Even something that mundane has a twist in "Quidam."
Cirque du Soleil's "Quidam" starts when a bored little girl is visited by a mysterious, headless figure who introduces her to the world of imagination. Her father reads the newspaper through the character's arrival and remain oblivious as he and his wife are levitated out of the way so fun can begin. When "Quidam" opens its New Orleans run tonight at the New Orleans Arena, Patrick McGuire will be the father sitting blankly in the chair as he has been many times in the past, enough times that he is pretty blasé about being levitated 25 or so feet above the stage.
"It was fun the first time," McGuire says. "Now I don't even realize I'm going up. I actually read the newspaper. My character's very introverted, he's really absent, so I can really get absorbed into reading the newspaper. I learn all sorts of stuff."
McGuire started in Cirque du Soleil in 1994 right out of high school. At the time, Cirque du Soleil had yet to become an institution, and it was starting to work on "Mystere," its first residence show in Las Vegas. He's a juggler and was brought in to perform an act that had been developed specifically for the show. As part of Cirque du Soleil's agreement with the Vegas hotel, it had to change a percentage of the show every two years, and when the two years were up, McGuire and a version of his act left "Mystere" and were written into to "Quidam."
"In this show I do a solo act," he says. "When I was in 'Quidam' when it started - I was an original cast member for the show - I was working with another guy and we were performing an act together, which was a version of the original act I did in 'Mystere.'"
That sort of situation is less common today than it was back then, and the way people join Cirque du Soleil has changed as well. Potential performers still audition, but the method has caught up with the technology. Now those who are interested can create Facebook-like profiles on a server and upload videos of themselves performing. "Casting often starts there now," McGuire says.
One thing that hasn't changed is the intensively physical nature of the Cirque du Soleil performance. When McGuire's chair reaches the lighting truss that hangs about the stage, he has to get out and run with his newspaper down a set of stairs in time to enter for the next scene. As a result, injuries are a part of job, and like football, everybody's playing hurt. The shows travel with physiotherapists who help performers rehab as well as exercise to prevent injuries, but recently a performer was injured in El Paso during a jump rope act. Performers get weekly nights off and two weeks off during a touring leg, but "people are getting hurt all the time," McGuire says. It's an occupational hazard.
Although Cirque du Soleil has made its reputation with extreme set pieces, the bread and butter of each show comes from traditional circus disciplines. As a juggler, McGuire has what seems like the unenviable task of trying to make what he does work in a building that houses hockey and basketball. "You play bigger," he says simply. Having a stage designed to accommodate what he does helps, including lighting to draw attention to him, and directors to quiet the onstage tumult to draw attention to the performer. "You can do very intimate, small stuff," he says. "It depends on what's going on around you."
Cirque du Soleil's "Quidam" opens tonight at the New Orleans Arena and will play through Sunday, March 17 with Saturday and Sunday matinees. Tickets are on sale now.