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Cirque du Soleil Returns With ‘KOOZA,’ ‘Alegria’

Unexpected pause due to the global pandemic enables Cirque du Soleil’s touring operations to upgrade its KOOZA production to Sennheiser Digital 6000.

(Houston, TX)—In March 2020, Cirque du Soleil’s  touring operations were brought to an abrupt halt with the onset of the pandemic. The downtime afforded production team an opportunity to test, evaluate and verify its entire equipment arsenal for its touring operations.

“When all the shows shut down, most of the gear that was in North America was trucked back to our warehouse and just put on a shelf,” states Matthew Steuart, Sound Specialist at Cirque du Soleil. “But in May 2021, we started on a show called KOOZA and came up with a list of projects for that show.” 

The Cirque du Soleil production “Alegria” uses 18 channels of Sennheiser’s Digital 6000 wireless system. Photo: Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

Steuart says that after testing and evaluating their equipment needs for the show, which combines the two classic circus traditions of clowning and acrobatics, they upgraded to Sennheiser’s Digital 6000 Wireless. “Switching to the Digital 6000 was a no-brainer, there were just so many benefits,” he says. Another Cirque du Soleil show, “Alegria,” opened in Houston in November 2021.

The recent long break afforded the Cirque du Soleil sound team a chance to closely examine each part of the signal chain: “We were able to look at everything more closely, including the RF,” says Steuart. “You can have what appears to be a functioning system, but if you are able to improve two or three links in an audio chain, you can achieve a greater performance in the end. While we are on tour, we usually only have one day in every city to do all our maintenance. We tested [the 6000 system], and everything just worked.” 

“When we sent Alegria to Miami a year and a half ago, if we didn’t have the Digital 6000, we simply wouldn’t have been able to do the show—there was just no RF space,” Steuart adds. “Now, with the latest firmware updates, including the new Link Density mode, it is so much easier. Sometimes we have to fit all of our wireless channels into a 6 or 8 MHz block if we are lucky, so being able to work within such a narrow bandwidth has been key.”

Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cirque du Soleil’s touring operation had more than a dozen active shows. “Before COVID, we were at 12 shows, which was a lot. Now, with Alegria and at least four more productions including KOOZA, LUZIA, KURIOS—Cabinet of Curiosities, and OVO coming in 2022, we are well on our way. There are many more shows in the works,” he says. 

Backstage during its productions, Cirque du Soleil’s production crew are able to monitor battery levels and other information using the Sennheiser Wireless Systems Manager software. Photo: Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

On Alegria, 18 channels of the Digital 6000 system have been deployed, along with several bodypack transmitters and a pair of SKM 6000 handheld transmitters. 

“The bodypack transmitters are hidden and pretty well protected in the costumes,” says Steuart. “Our wardrobe department is fantastic. They will add these little pouches anywhere in the costume that works best for the artist—inside the thigh, in the small of the back, behind the neck or under the arm. Having these really small transmitters is amazing, and we can fit them anywhere.

On KOOZA, which is scheduled to open in Punta Cana later this year, the Cirque du Soleil production team is using 10 channels of the Digital 6000 system, including some unorthodox and challenging stage applications. 

“We have a guy in a big fuzzy dog costume wearing a wireless mic, and in another scene, we have a big confetti blower that also has a wireless mic to pick up the noise of the blower,” says Steuart. “Everything we run through the Digital 6000 wireless is super-clear and great-sounding.”