Every new Cirque du Soleil show starts with a blank canvas, so it is fitting that the space housing Zumanity, the troupe’s latest incarnation, would be completely stripped and reconfigured to support the new production. The venue, the New York New York Hotel Casino Theatre, was taken back to the shell walls and a completely new theatre and lobby environment was created in its place. All of the existing interior architecture, including the theatrical systems, seating, and infrastructure were completely demolished, leaving the shell of the space.

Auerbach ∙ Pollock ∙ Friedlancer were the theatre consultants for the project, collaborating with Marnell Corrao Associates, the MGM/Mirage Design Group and Cirque du Soleil on the design of the theatre renovation and the theatrical systems supporting the Zumanity production. The firm advised on all aspects of theatre design, from the room configuration, layout of public spaces and backstage support facilities, seating and audience circulation, to the detailed development of the technical systems, including the stage machinery and its rigging and automation, the theatrical lighting control and the sound, video and communications systems.

The firm developed the room configuration to the design direction of Cirque du Soleil’s scenic designer, changing the theatre space from a traditional proscenium stage to a long projecting thrust stage with an intimate surrounding seating configuration. The existing ceiling was demolished and replaced with a structural grid over the entire seating area to support performer access and technical systems. The new intimate seating accommodates 1,256 patrons within a unique audience environment, with different seating styles ranging from love seats for two to luxury bar stools at the drink rail. New control booths were constructed to house the extensive physical requirements of automation, lighting, projection, and audio control systems. Backstage and auditorium trap rooms were also constructed; the deep thrust stage platform incorporates a variety of slipstages, lifts, turntables, and pylons, all interconnected to the trap room.

A new thrust stage was designed to the scenic design specifications of the production, incorporating the machinery supporting the show’s artistic requirements. A 21’ diameter turntable in the center of the thrust stage is capable of high-speed rotation. A 6’ diameter, two-stage pylon lift/turntable is located within the main turntable. The lift extends to 10’ above the stage from trap room level at very high speed. This unit is keyed to the main turntable rotation speed and position, and is capable of independent rotation as well. The center stage area incorporates a high-speed slip stage that retracts within the floor, opening to the trap room below. Upstage of the turntable, a main stage lift operates at high speed, filling the center of the thrust stage area. Two flanking slip stages also open to the trap room and are filled with additional two high-speed lifts. Traps were designed into the stage deck for performer and scenery access and also accommodate a show floor for Cirque du Soleil’s tracked scenery.

The fly tower was re-rigged with manual and counterweight assist linesets and working areas over the stage and audience were equipped to support motorized spot winches. All mechanized elements are controlled by a sophisticated machinery automation system. An automated computerized rigging and machinery control system manages the movement of all motorized devices. A total of 54 axes of motion control in the theatre coordinate the movement of lifts, turntables, slip stages, overhead rigging, trapezes and moveable scenic elements. Approximately 29 variable speed hoists are mounted throughout the theatre for automated effects. These, along with counterweight assist winches, were designed to facilitate a wide variety of performer and scenic effects. The automation system is interconnected by Ethernet data network, enabling random location of operation from either of two control consoles or portable hand held remote controllers.

Lighting for the space includes 10 racks of Strand SLD dimmer racks. The console selection includes two Strand 550i's, one Strand 520i, two High End Systems Wholehog IIIs, a full file server console back-up and console emulator and a Wi-Fi laptop console emulator. All devices run simultaneously on the network.

The heart of the audio system is a Level Control Systems computer-controlled audio matrix and processing system comprised of three sections: Front-of-House, stage monitoring and VRAS. The front-of-house system controls 144 sources into 96 matrix outputs. LCS is also used to control the stage monitoring system with an 88 x 48 matrix. Modular “Cue Console” control surfaces are used for live mixing and routing control of the more than 160 microphones and other musical instruments and effects sources. An LCS Virtual Room Acoustics System (VRAS) is used to enhance and augment room acoustics. Other gear includes Aphex pre-amps, Meyer CQ and UPA series, Nexo PS series, and EAW speakers, and a Clear-Com Matrix-Plus-3 digital intercom system interconnected with a Clear-Com 72x8 analog matrix.

For a complete look at Cirque du Soleil’s production of Zumanity, check out the November issue of Entertainment Design.