Okanagan woman living the dream with Cirque du Soleil

A Vernon woman is currently touring with the Cirque du Soleil show Crystal as stage manager

Growing up in Vernon, the theatre became a passion for Marisa Vest very early, but little did she realize it would one day land her under the very big top.

While her initial interests were being on stage, it turned out what was happening behind the scenes that would become her vocation of choice.

Related: Cirque du Soleil returns to the South Okanagan Events Centre

Vest, who graduated from W.L. Seaton in 2000, is currently one of three stage managers for the ice-breaking Cirque du Soleil production of Crystal coming to Penticton and Abbotsford next month.

The Western News caught up with Vest last week during the company’s stop in San Diego, Calif. where they spent four days at the downtown Valley View Casino Centre.

“So from my humble beginnings in B.C. to being on one of the newest shows in Cirque du Soleil, it’s just been a wonderful journey,” said Vest during a break in her rehearsal schedule. “This journey has taken me all over the world.

“I’ve been with the company for almost eight years and, quite honestly, I can’t imagine being anywhere else or doing anything else.”

Related: On the set in San Diego with Cirque du Soleil

Part of the stage managers job involves the rehearsals that take place on the day of the show where performers work on their various routines.
Mark Brett/Western News

She credited her Seaton drama teachers Dave Bronsky and Monty Hughes along with her work at Powerhouse Theatre for steering her in the right direction.

“They (teachers) were sort of my big champions at the time and they showed me there are not only opportunities in acting, but there was other opportunities backstage,” said Vest who decided to go to the University of Victoria to study fine arts upon graduation.

After getting her degree, she decided to spend a couple of summers at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

From there, Vest made her way to Ontario where she began apprenticing in the Toronto (where she now lives) theatre community, putting in a couple of seasons at the nearby Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Some friends of hers were working with Cirque, which intrigued her and so she decided to go to Hamilton where there was a Cirque production playing to see what it was all about.

“I probably asked them a million questions and they were great and answered every single one of them,” recalled Vest. “I sent my resume into Cirque and a couple days later I got a phone call and they interviewed me to see if I would be a good fit for them and they put me on their pipeline.”

That was a list of potential employees the company was interested in when a suitable position came up.

A year later she got the call that would change her life.

“I interviewed again and got the job,” said Vest. “The show that was going out was Dralion (in Penticton in 2011) and I toured with them for four and a half years.”

After that, she went to Europe for the production of Quidam before coming back to North America.

Related: On the set in San Diego with Cirque du Soleil

It was then, in Montreal, she expanded her role, working on the creation of TORUK the First Flight, James Cameron’s collaboration with Cirque to build a prequel to the Avatar films.

“It was a massive production, it’s the biggest show I’ve ever worked on and I spent two years there,” said Vest. “And then, once again, I was asked if I would do another creation this time in a totally new format in the world of ice and acrobatics. I said absolutely and I ended up here on Crystal.”

Marisa Vest relays instructions to crew on the set of Crystal in San Diego, Calif.
Mark Brett/Western News

Crystal is the title character and the name of Cirque du Soleil’s first-ever experience on ice and is unlike anything else the company has ever done. The show is a fusion of the troupe’s patented circus arts and the graceful gliding disciplines of figure skating and just about everything in between. Blurring the boundaries and melding the two into a timeless storyline is the goal of this 42nd production by Cirque directors. Work on the production began last June with the first previews in October and the world premiere in Montreal in December.

As stage manager, Vest’s duties are all-encompassing, co-ordinating all aspects from rehearsal to show time.

A solid understanding of both the artistic and technical aspects of the show are a must, as well as being able to solve problems.

“That’s really what I enjoy the most, I guess a lot of people might not like that but I think that’s where my strengths are,” said Vest.

She added whether you are a performer or crew member living in close quarters on the road for as much as 40 weeks a year requires a very special personality type. That is particularly evident off the set, where the greetings usually include a hug.

“Absolutely it’s like family, it’s sort of like travelling with a 100 of your closest friends and family,” said Vest. “It’s quite wonderful that way because there’s always someone to go out and have an adventure with. There’s someone to have a quiet day in with and there’s always a lot of people you can find that share your interests at work every day.”

Rehearsal of the first number of the second act under full lights.
Mark Brett/Western News

Crystal will be at the Abbotsford Centre for eight shows April 11 to 15 and at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton April 18 to 22.

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. Tickets for the Abbotsford show are available at the Abbotsford Centre box office, by phone at 1-855-985-5000 or online.

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