performance perspective. It is really impressive, and cool, and thanks for putting it out there for everyone to see. I'm happy to answer any questions people have that I might have the answer to.

Julien Sat-Vollhardt said...

I absolutely love it when water is incorporated into live performance and it is done well. I'm not talking about throwing buckets of water on stage or anything like that, I'm talking about fiull on seaworld tanks on a Broadway stage. I saw a fantastic production called Head of Passes at the Berkeley Rep theatre a couple years ago, and for the first act, we were in a simple house set, very detailed in the American south. The first act, however culminates in a hurricane, during which the entire set shifted and angled itself down in the direction of the thrust, and water came up and filled half of the stage, revealing that the entire thing had been built on a giant water tank. It was a really great moment of theatrical and tehnical wonder for me, and I really would like to someday work with water. Honestly, I'm not even going to talk about O, because I can't even imagine the possibilities one can achieve when you have an entire stage built purposefully for your show.