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October 2, 2014

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‘Cirque Mom’ Jeana Blackman and stage manager Stacey Myers of ‘Ka’ at MGM Grand

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Tomas Muscionico

The Imperial Twins of Cirque du Soleil’s “Ka” at MGM Grand.

Behind the Scenes at 'Ka'

Rigger Adam Wilber is seen at the top of the vertical stage during a fighting scene at Cirque du Soleil's Launch slideshow »

While Robin Leach takes his traditional summer vacation under the Tuscan sun in Italy, many of our Strip and Las Vegas personalities have stepped forward in his absence to pen their own words of wisdom. Our thanks to them all. We continue with “Tales From a Cirque Mom,” a story of a mother by day and by night the keeper of the “Ka” twins. Plus, the woman who keeps Cirque’s most spectacular show afloat.

By Jeana Blackman

Right now, I perform in 10 shows a week. You can see me dangle in the air, climb on a rotating wall and play with giant creatures in my role as “Nanny” in “Ka” by Cirque du Soleil at MGM Grand. I never expected to jump on a trampoline and fall into an airbag my first day on the job. Let’s just say a lot of swearing was involved! Not surprisingly, I also swore a lot on my first day as a mom, which came two years later.

During the day, I am a mom who cares for my 1-year-old, Penelope. At night, as Nanny, I care for a set of Imperial Twins who tragically lose their parents in an attack, get separated, find love and reunite to fight against the villain. I’m not sure which part of my life is more dramatic -- or fun. Over time, I became quite comfortable with dangling upside down in a harness 100 feet in the air, and I learned to navigate around a moving wall with pegs shooting at me.

Still, I had a new skill to master: how to successfully care for a newborn. She couldn’t go more than three hours without eating, which meant that I couldn’t go more than three hours without sleeping. This was definitely more difficult than being onstage in front of 2,000 people. But the gibberish I use in the show seemed to make sense to my daughter!

After three months of caring for my baby, it came time to return to work. When I first joined the cast, it wasn’t uncommon for me to stay up until 3 or 4 a.m. and sleep until noon, the typical life of a nighttime performer. Now, Penelope wakes at 7 a.m. -- or God forbid earlier -- so I go to bed soon after I get home at midnight hopeful she sleeps through the night. On the plus side, the fact that I work nights means that I spend a lot of time with her during the day. It’s not uncommon to see us at the library, swim class or playing in the park.

The best part about being a Cirque Mom is when my lives as a mother and performer collide. Did my daughter cry hysterically when she first saw me in the unfamiliar makeup? Yep. But now it’s as familiar to her as my unadorned face. Artists from all over the world have greeted her in several languages, including Chinese, Russian, Mongolian, French, Portuguese and Japanese. On her first birthday, a former hand-to-hand Russian giant balanced her in one hand. As a close friend once told me, this is an amazing environment to be raised.

It’s not always easy to balance work and home, but it is rewarding. The biggest surprise is what being a mom at home did to my performance abilities onstage. Being a real-life caretaker gave me a great insight into my role as Nanny. Being a protector is now second nature. It’s made me a better actress and definitely a better mom.

“Ka’s” stage manager Stacey Myers has the herculean task of ensuring that there’s never a hiccup with the most technically challenging show on the Strip. “Ka” doesn’t even have a stage!

Underneath 'Ka'

Cellist Julie McInnes is one of the small group of musicians who work in Launch slideshow »

By Stacey Myers

Cue 50 (Q50) -- go! And with that, the epic saga of “Ka” begins. If you are sitting in the audience, you see the marvel start to unfold. And although our job is to take you away from your daily grind, I wonder if anyone realizes what it takes to do just the opening scene. There’s a blackout. A glow of light comes from the abyss as the atmospherics enhance the crescendo of the luminescence.

The music starts softly and begins to build. The Cliff Deck has started to rise, although you can’t see it yet. Once the deck is at a certain level, the net is called to tension. And just as you see the deck emerge from below, the narrator sets the story for you to follow the rest of the show. The deck is rotating as it rises from whence it came; “Net Set” comes over the ClearCom.

You can see artists in unusual costumes rowing the deck as if it were a boat, a boy and a girl, twins, in very ornate costumes sparring with their “flutes” in the center. As the Cliff Deck comes to a stop, the massive masking opens to reveal the Tatami Deck. The Tatami Deck, elaborately decorated, telescopes out to connect with the Cliff Deck. The General, Hoo Dan and the Lady Officer parade onto the Cliff Deck, and the “Pageant” begins.

Going off a visual from the General, cue 70 (Q70) -- go! The decks separate, and the Cliff Deck rotates to its next position. The Tatami reconnects with cue 75 (Q75). We stay in this position until the artists all transfer to the Tatami, and we drop the Cliff Deck into the abyss with cue 80 (Q80). Our show is meant to intrigue, awe and enthrall. You’ve just seen 30-plus artists on two decks. What you don’t see are some 85 technicians diligently preparing for what comes next.

I’ve given you a few cues it takes to start the show; however, within one cue call, there can be a multiplicity of individual cues. Automation, rigging, carpentry, props, electrics, audio, wardrobe and special effects all jump into action with the first cue. Each has its particular role and all the while presets for the next scene.

Speaking for myself and I’m certain others, we’re not interested in being onstage. The artists have their disciplines, and so do we each respectively. We know the decks and lifts would not move, the lights would not come up, the music would not be heard, the sets would not be dressed, the artists would not be clothed, the artists would not fly, there would be no gadgets, there would be no fire and there would be no one coordinating all of it, if we were not doing our jobs.

So, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Just know we, too, hear your applause, and we thank you for enjoying our show.

Our thanks to Stacey and Jeana for the intimate look behind-the-scenes of “Ka.” Be sure to check out our other guest columns today from 98 Degrees star Jeff Timmons and chef Hubert Keller. Join us again Wednesday for Angela Stabile and her sexy, topless “X Burlesque” dancers, along with Tom Zaller, the man who brought the Venetian’s Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit to town.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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