Most trips to Las Vegas would not be described as thought-provoking. However, at midnight in a hotel room on the strip, after sixteen jam-packed hours of touring and shows, my thoughts kept me awake. In the technical theatre capital of the world, it turned out that the cutting edge of entertainment had a huge impact on my experience as a tech theatre student now and in the future.
Last March, thirty TEC students visited Las Vegas on a field trip. In four days, we saw seven shows, including Cirque du Soleil’s Mystère, KÀ, Love, O, and Viva Elvis. All of these shows were unbelievable, both technically and artistically. Immediately after experiencing it, I described KÀ as “the best ninety minutes of my life,” and I stand by that statement today. I—and I’m sure other TEC students—had never seen a production on the scale of the shows we experienced in Vegas. In addition to our aggressive show-viewing schedule, TEC also had the chance to go backstage at four of the shows we saw.
Backstage tours at Cirque du Soleil are like no other experience in the world. Whether it be seeing the backside of KÀ’s stunning Sand Cliff Deck, hearing a sound test utilizing the six thousand speakers in Love Theatre, or traveling from the sub-basement at Viva Elvis to the fly loft 164 feet above, I was always stunned by the opportunity we had to see the inner workings of some of the most technologically advanced productions in the world. These tours not only gave us the chance to understand the inner workings behind the effects we saw during these shows, but they also made us realize the differences—and similarities—between our production of a show in Austin and the production of a two hundred million dollar Cirque du Soleil show. Although they're on a larger scale, most Cirque shows use the same light fixtures and line array speakers as can be found in the Westlake Community Performing Arts Center. Alas, our performing arts center will probably never have a moving stage or a speaker in every seat, but the base similarities in our equipment heightened our benefit from the tours and allowed us to learn from Cirque’s professional techniques.
The thing that struck me most, however, in all of our touring, was the sheer amount of people involved with shows in Vegas. Before our experience, I never really considered the huge array of industries and companies involved with a modern theatre production. There are technicians and stagehands, of course, that operate the show on a daily basis, but before the show opens, there is another completely different set of designers and technicians working toward opening night. Involvement even extends further, reaching industries normally considered outside the realm of theatre. One afternoon, we visited Fisher Technical Services, a company based in Las Vegas that specializes in selling automation winches and control to productions for theatre and motion pictures. While touring their warehouses and workshops, we saw engineers working on a completely different, yet equally important, aspect of a modern theatre production. Engineers at Fisher worked closely on the production of Phantom, designing a specialized system of winches to create the famous chandelier effect.
Overall, the trip to Las Vegas put a whole new perspective on all the work TEC does at home in our PAC. Experiencing several Cirque du Soleil shows from the audience and backstage made me value the knowledge and team TEC has built, and made future work in a related industry seem like a possibility. And with that thought, sleep grabbed me, and I drifted off, the eternal lights of Vegas just out my window.