SHELDON Abel doesn't have an entourage.
But who needs one when you roll with 16 53-foot trailers and a group of 105 technicians and artists from around the world, including acrobats, contortionists, musicians, jugglers and more?
Abel is the production stage manager for Cirque du Soleil's touring show Quidam, and considering the whole production travels to a new city every week it's not surprising his brother says he's "a little crazy for doing this for a living."
"It's a job that I'm sure lots of people could do but I don't know if they could live the lifestyle," suggests Abel, noting it's similar to touring with a rock band.
"We get a lot of people through here that have worked rock and roll. The only difference being that, in my opinion, it's a young man's game that one because it's a lot of travel, you don't know where you are half the time."
Abel, a Sutherland secondary grad, lived for 16 years in North Vancouver starting when he was 14, but mainly calls the road home these days. Currently in Kamloops, the troupe is moving on to Abbotsford next for shows Aug. 29-Sept. 2. Abel says he's excited about performing so close to home, but notes he's really looking forward to the stop after that: Hawaii.
Europe is on the schedule for next year, and it's a place Abel says he will be glad to see again. It's where he started touring with Cirque about four years ago.
After a friend (and fellow hockey player from North Shore Winter Club) mentioned Cirque's show Corteo was in town hiring, Abel decided to apply. He missed that round of hiring, but flew to Toronto for another hiring event soon after. A month and a half later, Abel was hired as a props technician for Alegria, and was sent to Korea. The touring show moved through parts of Europe for six months and Abel says he enjoyed exploring different cultures. In 2011, Abel moved from Alegria to Quidam when he was promoted to production stage manager.
"My title is commonly used in the industry but I'm not much of a stage manager," he explains. "I don't actually deal with the artists that go on stage. We have general stage managers and backstage managers that deal with the artistic side."
He says a better title for him would be "production logistics co-ordinator" because he deals with the logistics of the load-in, load-out and travelling.
"Right now it's nice and simple because we're in North America, but once we leave North America it gets a little more complicated," he says of organizing the troupe's equipment, stage pieces, and more into shipping containers, onto airplanes, and through international borders. One thing he is currently considering is how to fit everything into 18 containers to get on a boat to Hawaii.
"It can be a nightmare but we're always well ahead," says Abel of the preparation and organization it takes to move a show like Quidam, which is one of 22 shows Cirque du Soleil is currently running around the world. The all-human circuses (no animals) feature a unique blend of music and performances, many of which involve acrobatics. When asked if he has had any surprises on tour, Abel answers quickly: "Our idea is to not be surprised by things and when we are surprised it's usually not a good thing."
His job depends on avoiding surprises.
"It's always challenging. It gets easier in some parts, but it's constantly a challenge. We try to keep everything exactly the same every week but the arenas change, the rules change, even city to city, even here in B.C.," he notes. "We advance absolutely everything. We'll even have them send us photos sometimes. If it's a venue we've already rolled through before then we take photos and we document everything then we know the second time around the answers to questions before we ask them."
If the tour is visiting a new venue, there is a rigging advance as well.
"We need anchor points for a lot of our stuff so often we have to set up where we're going to drill holes and put in anchor points to hold things down. Sometimes we go in and we adapt the arena to our needs," explains Abel.
The Quidam set features a large revolving stage and a large arch, as well as a network of tracks to move in and out set pieces and artists during the performance. Despite the sophisticated set-up, Abel says it only takes a day to load in.
"We have everything ready by the end of the first day because the next day before shows we have rehearsals," he says. And it's even faster on the other end.
"We can get the entire thing down and out in under three hours," he notes, adding they usually hire about 85 local technicians and stage hands to help with the take-down.
"It's extremely professional," he says.
Abel, who attended Capilano University, and later got a marketing diploma from BCIT, worked in the Vancouver film industry for years before moving over to Cirque. He says the combination of film and marketing skills serves him well in his current role. He prefers his current work to the film industry because it's interesting, the hours are better, and he enjoys the touring lifestyle, noting: "I'd like to afford a place in Vancouver and the best way to afford it is to not live there."