Think of the last concert or show you went to. Imagine the setting. The stage. The “players.” Remember the ambiance? The sounds? The lighting? The experience?
It’s all just there, like magic, right? But what’s behind the magic of Cirque du Soleil Corteo?
I find when I know what makes the magic I have a deeper appreciation for the experience. Knowing the hours and manpower that goes into one act. One song. I understand the value. The sacrifice. The love that goes into it.
If you’re a parent, odds are, you get that, right? How often do you think “If my kid only knew what went into making xyz happen they’d appreciate it more?”
Going behind the scenes of Cirque du Soleil Corteo before experiencing the show for the very first time did just that. It deepened my experience. Made small things stand out in a way they may not have otherwise.
I realize not everyone gets to go behind the scenes, so today, I’m giving you a peek behind the curtain.
About the Show
Thank you to Cirque du Soleil through Luca PR for giving me the opportunity to attend the Cirque du Soleil Corteo show in Manchester, NH.
If you’ve never been to a Cirque du Soleil show, go. It’s amazing. Tickets available here.
Cirque du Soleil is a 27-year old show that has 110 people who make every show happen – from artists to seamstresses and chefs.
7 of the artists have been with the show the entire time, including Victorino the giant clown, who fills the boots below. (By the way, the show has their very own shoe repair woman.)
One of the unusual things about Corteo is that they have 2 back stages and the stage is in the middle of the arena with an audience on both sides. This creates increased complication for logistics of the show, but also creates extra magic.
Artists need to play to both sides of the stage rather than focus on one direction.
Wardrobe and hair need to be done 360 degrees since one side of the audience or the other will see the “back side of the show.”
Artists sometimes need to get from one side of the stage to the other super quickly, which leads to a secret “roadway” under the stage for them to quickly move from one side to the other on little rolling platforms.
Everything needs to be super organized and in its place on the correct back stage.
Wardrobe, as you could imagine, is a room bursting with color. When I visited, there were 5 team members busily sewing, steaming clothes, and ironing.
Interestingly, the show has no dedicated makeup team. Instead, each artist receives 30 hours of makeup training, step-by-step directions on how to do their own makeup, and an hour before the show to transform themselves into their character.
Fun fact: there are 2,500 pieces of costumery. It takes 1.5 trucks to transport it all.
The Cirque du Soleil Family
The Cirque du Soleil family is diverse, with 28 nationalities represented. Occasionally this can cause language barriers, but one of the things Alexandra Gaillard, publicist for Corteo said that I really loved and am paraphrasing, “When language is a barrier, there’s always the language of trust. Trust and security is so important working together on the show.”
Each artist (53 for Corteo) is an incredible athlete and/or musician, spending many hours training, perfecting their act, practicing new tricks, and fueling their bodies to be in optimal condition for the amount of exercise they put them through each day.
While I was there it was busy on stage and off – Tournik training on stage, where they watched each other’s work carefully and cheered for each other with quiet grins and slaps on the back when one successfully landed something especially tricky.
Some one practicing juggling. Others weight training. And still others eating a meal, preparing props, or getting ready for training.
The technicians keep busy preparing elements of the show, such as below, where one technician fills the balloons for the act depicted in the third picture. One of the super cool things I would have never thought of is that when they fill the balloon for the evening’s act, they need to use physics and math.
The balloons need to be filled very precisely, taking in account the local atmospheric pressure, in order to be sure they function correctly and safely during the show.
Feeding the Cast and Crew
Speaking of fueling their bodies, one of the highlights of my behind-the-scenes tour was the opportunity to sit down and chat with the head chef, Chef Dickie, and talk all things feeding the Cirque du Soleil crew.
And you guys! I got allllll the details! The catering crew is part of the Cirque du Soleil family and travels around the globe feeding all 110 people. If you’re now imagining all the amenities of a restaurant-style kitchen, earth to all of us.
Chef Dickie has a team of 5 who keep these artist athletes fueled. (If you are an athlete or are close to one, you know how much food they can put away, right?! Imagine feeding 53 of them every day!!)
They serve 2 meals a day – lunch and dinner. Then, on Sundays, a travel day, they serve brunch and make picnic lunches for the road.
Fun Fact: The food budget is approximately $40,000 to feed 110 people each month. Keep in mind this includes 53 athletes!
You all know I am about organization, practical kitchen, meal planning, prepping, etc. So of course, I’m totally curious about how this team of 5 manages on the road.
Here’s the scoop…
The kitchen team sets up their kitchen in a wide variety of settings – including some none-real-kitchen environments with very little space. Each time they arrive at a new location, they need to quickly assess the space and make it work, whether it’s a full-on kitchen….or not so much. It’s very much like many of us home cooks who have to make do with limited space and resources – just on a super-sized volume.
Here in Manchester, NH their kitchen space was down the hall from running water. You guys!! This is like camping only indoors!! And feeding 110 people! Let that sink in. Talk about complication number one.
Next, if you’ve ever moved to a new area, you know how it is figuring out the area grocery stores, best places to source your food, and how to organize it. Imagine doing that EVERY FIVE DAYS!! To serve 110 people.
Once they set up kitchen, it’s game on. Here’s how Chef Dickie manages to keep the kitchen organized and people fed:
Meal plans a week ahead of time.
Makes a grocery list and shop for fresh ingredients every morning. He has 2-3 hours to make it happen. Word is he ends up with about 10 carts full of groceries.
Does the shopping himself so that if he gets to the store and an ingredient he was planning isn’t available or in terrible quality, he can adapt on the spot.
Serves hot lunch for 3 hours. Takes 2 hours to turn-around the kitchen. Serves hot dinner for 3 hours.
Include 1 meat, 1 fish, and 1 vegan/vegetarian hot dish option as well as salads, soup, and desserts.
During the day there is always milk, juice, spring water, smoothies, fruit, and grab-and-go food items available.
Make coffee. Lots of coffee.
I asked how they navigate dietary restrictions and allergies. He said that currently there aren’t many allergies – mainly gluten, and there are no airborne allergens, which makes it much easier to navigate.
They also label every food item with what it contains to make that easier for those with allergens to navigate. As you could see by the menu items above, there is also a wide variety of foods that make it easier for everyone.
Fun fact: A current go-to favorite he makes is baked chicken breast with gravy. It’s dairy-free and easy for people.
We talked a bit about the challenge of needing to navigate new food markets every week and he said it has been by far, the hardest to acclimate to buying groceries in America because the availability of “anything you want” as well as the quality of fresh ingredients year-round is simply not as accessible here as it is in Europe (for good or bad.)
The Live Show
The words amazing, wonderful, fantastic, terrifying aren’t even quite right to describe the show. We’re pulled into the story of Mauro the Clown after his death as he views the processional celebrating his life.
While death can be a grim and sad occasion, Corteo is a poignant celebration of Mauro’s life and we get to go back in time to see glimpses of his life through a celebration of beautiful memories.
You can’t help but be pulled into the show to gasp in awe at the incredible acts of acrobatics and gymnastics the artists do while performing in character.
To be honest, it’s difficult to capture the experience with words. I repeated “It was so amazing!” about 5 times in a 10 minute span. I can’t wait to attend my next Cirque show, and I highly recommend you visit a Cirque du Soleil show for yourself. It’s so worth it!
Manchester, NH runs through the weekend (1/21/23-1/24/23) but there are shows continuing all around the country. You can check them out here.