Cirque du Soleil Beatles "LOVE" Production Notes
TECHNICAL STORY of "LOVE"
As Music Directors for LOVE, Sir George Martin and his son Giles Martin are at the epicenter of a revolution in the musical legacy of The Beatles. The result is an unprecedented approach to the music for a stage production. “After spending more than 40 years of my life working with The Beatles and their wonderful music, I am thrilled to be working with it once again, on this exciting project with Cirque du Soleil,” said Sir George Martin, “The show will be a unique and magical experience.”
Using the techniques that Sir George Martin pioneered in the sixties, linked to the best technology today, Sir George and Giles have created a unique, groundbreaking soundscape of original Beatles music for the show. Each listener will be immersed in the world of The Beatles.
"One of the challenges of the job was getting the balance of the songs right,” said Sir George Martin. “We wanted to make sure there are enough good, solid hit songs in the show, but we don't want it to be a catalog of ‘best of's’. We also wanted to put in some interesting and not well-known Beatles music and use fragments of songs."
The Martins have spent the last two years constructing the music for LOVE by combining every facet of The Beatles recordings. The panoramic sound experience in the custom built theatre will be the closest anyone will get to hearing the band play live again and the closest anyone can get to actually being in the studios with them.
"Our mission was to try and achieve the same intimacy we get when listening to the master tapes at the studio," says Giles Martin. "The songs sound so alive. The last thing we wanted to create was a retrospective or a tribute show. The Beatles, above all else, were a great rock band. A lot of people listen to The Beatles in a conventional way (radio, MP3 player or car, for example) but never in such a space. With the huge amount of speakers in the theatre, I think we will achieve a real sense of drama with the music, the audience will feel as though they are actually in the room with the band. People are going to be knocked out by what they are hearing!
Photo: "Here Comes the Sun." Picture credit: Tomas Muscionico. Costume credit: Philippe Guillotel
THEATRE AND SET DESIGN
“There are only good seats, no bad ones, but you could come
JEAN RABASSE, Set Designer
Acclaimed designer Jean Rabasse does not distinguish between the interior of the theatre and the set design of LOVE. In his view the two are so intertwined that it’s impossible to say where the interior of the building ends and the décor begins.
The core concept of the design grew from the idea of surrounding the Beatles in a “bubble.” Rabasse started with the interior of the existing theatre and gutted the classical 1,500-seat proscenium layout to place the action in the center, with 2,013 seats surrounding the stage in a 360-degree configuration. There are six entrance and exit points to the stage with four tracks to carry the artists and four control booths, one at each corner of the theatre.
One vital objective of the design was to situate the audience in the intimacy of the experience by putting them as close to the performers as possible, hence the furthest row from the stage is only 98 feet from all the action. “I set myself the goal of giving the audience the opportunity to connect with the performance at a childlike emotional level through simple stage techniques and transcendent music,” says Rabasse. In a sense, he was also recreating the atmosphere and sensations of the big topwithin a permanent structure.
While the set elements are certainly attractive to look at, few things on stage are there for purely decorative purposes. Everything has a function. The greatest challenge for Jean Rabasse was to allow for seamless transitions between scenes with complex decors. For example, the show opens in the sky and then the scene dissolves to the rooftops of London for the Beatles’ last concert atop their building in Savile Row, and from there it travels to the gritty ruins of wartime Liverpool.
The theatre has ten 12,000-lumen projectors for each of the two huge 2,000-square-foot panoramic screens, plus four 832-square-foot semi-transparent screens that are moved by eight motors and served by four 16,000-lumen projectors.
While this is the most technologically advanced theatre ever built, most of the technology is not on display and therefore does not come between the audience and their enjoyment of the show.
In addition to the visible elements there is a highly sophisticated infrastructure at work behind the scenes and above the auditorium. There are nine lifts and eight automated tracks and trolleys that can simultaneously move 24 props, set elements or performers, and they provide the production with 140 different ways to put a performer into the air.
By integrating the lighting, projections, acrobatic equipment and sound design into this environment, Rabasse has created the ideal immersive space in which to present the music of Beatles and the performances of the Cirque du Soleil artists. And for Rabasse, the central and constant role of his design is the music, and the way it sounds. “You can create true theatrical magic using simple techniques, and when it’s integrated with the sound system that Jonathan Deans has created for LOVE the result is an experience that is completely immersive and totally involving,” he says.
"I wanted to pay tribute to the creativity of the Beatles with my designs
PHILIPPE GUILLOTEL, Costume Designer
For LOVE, Costume Designer Philippe Guillotel set himself the tough challenge of evoking a sense of time and place to fit the various eras of the Beatles’ career as a group. To achieve that goal he has used Victorian and traditional designs juxtaposed with fanciful, youthful, colorful fashions to reflect the inventiveness of the Beatles’ visionary and revolutionary creative energy in all its moods.
A team of experts has been working around the clock to craft Guillotel’s 331 multi-layered costumes, using highly textural fabrics and incorporating everyday materials such as foam, plastic, industrial objects, inflatable inserts and lights. His designs also called for the creation of custom-designed textiles, including netting that fluidly takes on different shapes as the artists move on stage.
“I don’t really have a signature style,” says Philippe Guillotel. “But I don’t like to put in costume elements that are merely decorative. I want things to work, to be functional. If I include a button, it’s not there for show. It’s there because it has a job to do. And although they have their uses, I don’t really like the so-called ‘noble’ fabrics as much as more modest, everyday materials.”
Many of the LOVE costumes are exceptionally large and highly crafted, almost like outsized puppets or mascots. Some, as in the Mr. Kite scene, are imbued with fantasy and whimsy, featuring concepts such as an oversized accordion or a fog effect concealed within the costume (which exemplifies the significant crossover between props and costumes on this show). For the Sgt. Pepper Parade Guillotel took a fresh approach to the Savile Row tailoring tradition by turning suits inside out to expose their colorful linings and create a punchy, expressive visual statement.
The key characters in the show are directly inspired by individuals mentioned by name in the Beatles’ songs, and Guillotel has rendered their costumes in a stylized form that recalls a comic-book graphic approach to the clothing worn in wartime Liverpool. Her Majesty usually appears in a large, ornate picture frame. Mr. Piggy and his inflatable costume represent the excesses of the establishment. The character Julia (who represents motherhood) appears in a ball gown, and in one of the most spectacular costumes in the show, as a jellyfish “flying” through the Octopus’s Garden in the sea.
There is also a chorus of Groupies and Lovers populating LOVE, and their costumes are informed by the 1960s and 1970s. But Guillotel is quick to point out these designs are interpretations, not reproductions, of actual fashions of the time. ”That would have been the easy way to go,” he points out. “But it would have been far less well suited to the intentions of the show.”
“With the Beatles’ music, the audience arrives forearmed with a
JONATHAN DEANS, Sound Designer
Jonathan Deans says the fact that LOVE is based on the music of the Beatles posed a huge challenge above and beyond the regular demands of designing the sound for any other Cirque du Soleil show.
“The difference is that in other shows the music is written specifically for the show, and it can be developed in any way we like, to suit us,” he says. “The technology isn’t there to impress, but to make sure the experience is moving. It doesn’t matter that there are 12,000 speakers, what’s important is that each seat is fitted with six speakers in order to hear the Beatles’ music like it’s never been heard before.” To achieve that objective, Deans has assembled and deployed an audiophile’s dream wish list of equipment.
There are eight sound system zones in the theatre, each with dedicated Meyer M1D Stereo Line Arrays capable of functioning independently of one another. Each zone provides the listener with fully immersive 360-degree surround sound that can be precisely placed one foot in front of the listener or up to 80 feet away in most directions and moved in any direction.
“The challenge with lighting LOVE was to focus the spectators’
Yves Aucoin, Lighting Designer
Yves aimed to recreate the mood of the 1960s, with the lighting design he created for LOVE. He wished to preserve the warmth, color and tones of that decade, from rock’n’roll to psychedelic. He was very much inspired by album covers, photographic news reports from the 1960s as well as the separation of photos in different colors and the stretching of images, which are trends that the Beatles themselves initiated with some of their album covers.
Yves created a very distinct world for each of the songs of LOVE. His biggest challenge was to work with a 360-degree stage, on which the front light shining on the action is actually also the back light for half of the spectators.
The lighting style that characterizes Yves can be identified through his use of new technologies such as automated lights. His preferred color palette is a warm one, although the feeling on stage usually guides his choice of colors. “I am influenced by the music and the work of the Artists. I am usually the last Creator to make final adjustments to my work during the creation of a production.” says Yves.
“LOVE evokes the world of the Beatles, and therefore connects with the imagination of the audience. So I tried to find ways to make the connection timeless, by recalling time-honored techniques such as watercolor, which I used like a painter.”
FRANCIS LAPORTE, Video Projection Designer
Francis Laporte’s projections for LOVE blur, bend and extend the definitions of theatre design. They evoke time, place and mood through a picture-perfect succession of moving images in a state of constant flux. Laporte’s work seamlessly integrates digital video production and projection technology with the interior structure of the theatre, the show’s lighting design and the more traditional three-dimensional set elements featured in the production.
Above all, however, the projections must work in perfect synch with the music and the actions of the artists as they explore the journey of the characters inside the Beatles’ songs and immerse the audience in the emotion of each scene. That is why Laporte deliberately avoided a high-tech look. Instead, he opted for a fluid mélange of shadows and silhouettes, archive footage, natural elements and pigmentation, photographic collage design, time-honored techniques such as watercolor and composite video images.
To reflect the different eras in the story of the Beatles, the projections transform from sepia tones to kaleidoscopic design, and from black and white images to a psychedelic parade of color. To achieve all this, Francis Laporte combined the latest technologies with a more established approach, using advanced high-definition digital technology to reinterpret the graphic techniques of the 60s.
Custom software directs the flow of crystal-clear panoramic moving images projected onto 100-ft-wide screens. A key element of the programming is the time-coded system that ensures the projections’ programmed cues are synched up flawlessly with the recorded music used in the show. The system can respond in real time should that become necessary at any point during a show.
The real-time authoring system also gave the show’s creators the ability to mix and change multiple layers of images on the fly during rehearsals to create the exact mood and precise effect they were seeking for each act.
Francis Laporte points out that the projection system for LOVE is not only more elaborate than anything used in a previous Cirque du Soleil show, it goes beyond anything ever attempted in any permanent theatrical production in terms of its size, power, complexity and capabilities. “At Cirque du Soleil, we have the great good fortune of working in a context where everything isn't seen in terms of constraints," he notes. “Instead, there's a shared determination to see how far we can push the limits.”
“LOVE is on many levels closer to theatre than to circus and the prop poetically
PATRICIA RUEL, Props Designer
There are close to 600 stage and acrobatic props in LOVE, including luminescent umbrellas and two 32-ft-long remotely manipulated trains adorned with flickering candles. The show also features a multitude of musical instruments presented in unique ways. From unusual drum kits and destroyed cellos, Beatles guitars and triangles to fantasy instruments of pure whimsy. There’s even a piano from which masses of bubbles erupt.
Designer Patricia Ruel says a prop is more than a mere object or costume element, “A prop can play a decisive part in defining a character and evoking a time or a place. It can also help establish mood and atmosphere.”
The props in LOVE are a blend of antiques, junkyard discoveries, off-the-shelf hardware and custom-designed handcrafted pieces. One item can appear in many guises throughout the show. A perfect example is her use of umbrellas. An umbrella can be used to symbolize the broken wings of Blackbirds and in an instant it is transformed into fish floating through the Octopus's Garden only to reappear as psychedelic images in the universe of Mr. Kite. Later in the show, umbrellas reveal swirls of red petals in Hey Jude.
“A great deal of work has gone into the creation of the characters,” Ruel notes, “Each of them owns objects that help in that process.” Character development is reflected in the evolution of certain props such as Eleanor Rigby's train of belongings. Drawn from the lyrics of the song, Eleanor Rigby's story is carried with her on a train lit by candles; each carriage represents a specific era in her past. Charred and fragile from the war, the train grows throughout the show as she collects memories.
Sgt. Pepper's story is reflected in his collection of eclectic musical instruments. After his marching band is destroyed in the war, he collects the debris of everyday items. Teapots and pipes, pots and pans, whatever he manages to recover in the wreckage of war, is assembled to become his instruments. These 'restored' instruments are actually constructed of lightweight PVC and vacuform and feature detailed patina work which gives them their antique, destroyed appearance.
In addition to Ruel’s creations, renowned puppet designer Michael Curry has assisted in the development of three Volkswagen beetles: the smoking car, the rolling car and the crash car. The crash car is constructed out of puppet components, which allows the artists to break the car apart in choreographed movements. Curry also developed a quirky device made from yellow rubber boots, and two large-scale paper-puppets for the lyrical While My Guitar Gently Weeps sequence.
Ownership of the trademarks: Apple Corps Limited for The Beatles (word & design), Cirque du Soleil for Cirque du Soleil (word & design) ® and The Cirque Apple Creation Partnership for LOVE (word & design). Trademarks used under license. © 2006 The Cirque Apple Creation Partnership.
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