“O,” Behind the Scenes
JUNE 12, 2017
The Cirque du Soleil show “O” has been in production since October 1998, and since then, the unique water-themed production has wowed audiences with over 8,000 performances.
The show’s name is pronounced “eau,” the French word for water, and the production takes place in 1.5 million gallons of it, featuring artists performing synchronized swimming, high diving, aerial acts, and more. The international cast comes from 19 different countries and is composed of world-class acrobats, former Olympic athletes, synchronized swimmers, divers, and performers. Each layer of the show comes together to pay tribute to the magic of theater while revealing the infinity of water.
While the performance is surreal and the talent is next to none, you may have found yourself wondering how the stage transforms so quickly for high divers, then synchronized swimmers, and then back again for more magical acts. Maybe you found yourself as amazed with the costumes as you were with the performers in them.
How “O” is delivered is a show behind the show.
Responsible for the flow and ease of the surreal production is an entire crew that makes “O” come to life. Head of wardrobe, Julie Roddham, and head of aquatics, Alan Williams, shared some of the work and wonder that go into Vegas’ must-see show.
Underwater techs keep it all smooth sailing
“O” has 77 performers and over 120 technicians responsible for helping it all come together and run smoothly from beginning to end. Of those technicians, 14 are strictly underwater professionals and guides.
Williams has been with the “O” show for 15 years and as head of aquatics, leads his team. He is certified as a PADI master scuba instructor, meaning he is one of the highest levels as a scuba diver, and has underwent countless hours in the water, weeks of training, and then an additional several months receiving additional certification so he could train his crew.
On top of learning traditional diving and CPR/emergency response skills, divers also have to learn the water cue tracks that keep the show and artists running smoothly and on schedule. In each show, there are two divers who stay underwater and act as communication drivers to relay what is going on.
Williams shares that the team meets before each show to go over which artist will be in each spot, what changes will take place in the water, and what the preferences are of each artist. And once the show begins? Techs can spend three to four hours underwater during a single show.
And what about those costumes?
While you may not have kept track during the show (Roddham says she is doing her job if you are focused more on the spectacle than the costume changes), most performers have five different looks they wear on stage. Not only do these outfits need to reflect the wonder and uniqueness of “O,” they also need to be water- and stunt-friendly, and in one particular case, fire-friendly.
Ever wonder how the fire artist Ray Wold keeps his cool for three and a half minutes while his whole outfit is aflame?
Roddham shares that the “man on fire” wears a suit made of Kevlar®, the material that bulletproof jackets are made from, and it weighs a total of 41 pounds.
The construction of the fire suit is a whole other process. It can’t be cut with scissors; there are extremely specific safety requirements; and its lifespan is only seven to nine weeks, meaning two complete sets have to be prepped at all times.
Costume designer Dominique Lemieux began working on the fire suit and its other unique costume designs in 1996, two years before it even started.
Roddham shares that she is the “guardian” of the original ideas that were created. The first costumes were tested in March 1998, and the show went live in October of that same year. Since then, looks have been updated and altered, changing with the artists and fabric selections from around the world.
While the costumes are physically beautiful, they also have to perform as well as the artists.
Roddham says that full body measurements are taken, and then costumes are made specifically to fit the body. Especially for the aerial performers who have to be able to move comfortably and swiftly, and even have shoes individually made to assists in their challenging routine. Once everything is made to exact measurements, fittings take place.
First, performers have a dry fitting to see how the costume feels overall. Then a wet fitting takes place to make sure it will perform in and out of the water. For designer Lemieux, how the fibers react to the elements and the artists is of the utmost importance. Unique materials such as surgical tubing and shower curtains are used, and the “leather” looks are painted on synthetic materials that perform better for the artists and hold up during the show.
With five looks and 77 performers, the only things larger than the number of costume pieces is the number of hours going into the preparation. Twenty-eight people work on wardrobe each week, putting in 1,120 hours during the five days of shows, and Roddham says that it still isn’t enough time.