In March 2020, the touring operations of the renowned Cirque du Soleil were brought to an abrupt halt at the onset of the pandemic. But the most unwelcome pause from live performance, afforded its production team a welcome opportunity to test, evaluate and verify its entire equipment arsenal for its touring operations.

‘When all the shows shut down, most of the gear that was in North America was trucked back to our warehouse and just put on a shelf,’ says Sound Specialist, Matthew Steuart. ‘But in May 2021, we started on a show called Kooza and came up with a list of projects for that show.’

Steuart says that after testing and evaluating equipment needs for the show, which combines the circus traditions of clowning and acrobatics, they upgraded to Sennheiser’s Digital 6000 Wireless. ‘Switching to the Digital 6000 was a no-brainer, there were just so many benefits,’ he confirms.

Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria

Another Cirque du Soleil show that opened in Houston in November 2021 is Alegria – a performance that has been reawakened from the touring troupe’s original 1994 production. Alegria (Spanish for ‘joy’) features many of the entertainment ingredients Cirque du Soleil fans expect – stunning acrobatics, beautiful stage craft and a poetic storyline.

Again, the break afforded the sound team the chance to examine each part of the signal chain: ‘You can have what appears to be a functioning system, but if you are able to improve two or three links in an audio chain, you can achieve a greater performance in the end,’ says Steuart. ‘While we are on tour, we usually only have one day in every city to do all our maintenance.’

In the case of the Sennheiser Digital 6000 Wireless System that was already used in Alegria, the team didn’t have to do anything except perform a recommended firmware update. ‘We tested it and everything just worked.’

One of the reasons Cirque du Soleil chose the Digital 6000 System was because of its ability to identify and lock in frequencies in an increasingly congested RF environment: ‘The spectrum is just getting more and more crowded,’ says Steuart. ‘When we sent Alegria to Miami a year-and-a-half ago, if we didn’t have the Digital 6000, we simply wouldn’t have been able to do the show – there was just no RF space. Now, with the latest firmware updates including the new Link Density mode, it is so much easier. Sometimes we have to fit all of our wireless channels into a 6MHz or 8MHz block if we are lucky, so being able to work within such a narrow bandwidth has been key.’

Prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Cirque’s touring operation comprised more than a dozen active shows, each with its own artistic and technical challenges. Now, in the middle of its relaunch period, the company moving towards its pre-pandemic level of performances: ‘Before Covid, we were at 12 shows, which was a lot. Now, with Alegria and at least four more productions including Kooza, Luzi, Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities and OVO coming in 2022, we are well on our way. There are many more shows in the works,’ he says.

For Alegria rehearsals in Houston, an 18-channels Digital 6000 system was used along with bodypack transmitters and a pair of SKM 6000 handheld transmitters. ‘The bodypack transmitters are hidden and pretty well protected in the costumes,’ says Steuart. ‘Our wardrobe department is fantastic – they will add these little pouches anywhere in the costume that works best for the artist – inside the thigh, in the small of the back, behind the neck or under the arm.

‘Having these really small transmitters is amazing and we can fit them anywhere. Also, the feedback that comes back into our Sennheiser Wireless Systems Manager (WSM) – including battery levels and mutes and other information – is great.’

Cirque du Soleil’s production crew are able to monitor battery levels and a host of other information using the Sennheiser Wireless Systems Manager

On Kooza, which is scheduled to open in Punta Cana later in 2022, the production team is using ten channels of Digital 6000, including some unorthodox and challenging stage applications: ‘We have a guy in a big fuzzy dog costume wearing a wireless mic, and in another scene, we have a big confetti blower that also has a wireless mic to pick up the noise of the blower,’ says Steuart.

No matter what the application, the team has come to expect both dependability and pristine audio quality: ‘Everything we run through the Digital 6000 wireless is super clear and great sounding,’ Steuart says. ‘It is also super easy to plug instruments into our bodypacks, and it always sounds great. With other brands, we haven’t had as much success when it comes to that kind of flexibility with instruments and microphones.’

While Steuart welcomes the relaunch of Cirque’s touring productions, he appreciates the training and support provided by Sennheiser over the past 20 months: ‘When the pandemic began, Jamie [Criswell, Business Development Manager at Sennheiser] was on the phone with us the next day offering training classes,’ he recalls. ‘It was fantastic – Sennheiser made it clear that they wanted us to know what was happening and to make sure we had what we needed for the shows to run. This support was priceless and appreciated by everyone on our team.’


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