Everything Under the Sun
Cirque du Soleil's International Headquarters in Montreal is the birthplace of every show.
What the company's 15 shows all have in common, besides their breathtaking acts of daring-do, is Cirque's International Headquarters (IHQ) building in the decidedly unglamorous Saint Michel section of Montreal, Canada, an area once home to a former quarry and waste disposal center. The company, which was originally based in Quebec City, selected the location in order to help the depressed area's revitalization and to give something back to the Montreal community. Every show is created at the IHQ, which was first constructed in 1997 and later expanded in 2001 and then again earlier this year. Neither the complex's grandiosity nor the company's popularity could ever have been envisioned when it first put up a modest street circus in Quebec way back in 1984. (The headquarters' street address, 8400 Second Avenue, was specifically chosen to honor the year of creation.)
This multi-floor complex, where approximately 1,700 employees come to work each day, features a ton of amenities and special features, including multiple cafeterias with a variety of international foods on tap, a trophy case to display the dozens of awards bestowed upon the company, a beautifully-landscaped outdoor area where vegetables are grown and films are sometimes screened, and even a gift shop open to employees and visitors. There are also dormitories right across the street to house the artists who are training to be part of the company's acrobatics extravaganzas; and the complex also houses the company's own water filtration system. It's truly a small world unto itself.
Wandering the complex, one constantly passes extremely athletic-looking men and women, which is no surprise since every artist who is hired by Cirque -- including potential hires -- must come to the complex for training, sometimes for as long as two months. General training, which consists of gymnastic and acrobatic classes, is held in an enormous room with the dimensions of a big top, including ceilings that are nearly 75-feet high, perfect for trapeze work.
At the same time, performers who are going into both new and existing shows can be found throughout the headquarters learning their specific acts, going over the smallest move over and over again. These talented men and women can often be found in the complex's other practice studios, including one that contains a pit filled with 25,000 Styrofoam cubes instead of a net.
Performer training isn't limited to back-flips and high jumps. Since all Cirque performers put on their own makeup on the road, they must learn how to create the elaborately painted-on faces that are a signature aspect of the company. Books with each look, complete with step-by-step instructions, are kept at the complex (and copies of those instructions go on the road as well). By the end of training, a two-hour process has often been reduced to a mere 30 or 45 minutes.
An even more peculiar rite of passage for the company's performers is having a mold made of one's head to facilitate the making of wigs, hats, and hairpieces. While it takes 40 minutes to make a mold, it can take up to three weeks to make just one wig. A display of molds from performers throughout the years is exhibited on one of the upstairs floors of the complex, and it's simultaneously fascinating and creepy.
Anyone who wants to learn about how to organize their home closet would be wise to stop into the ateliers, where every costume, set, and prop for the company's shows are properly stored and labeled -- a task that's vital since they will need to be refurbished or recreated periodically.