Interview with Neil Goldman, Creator of Cirque Dreams Holidaze
Posted on 07/30/2018
Cirque Dreams Holidaze is a new cirque adventure, Broadway musical, and family holiday spectacular wrapped in one! Cirque Dreams creator Neil Goldman joins us to discuss how the concept of doing cirque shows came together as well as what can be expected in Cirque Dreams Holidaze with over 300 imaginative costumes, 20 world-class astonishing acts, and more! Join us for 4 performances December 7-9. 2018.
Read the Transcription below:
Bert: We’ve got our upcoming events calendar still to get to on this edition of All Access by State Theatre New Jersey but right now Kelly and Hanna you two would like to handle the next segment and speak with our next special guest who’s calling in.
Kelly Blithe: Sure, we have a wonderful holiday show coming up December 7th, 8th, and 9th. It is Cirque Dreams Holidaze and today with us is the creator of Cirque Dreams, Neil Goldberg. Welcome Neil!
Neil: Hi, How are you? Good to be here.
Kelly: Good, so Neil, Cirque Dreams Holidaze. Tell us all about the show and what is all involved and everything.
Neil: Sure, well once again Cirque Dreams Holidaze this season is going to perform at over 40 US cities in just six short weeks. So were thrilled to be coming to the state theatre December 7ththrough 9th. Over 5 million have seen this show today. It is one of the most popular holiday and Christmas time stage spectaculars for the entire family. One of the reasons is because no other show today combines Cirque Dreams abundance of amazing costumes, some of the best spell-binding artists on the planet, holiday elaborate production numbers and all just all kinds of Broadway style celebrations. This show has big choreographed production numbers; it’s like a gift for the whole family. There are productions numbers with reindeer, toy soldiers, marching bands, and snowmen and penguins and gift wrapping shopping scenes and 15 foot tall puppeteering costumes. So there’s really something in this for everyone, it’s a great family spectacle.
Hanna: It sounds incredible. It sounds like there is going to be so much going on. I cannot wait.
Neil: There’s a lot there are over 20 scenes in the show. Each of the scenes has its own unique holiday inspired theme. It’s presented in 90 minutes with two acts and an intermission.
Hanna: There you go.
Neil: Lots of classic holiday music, original seasonal songs, singers, dancers, I mean there’s something in this for everyone.
Hanna: Wow. So, looking into your background, it looks like you started out in Broadway and general entertainment. What brought you into this Circus, Cirque performance atmosphere?
Neil: You know it was sort of a fluke kind of story cause I’ve done a lot of different things from window dressing and fashion design and Broadway Theater and I was producing an event in the early 1990s for IBM at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. They wanted to have this international showcase of talent. So they enabled me to travel around the world and find different acts and artists that represented the regions where all the guests were going to attend from. I discovered this contemporary circus kind of genre throughout Eastern Europe and Paris and Germany and it was such a rewarding experience. The show that I composed back in 1993 was Cirque du Monde which means circuses of the world. As a result of its success I just said you know what I’m gonna give this thing a go in the U.S. and here we are 25 years later.
Kelly: Wow. And Cirque Dream Holidaze obviously was not one of the first shows that came along. Was it at one point you thought you know we have to have a holiday options for your audiences?
Neil: Well, you know that’s another great story. We first had our mainstream success in the early 2000s with Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy it was the first contemporary circus style show of its kind ever to perform on a Broadway stage in New York City. And as a result of that it then tour the United States in virtually 350 to 400 cities the next couple years. Everyone wanted a follow up and I just wasn’t going to present and design something for the sake of doing it. I was always fascinated with Christmas even though I’m Jewish as a kid. It was just something that I loved the color, I loved the imagination, I love the celebratory festivity of it. Most business men that I had approached could not figure out the business matter of could you produce a multimillion dollar stage spectacle and try to recoup your money in just a six week period. Because here in the United States we start celebrating like the department stores will start changing their decorations around Thanksgiving time. So we’ve managed to stretch out the holiday season for 6 weeks. Because I’m a true artist and I’m passionate about what I do, it wasn’t about the money or the business financial aspect of it 1 and 1 did not equal 2 but I didn’t care. I had a vision, I had a dream, I was passionate about it and from the day the show opened 10 years ago we have just been going nonstop. We started with one company and then two companies. This season alone we have five companies of Cirque Dreams Holidaze just touring the United States simultaneously because of the demands.
Hanna: Wow. So can you take us through you process? You decide that you want to create a new Cirque show; you come up with a concept. What happens next? How do you make it a reality and make it the show that can go out on tour?
Neil: So I should qualify and say a long time ago I used to a one man show but no longer. Cirque Dreams has 150 employees and were placed in Pompano Beach, Florida which is right near Fort Lauderdale. We have a 25,000 square foot facility appropriately titled Dream Studios. And under that roof is a rehearsal studio, costume and wardrobe manufacturing plans, design shops and we have choreographers and directors and scenic designers. If there’s a vision and a concept for the show it’s a team effort. Well sit with the designers as I did 12 years ago, and I say here’s my vision and I get input back from all the different departments. Our process usually takes about a year to compose a show between all of those different components. All the music is written originally and composed here in the studio as well. So year round it’s sort of like Santa’s workshop here. Very colorful, very festive, everybody always has a smile on their face. People from the community are always trying to come into the building just because it puts a smile on your face because it just reeks of imagination.
Kelly: Nice. Speaking of Santa, I love that Cirque Holidaze incorporates holidays from Thanksgiving to New Years. You don’t always here that and so in my head and I think in Hanna’s head is a giant turkey. But I’ll let you tell us what’s incorporated with those other holidays.
Neil: Yeah, so we really sort of touch on everything. We pay tribute to Thanksgiving with a celebratory scene where people are sitting around the table, toasting and having a family dinner. And then of course all the chairs and all the glassware, you know everything gets balanced and stacked and things start flying through the air. I don’t want to give too much away. But nothing… the only thing that is usual is the unusual. So of course we’ll set up a scene like shopping in a department store and then the shopping carts start going wild and the ribbons start flying through the air and then performers are dangling from the ribbons. And so we also pay tribute to Hanukah, we pay tribute to New Years and obviously Christmas. You know, winter time, we take our imagination to the North Pole and fill the stage with a spectacular choreographed number with penguins and they start slipping and sliding. You know the wonderful thing about this is that even at the age of 90 you still recollect all those wonderful things you remembered about the holiday season as a child and so for a grandparent to be able to sit with a three or four year old and for everyone to be able to be mesmerized for 90 minutes. And to get something entirely different from the experience whether it is remembering a shopping spree that you went on or seeing contemporary circus acts defying gravity and doing something amazing. We put all of that together and we thread it with all this great holiday music. The stage set alone is a multi-million dollar winter wonderland. The centerpiece is a 20 foot tall steel frame Christmas tree that when there curtain comes up at the beginning the entire cast of 30 performers are dressed as ornaments and dangling from that tree. There’s a big audible “wow” in the audience just curtain comes up and the show begins and we try to keep that momentum going for the next 90 minutes.
Hanna: Wow, so for you personally, do you have a favorite element of the show that you like to oversee? Is it the costumes, the music, the circus acts? Is there anything that really speaks to you that you really like seeing come together?
Neil: Well, that’s a hard question to answer. My passion is creativity and being able to manifest my imagination through creativity. When the music composer will send me a song I’ll listen to it and if I feel that it’s missing something I’ll give it my notes and comments and direction. I love to be working in the rehearsal studio year round with all the artists so that I could come out and take my break and watch what they’re doing and give my notes and suggestions. And say well maybe if your arm went there or your foot went there or you balanced on top of this it might create a more dramatic impression. Ultimately, costumes and design is a passion of mine. I grew up in a family that had retail textile stores so I’m very familiar with clothing and textile and design. Each one of the companies that go out if you can imagine there’s five companies, every show that goes out has a minimum of 300 costumes not including the hats which there’s probably hundreds of. That’s another outlet for me, form of therapy, at the end of the day 6 o’clock or 7 o’clock in the evening I’ll go back into the wardrobe department and I’ll look what everyone had been producing during the day and I’ll leave little post-its and give direction. I like to have my hand involved in everything, not because I like to micromanage people, it’s because I’m passionate about it and I’m a perfectionist. We have a really creative comradery of team work that goes on here all the time and everybody exchanges ideas and it makes for a great outcome of a show for the audience. At the end of the day it all comes down what we can present on the stage, in a theater for thousands of people to see and feel that they’ve spent their hard earned dollars on something that truly is a gift.
Kelly: With five companies, that’s a lot of performers. What is the process of getting new performers? Is there is an audition process? Do you hand-select and find people or do they come to you? And what is the kind of commitment that they have to make, I mean this is pretty tough stuff; this is not an easy type of show to do. What is the commitment for each performer?
Neil: Well, after 25 years and with social media and the way we can connect around the world today, it’s a bit easier. Our casting department will receive no less 50 inquiries via social media or the computer per week. Of those maybe 5 of those will get in front of my eyes because the casting department pretty much knows what the criteria are. Our studio rehearses and trains and designs artists and acts all year round. So we have had over a 150 artists casts for the 2018 season of Cirque dream Holidaze since 2017 and we are already in the process for 2019. We are in an industry where things happen sometimes to someone, you know sprains an ankle or twists the wrong way. We always have to have backup plan two and backup plan three because you know old saying the show must go on. We work with artists that are very, very dedicated. We have our casting department sit on a jury of circus festivals throughout the world from Monte Carlo to Germany to Spain to Cuba all year round. We’re probably the only American company that has a representative on these European festivals as a judge. We actually give out the Cirque Dreams USA award to who we think is up and coming or the most prestigious artist. That gives an insider opportunity to work with those artists at a very young age sometimes we see artists as early at 12 or 13 and obviously we won’t work with them until they’ve graduated school and their 18 years old. We invest in them early on with direction and support so that one day they may have the opportunity to come here. And then we also have the department that specializes just in visas and processing. Of these 150 artists I would say that 90% of them are from outside of the United States. We deal with a lot of governments and a lot of embassies. By the time of an artist gets here there’s probably a 4 inch binder, notebook binder, of documentation that has taken at some times a year and a half to process.
Kelly: Wow, well Neil, congrats on your success. This is huge, 25 plus years is amazing! We look forward to Cirque Dreams Holidaze on Friday, December 6th, Saturday, December 7th, and Sunday, December 8th. Very much looking forward to it, it is definitely the must see holiday show of the season! Thank you, Neil Goldberg, creator of Cirque Dreams. Thank you so much for being with us today.
Neil: Thank you so much and happy early holidays to everybody.