Circus Maximus: Jeronimo Carbi

According to Jeronimo Carbi, the only thing more in sync than Cirque du Soleil's performers are the people who make the show happen backstage.

 

Jeronimo Carbi actually did run away to join the circus. Working for an entertainment equipment rental company in Argentina, Carbi gained experience working major stadium shows. Immigrating to the U.S. to attend Full Sail University’s Show Production program, Carbi graduated on a Wednesday in 2001 and by the end of the week found himself doing production work for shows on cruise ships. Carbi worked on four major cruise lines over the next five years before making it to the big top. Landing a position as an assistant head of lighting with Cirque du Soleil in 2006, the now 32-year-old Carbi has traveled throughout the United States, Canada, and Japan. He’s currently living on the road with Cirque’s traveling show Amaluna, but life on tour comes with its own set of challenges and rewards.

Get In Media: For Cirque du Soleil, are you based in a specific spot?

Jeronimo Carbi: No, no. I travel permanently. So basically my role and my job description right now is electronic maintenance coordinator. Basically the scope of my responsibility is to look after all of the technical electronic equipment from a show side. That means that I will help and support the head of lighting, the head of sound, the head of automation, the head of rigging, and the head of props. I will look after all of their equipment to make sure that not only is it maintained and show-ready, but that we also have enough spare parts. Obviously we try to foresee all contingencies and have a plan B in case things to go wrong.

I can operate anything from the lighting to mixing monitors for the band to operating automations and flying people. It’s quite like a jack-of-all-trades I think you would say in English, a one-man SWAT team. You’re basically supporting everybody while obviously remembering that the responsibility of each individual system is still the head of department. At the end of the day, if the lights don’t work, it’s the head of lighting’s responsibility. I’m there to support them and to be a skilled resource at their disposal.

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GIM: Would you mind going into the scope of your responsibilities?

JC: That really changes on a daily basis. The mandate of a technician to operate a show is to look after the artistic integrity of the show, so you want to make sure that each performance is seamless and perfect and it looks just the way it’s supposed to look when we first created it. The bottom line is, regardless of whether you’re doing your show number two or your show number 1,000, you still want to make sure that you’re on top of it and it looks as good as the first one.

And as far as the maintenance, it depends on what breaks. We have lights that break. We have sound systems that blow. We have problems with our generators that then cause problems with anything from a light-up prop to the chain motors blowing up from fluctuations in power. You’re basically fixing all sorts of different problems at the same time, doing preventative maintenance like changing lamps ahead of time. You calculate how many hours the lights have been on and, before you reach a certain point, you replace all of them to make sure the lights are always outputting their optimal amount and to prevent lamps blowing up within a fixture causing damage. You walk around making sure, for example, that emergency lights work in case we have a problem during the show.

GIM: How long do you spend in a specific city?

JC: Sometimes on a short city, that would be four weeks of shows, just a month. One a bigger city, if the marketing people and the people that do all this planning think we’re going to do a bit better, we might stay up to eight weeks. An average? I would say six weeks, a month and a half in each city, and then we just keep bouncing. That is six weeks of shows. Before that, it takes us about a week to set up a show, from the moment that we arrive to an empty parking lot to the moment that we actually are show-ready. It takes us three days to take down all of our infrastructure. From the moment the show finishes at 7:30 on a Sunday until we are done and the parking lot looks like a parking lot again, it’s about three days.

GIM: Are you working nonstop in that time? It sounds easy to burn out.

JC: I don’t think burnouts are that common in this particular format in terms of big top. The work pays. It’s a lot more relaxed than what you would encounter in an arena environment. The guys that do the world tours, they’re definitely working a lot more. They’re working longer hours and the actual requirements of the job are completely different. Because of our schedule, we still work pretty long hours. Our average work week would go anywhere between 44 to 60 hours, which, when you look at it, it is obviously above the standard work week, but it’s nowhere near 80 hours or more that you have some people work on arena shows. I think you do need to be a strong and particular type of person to tour permanently. You will be away from your family, your loved ones, the city that you call home, and all of the things that people are normally attached to when they lead a more sedentary life. At the same time, traveling is very rewarding.

GIM: You said that Cirque’s touring shows are very different than the arena shows. What are the differences in terms of your job?

JC: The biggest difference between an arena show and what we call the big top show is the format. On one type of show, you actually get to physically carry your own venue, which is what we do on the big top side. Whereas the arena, you actually come into a venue that has been built. You just roll in with your show and you hang it from their ceiling. We have to carry our own venue; we have to hang our lights, our sound, our rigging from our own big top. That obviously means that to get into a venue with an arena show, you can do that in about eight hours.

On a big top show, when we arrive to the parking lot, it takes about three days just to put up the critical infrastructure of the big top, and then we install all of those support areas like the technical workshops, toilets, artistic tents where we do wardrobe, makeup, and training. From the moment we arrive to the moment that we’re actually show-ready takes about a week, versus eight hours for an arena show. And it’s the same thing for the out. We start work as soon as the show finishes. Our schedule usually finishes on Sunday night. We do a 5:00 in the afternoon show, which is roughly two-and-a-half hours, so by 7:30 we start what we call the teardown. We finish on Tuesday. On an arena show, you would finish your performance and about two to three hours later, you are done. Your trucks are packed. It’s closed and you are back in the hotel bar having a beer.

The other big difference that people aren’t aware of is, due to the format difference, an arena tour can do different cities in the same week. If you look at the business model of moving a show with its own venue, you need to remain in one place a bit longer and sell more tickets to make it profitable and to break even. On an arena show, you can do smaller cities. You can take an arena show to somewhere like Boise, Idaho and you still sell tickets because the costs associated with that type of production are going to be significantly smaller. The work that happens is different.

GIM: What is the biggest challenge and biggest reward of your job?
JC: The challenge is every day because it’s not an easy job. You’re far from your family. You are obviously far from the place you call home. You are traveling to many different places. You’re setting a big top up in the snow or you’re setting it up in hot summers. And regardless of all the problems you sometimes foresee and you sometimes don’t see, you always put a good show on. The reward is seeing how people have been satisfied, touched, and a little bit has been changed because they witnessed one of our shows and enjoyed them. It’s the fact that for the two-and-a-half hours that they’re with us, and this might sound like I’m giving you a marketing speech, they forget about their problems. They forget about the economic crisis. They forget about the problems with their boyfriend or girlfriend, their divorce. They forget about anything that could happen. They come in and it’s a clean slate for two-and-a-half hours, and I think that’s fantastic. It’s kind of therapy.

 

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