Behind the Tech of Cirque Du Soleil’s ‘Love’

Cirque De Soleil Love Beatles Yesterday
Courtesy of matt beard

It is not just changes to choreography that have given “Love” a refreshed look and feel. Key changes to the show’s technical elements have given the show a new look.

While video projection has always been part of “Love,” it was mainly seen in two panoramic projection surfaces on either side of the theater, as well as sporadic special surfaces, courtesy of 24 Christie 20k digital projectors. For the 10th anniversary refresh, show director Dominic Champagne and his team decided to add more.

“We felt what we had wasn’t enough to fill the room,” says the show’s operations production manager Paul Reams. “So we decided to take the 6,500 square-footage of stage floor and turn it into a projection surface.”

The theater now has 52 active Christie projectors, making it the largest projection installation in all of Cirque du Soleil, and one of the largest in North America, according to Reams. “It takes 27 servers and four control computers, with 30 terabytes of storage, to run the show.”

Lighting designer Yves Aucoin made changes to his original lighting design, now providing perimeter footlights shining up at the performers, instead of lighting shining down onto the stage surface. “Also, to reduce shadows, every point on the stage is covered by at least four projectors, in some places six,” making use of complicated layering to help keep the illusion real. “It’s complicated — our stage is not a square box.”

The content, by Montreal-based designer Francis Laporte (and executed by three media provider companies), now makes use of images of the Beatles themselves — previously a “no-no,” says Champagne. “One of the rules we had when we built the show was that we wouldn’t put the Beatles themselves in, visually, before the end of the show. But we decided two years ago that introducing the presence of the Beatles would support the visual treatment of every act,” he says.

Paul McCartney is now seen in “Yesterday,” for example, in video footage from a performance not long after the song was written. And the show opener, “Get Back,” includes the four Beatles performing the song from their legendary London rooftop “concert” January 1969, their last live show.

Tech by the Numbers
The “Love” theater boasts a bevy of impressive gizmos and props.
6.4k Square footage of stage floor
52 Number of projectors, taking 27 servers and 30 TB of storage to run the show
600 Custom props used
300 Batteries charged daily or weekly for props
6k Number of seat speakers — 3 in each of the 2,000 seats

The nearly 600 custom props that are used in the show have been given a boost — everything from full-size VW Bugs to remote controlled trains of light to smoking umbrellas. “If it’s not nailed down, and it’s not a brick, it’s a prop in the show,” says Richard Amiss, “Love’s” head of props. Almost 300 batteries have to be charged daily or weekly to run it all.

Just as the artists have “tracks” of activity for each evening’s show, so do Amiss’ props technicians. “What the audience doesn’t see is always the most complicated part,” he says. “The backstage choreography is nonstop. My least busy team has a track with a combined seven minutes of the 90 where they’re not doing anything. They have to search through cue sheets just to find bathroom breaks.”

Music director Giles Martin, who with his father, the late George Martin, and engineer Paul Hicks, created the show’s soundtrack, also decided to give both the sound system and the show’s music a fresh take. “It had always been well received as a good sounding show, but I thought it could be improved,” he says.

Among other things, a set of Meyer X-800 LFC subwoofers were added. “I had an expert come in and analyze the room, so that we could adjust the EQ [equalization],” Martin says.

“We found that we needed a bit more low end. People listen differently than they did 10 years ago — they want more bass, they want things louder. I wanted more sound to hit you in the chest.”

The theater’s 6,000 seat- speakers — that’s three in each of the 2,000 seats — were replaced with higher-quality speakers than were available 10 years ago. “I was able to put more content in the seat speakers now, because the previous ones would distort easily, which is no longer a problem.”

Martin decided to completely remix the entire complex soundtrack with Hicks, to take advantage of higher quality transfers from the Beatles’ original session tapes than technology permitted in 2006. “I thought, as long as we’re upgrading the playback system, I’d better look into the music, as well.”

As before, he and Hicks conducted the mixing in the theater itself, though this time, Hicks was able to create the mix in real time, via Avid Pro Tools on a laptop, instead of being tied to a mixing console in a back room. “We were able then to connect his laptop to our digital-to-digital converters and directly to our front-of-house mixing console,” says head of audio Rob Lindsay. “That was a huge improvement, having everybody in the same room this time.”

The remix gave Martin a chance to introduce yet more “Love” magic into the soundtrack. “Strawberry Fields Forever,” whose original “Love” version took the listener through four versions/demos of the song, now instead has its signature Mellotron “flute” introduction back intact. “The absence of the Mellotron was something that always bothered Dominic,” Martin says. “It is quite iconic. So it’s back.”

The quality of music playback at “Love” is key. “We need to listen to music more out loud, and we don’t,” Martin says. “When you hear a great song on a great system, it takes us back to the days when we used to invite friends around to listen to music. And that’s part of the intention of ‘Love’ — it’s about making people listen, not just hear.”

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