/ The Seattle Traveler
Seattle — By Mary Jo Manzanares on May 27, 2010 at 8:25 am
Filed under: circus, Family Friendly, performances, theater, top-feature

Lake Stevens Grad Heads Props for Cirque du Soleil’s KOOZA

Lots of kids may dream of growing up and joining the circus, but for Lake Stevens High School graduate Jeff Carlton that dream is a reality.  I was excited to have a chance to interview JC, as he prefers to be called, to learn how a guy from the Pacific Northwest winds up with Cirque du Soleil.

Jeff Carlton and the props at KOOZA

Prop Master Jeff Carlton says anyone interested in the entertainment industry should consider joining the circus.

JC started his career with his own business building houses, and although he found it satisfying, he dreamed of becoming part of the entertainment industry and traveling the world.  After dabbling a little working in a local special effects business, he really got the entertainment bug, eventually moving to Florida to work in commercials, film, and video production.  HIs passion for the industry took him to Las Vegas, where he discovered that working in the entertainment business was more than just working in film industry.  At that point JC’s talents and interests collided, and he began building sets and props for Las Vegas shows.

JC was hired by Cirque du Soleil to work on KA, their house show at the MGM Las Vegas.  He loved the work and the production, but knowing that he wanted to travel, he applied for a position with KOOZA, a touring production that was just being created.  The timing didn’t work out right then, but when a position as Prop Master for KOOZA later came up, JC jumped at the opportunity to join the touring company.

The Prop Master is responsible for everything than an artist picks up or handles.  JC and an assistant manage over 100 props during performances, all of which are custom made, along with maintaining them in proper working order, a job requiring about 100 hours of work each week.  Only some of the props are seen, with many more invisible to the audience.

I was curious to know what life on the road is like, and JC was gracious enough to share a bit of an intimate look at life with KOOZA.

Contortionist perform in Cirque du Soleil's KOOZA

About 120 people (artists and technicians) travel with KOOZA, and JC describes it a big (very big) family unit.  The live in local 2-bedroom apartments, shared with a roommate, so get a little bit of a break of togetherness with some personal space.  They live together, commute to work together (a shuttle transports them from the apartment to the performance venue), work together, and play together.  It’s a good thing then genuinely like and care about one another, because that’s a whole lot of togetherness!

The company typically spends about 6-8 weeks in each city, which includes set up and tear down, and a show run of 6-7 weeks.  I asked JC what his favorite cities on the tour have been, at least so far, and while he was quick to point out that there was something to discover and enjoy in each city, he did finally cop to a favorite — Santa Monica, where they set up the Big Top on the pier.  KOOZA performed in various spots in Southern California for about 6 months, so they got to feel right at home there.

Although JC is single, there are families traveling with the show.  Children working on the show must attend an onsite school, much like is required of child actors.  Families traveling with children can attend the same school or are often home-schooled.

The Skeleton Dance in KOOZA

The Skeleton Dance in KOOZA

When I asked JC about his career plans, he said that he’d love to stay with KOOZA for the duration of its run.  A typical touring production runs for around 15 years.  The production will travel North America for most of the rest of 2010, and will then move to Japan where they’ll spend 16 months performing around the country.  After that, who knows?  But wherever it is will be just fine with JC.  He loves what he does, and combined with his passion to see the world, he considers himself a very lucky guy.

KOOZA will be set up under the Big Top in Marymoor Park, 6046 Westlake Sammamish Parkway NE in Redmond (map), and will run June 3rd through July 2nd.  A variety of ticket prices and special offers are available, starting at $45 for adults and $31.50 for children.  KOOZA tickets can be purchased online or by phone at 1-800-450-1480.  Service charges apply.

I’ll be attending the opening of KOOZA next week, and will have a review of the production and experience then.

Photo credits:  All courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

Tags: circus, Family Friendly, performances, theater, top-feature

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