Cirque du Soleil technician Pepe Sandoval drops from the ceiling the South Okanagan Events Centre during set up for the show Tuesday. Mark Brett/Western News

Locals play their part in Cirque’s Crystal in Penticton

It’s no easy task when it comes to unloading 17 semis full of equipment

It’s no easy task when it comes to unloading 17 semi-trailers full of equipment and setting up for a show with the scope of Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal.

A group of local impromptu stagehands got a glimpse of just how much work it takes to transform a building the size of the South Okanagan Events Centre into Cirque’s trademark wonderland for opening night Wednesday.

The locally-hired employees were released onto the ice surface Tuesday morning after the critical pre-rigging work had been completed the day before.

Related: Okanagan woman living the dream with Cirque du Soleil

The first thing that was done was unloading the parade of trailers parked outside the SOEC and then began the task of putting together the giant jigsaw puzzle that will be the set for the shows through Sunday.

“There’s no way we could build it all by ourselves,” said Crystal production manager Chris Koury who has been with Cirque for just over a year and now lives in Florida. “So we employ anywhere from 75 to 85 local labour stagehands in every city for the setup and the teardown in addition to our 28 crew that travel with us. We really couldn’t do it without them.

“Everyplace is different and there’s obviously a level of difficulty. There’s a lot of challenges we have to look at in advance, maybe the ice is smaller, maybe the roof is lower.”

Related: Looking behind the wardrobe of Cirque Crystal

The overhead rigging, because of the load, is one of the key components to be installed, especially with the frequency performers are hoisted nearly to the rafters and the equipment it supports.

“Safety is the number one concern, for sure. We have a very strict safety policy which allows for us to do what we’re doing in a very professional way,” said Koury. “The SOEC is a good venue to work in. It is very well organized and makes our job much easier to do.”

Richard Haughian of Penticton is no stranger to rigging and stage work, a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). He works many of the big name acts that come to the SOEC.

Related: Mixing acrobats and ice for Cirque Crystal

Haughian was on shift both Monday and Tuesday and even got jobs for some of the residents and staff of Discovery House where he works during the week.

“I got pretty much all the guys in the house, I got them all work for the load in, setting up and the loadout Sunday to take it down,” said Haughian, who also does volunteer spotlight work for the Vees. “These guys loved doing it (setting up). It’s quite the experience to watch this stuff come off 17 trucks and see it get all hooked up, the lighting and audio get flown and then the ice castle at the end get put together.”

He added it is a real treat to work for organizations like Cirque because of their professionalism which was a large part of the reason he recruited the inexperienced residents of Discovery.

“You know, they’re great, their crews are amazing,” said Haughian. “They’re very easy going and they give you guidance and direction and tell you exactly what they want and expect of you.

“These guys don’t get all flustered if things are taking too long. There’s no yelling, they come and help you and show you every step of the way what they want, they’re great to work with.”

Related: Video – A rainbow over ice for Cirque du Soleil skater

According to Haughian, after the set up one of the Cirque road managers told him the local union members were some of the best they had worked with in their recent months of travel.

“Our IATSE crew has a reputation all over North America with management companies and crews. We get them out of here in record time,” he said.

Local workers will be standing by on the sidelines at the finish of the final Penticton Crystal show Sunday night to begin the loadout.

“It’s amazing how quick that stuff gets down to the floor and unhooked and back in the cases,” said Haughian. “We should have them out of here in three and a half hours.”

Remaining shows are 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets for the Penticton show are available in person at the Valley First Box Office (at the SOEC), over the phone at 1-877-763-2849 or online.


Joshua Wong of Cirque du Soliel oversees the installation of the equipment high above the SOEC floor. Mark Brett/Western News

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