Tuesday, March 19, 2013 | 10 p.m.
Editor’s note: Columnist John Katsilometes and photographer Leila Navidi have been granted exclusive behind-the-scenes access to the development of Cirque du Soleil’s charity show “One Night for One Drop,” scheduled for March 22 at Bellagio’s O Theater. Today: A backstage visit with “O” technical director David Chabira and “One Night” creator Krista Monson.
David Chabira has a great seat for this run-through of “One Night for One Drop” at Bellagio’s O Theater. One might say he has a VIP position, and the acronym has never been more fitting than it is for Chabira.
The show’s technical director is looking down on the stage and across to the theater’s 1,600 seats, from a position 55 feet above the stage and behind a piece of rigging stagehands call a “carousel.” It’s not a horses-on-a-pole carousel, but instead the circular frame where high-wire acts — such as the trapeze — are attached.
Ninety feet separates the lip of the platform, known as the Upstage Loading Platform, from the seats in the crowd, and there is that 55 feet of distance between the loading stage and the pool below. As you venture toward the edge, to see what it might be like to plunge into the watery stage, you instinctively halt.
“Careful,” says Chabira, who grew up as a circus performer — a clown and aerial artist, specifically. “Don’t cross the white line.” And there is a white barrier painted on the floor. Just in case.
It is from this locale that Chabira talks of his role in “One Night,” which is the charity show set for Friday night at O Theater, benefiting Cirque du Soleil’s water-conservation and drought-combating foundation, One Drop. Performers and behind-the-scenes creative directors from all of Cirque’s Strip productions are donating their time and expertise to the one-night effort. Aside from cabaret shows by Cirque cast members that have not been opened to the public (and a private screening of the film “Atlantis” years ago), “One Night for One Drop” is the first stage show other than “O” to be performed in the theater since both the production and venue opened in 1998.
It is appropriate that Chabira would be working with the creator of “One Night,” Krista Monson, in this theater. He has been with “O” from the start, overseeing about 6,870 performances. His first job was as assistant head rigger, then head rigger, in the days Monson herself was artistic director.
Because of that deep experience, Chabira knows every inch of the stage and theater for “O.” There is a scene in the show where Monson wanted a “slack” wire to showcase performers walking across a wire in a balancing act. A slack wire is low to the ground, or in this case the water. Chabira figured out a way to elevate that scene to a high-wire act.
“Here we had artistes walking from one side of the stage to the other 140 feet across,” he said. “It was the difference between having them walk at a height of 4 or 16 feet.”
Sixteen won out.
There is a waterfall (naturally) to be used in the show, too, and the original idea was for the waterfall to cascade to a point in the middle of the stage. It looked fine. Monson eyed the effect and said, “It works. It’s fine.” But it didn’t seem quite right to Chabira, who went back to work designing and constructing a waterfall that falls in a familiar sheeted pattern, as it does in nature, not to a point.
“David, and the creation team, know the theater and the environment. I can tell them, ‘This is what I’m thinking,’ and come back with, ‘What if we do it this way?’ ” Monson says while sitting in aisle seat in the middle of the theater. “I’ve been really lucky in that I’ve been able to work with people who have been able to take it to another level. David is a complete genius, not just in life, but in this theater. He knows every single technical option.”
Cirque recruits and engenders creative inspiration, and is now in a position where it has the artistic reputation (and resources) to sign up the best production talent in the world.
Monson remembers her own job interview with Cirque, which was hardly typical of any recruiting process in the entertainment industry.
“Usually, it’s like, ‘We’re looking for this type of person with this type of experience, but with Cirque, it was not that,” Monson remembers of her interview with the company 10 years ago. “It was, ‘So, tell me about yourself. What color does your blood turn when you’re angry? What color does your blood turn when you’re jealous?’ “This is the job interview, where I had all of these technical things in my pocket, a resume and videotape, and they didn’t want to talk about any of that.
Her answer to the blood-color question?
“Mine was purple, actually,” Monson says, smiling.
Monson has been working all day on the scene in which Jackie Evancho sings while suspended high above the stage (another example of Chabira’s wizardry) and wearing an angelic white gown. There has been a loosely discussed idea that Cirque will stage a charity show every year.
Would Monson do it again?
“We’ll see. I want to finish this first,” she says. “Now it’s near the end and all I can think is now we’re near the end of a project that has had a definite beginning, middle and end.”
The term is “sink or swim.” Judging from the effort given by the team behind “One Night for One Drop,” bet on the latter.