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How Cirque du Soleil Works


The Mobile Town
Contortion
Contortion
Photo courtesy Al Seib

Today, a touring Cirque show like Alegria traverses the world in a Cirque du Soleil "mobile town" designed to sit on a 180,000 square foot site. The town requires a permanent staff of 140, as well as a temporary staff of 150 in each new city, to set up, break down and operate its facilities. It includes the Grand Chapiteau (Big Top) and attached entrance tent, the stage, artistic tent, kitchen and dining areas, a school and the supplies needed to run it all. It takes 50 trucks carrying 1,000 tons of equipment each to move the town. It takes the crew eight days to set it up and three days to break it all down.

The Grand Chapiteau is a consistent fixture in all of Cirque's touring shows. This is the location of the main stage and performance areas. The Grand Chapiteau seats 2,500 people and requires the work of 70 people including "tent masters," trained specifically by Cirque for the monumental task of raising the big top. Public Relations Director Renee-Claude Menard recalls the first time Cirque put up the Grand Chapiteau: "no one knew how to do it…and it actually fell. The day of the press conference…there was a huge rainstorm and the water puddled in and it collapsed."

Cirque and its performers have many company-wide traditions as well as traditions unique to each show. One company-wide tradition is naming each Grand Chapiteau. According to Menard, this tradition has also been around since the beginning of Cirque: "Over the past 20 years… one of the traditions I find amazing is the naming of the big top. All big tops have a name… When we inaugurate a new Grand Chapiteau, we name it with a name unique to not only Cirque du Soleil but to the troupe. There is a small group in Cirque du Soleil that gets together to make sure this naming is always done and it's not necessarily something that we broadcast… It's done to show the evolution of the show… At first we had one and now we have many."

Another hub of activity for those traveling with a Cirque "mobile town" is the kitchen and dining area. Here, performers and staff dine on meals prepared by five chefs (with thirteen staff in total). These chefs serve 300 meals a day to Cirque's performers and staff. During Alegria's ten-year run, the cast and crew have eaten a lot of food:

  • 1,622,400 strawberries
  • 324,152 pounds of meat
  • 374, 400 cookies
  • 20,800 gallons of milk
  • 2,800 pounds of seafood

The kitchen and dining areas are also places where performers and staff can congregate, socialize and check their e-mail.

Several Cirque traditions have begun in the dining area. On premiere night for example, the chefs will often prepare traditional dishes from the city they are visiting. Frequently, a cast member will step in and help to prepare food from their country. On "break down" or moving day, the chefs prepare spaghetti bolognese, made from the foodstuffs still left in storage. Menu planning must be exact because food cannot be wasted or brought on to the next stop on tour.