Cirque du Soleil Opens 'Zarkana' With Waitstaff Costumed as Circus Performers

By Anna Sekula July 6, 2011, 4:30 PM EDT

Photo: Jika González for BizBash

Cirque du Soleil's Zarkana Premiere Party
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A little more than a year after the New York debut of Banana Shpeel and its opening night party at the Roseland Ballroom, Cirque du Soleil introduced another big production, Zarkana, and returned to the storied theater district venue on June 29. This time the event followed a premiere performance at Radio City Music Hall. Looking to create an extension of the fantastical visuals and circus-style aesthetic of the new acrobatic show, the Canadian entertainment company's internal team—led by event director Yasmine Khalil and projects manager for events Marie-Josée Adam—built a dramatic setting, replete with big top-like draping, roving entertainers, and prop-laden lounges.

Zarkana is the biggest show we've ever done, on all levels—stage size, production, everything. And because we're going to be in New York for quite a while, the idea was for us to do an event that was going to support the largeness of the show,“ Khalil said. “At the same time, our events are really about creating buzz, acting as a marketing tool to get the word of mouth and create a kind of hype that people will be talking about.”

Key to this was continuing the look and feel of Zarkana without replicating it—aiming to, as Khalil put it, “stay in the same universe, like a prolongation of the show.” As such, there was no main performance or central stage at the party, but rather a collection of entertainers into which the producers integrated costumed waitstaff. Additionally, food stations were incorporated into the overall design.

With food presentation representing such an important element of the event, Khalil and her team started contacting companies a year in advance, looking to collaborate with restaurants and brands not only flexible enough to work within the creative concept, but that were also indicative of the city's varied culinary landscape. The result included stations from more than half a dozen food and beverage partners that included comfort food eatery Cafeteria, Japanese and sushi restaurant Nobu, Brazilian steak house Churrascaria Plataforma, Brazilian cachaça brand Leblon, French Champagne house Pommery, and Nespresso.

To handle the passed hors d'oeuvres, Cirque du Soleil tapped caterer Elegant Affairs, which worked on the Banana Shpeel event and provided a range of bites served by costumed waitstaff from Model Bartenders. For instance, one attendant was dressed as sideshow strongman and passed spinach, Swiss cheese, and bacon frittatas from platters placed atop a barbell-like prop. Another pushed an old-fashioned baby stroller filled with Kobe beef frank lollipops.

Beyond offering plenty to eat and interact with, the event also had an array of seating sections, each decorated in a slightly different way. One lounge, masked partially from the main floor by long drapes, was the designated area for supporters of One Drop, a nonprofit initiative started by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté to provide safe drinking water to impoverished countries. (A benefit for the organization coincided with the gala for Zarkana and raised $400,000 through ticket sales.) Floor pillows and low-slung tables on the stage matched a Middle Eastern tableau created by the bed of nails-style table of vegetarian Moroccan cigars manned by a staffer dressed as a fakir. From another space, guests could see a screen where the producers projected images created by a sand artist.

“If you make the whole environment the same, within half an hour people will have walked around and seen everything,” Khalil said. “The idea is to try to keep guests by always giving them something else to see, so that when they leave they feel as though they might have missed something. That's when they come back to the next party.”

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