Marisa Vest watches as young dancers from all corners of the earth, decked in colourful regalia, take their cue on the giant stage.
She dashes forth to help them to their respective spaces, and brushes an errant feather that has been blown out of place.
As the music rises from the pit, Vest can only relax for a moment before the next scene change. She’s been in this moment already 50 times before, and knows each cue, each part of the whole, like it was her destiny.
She stands at the very precipice, helping dragons roar across the stage, and muscled acrobats and gymnasts perform incredible human feats.
The W.L. Seaton Secondary graduate has come a long way from acting and hammering nails for Powerhouse Theatre productions to traveling from city to city with a cast of 52 professional clowns, acrobats, gymnasts, actors and musicians, as well as the behind-the-scenes crew, as the stage manager to one of the greatest shows on earth: Cirque du Soleil.
About to celebrate her 29th birthday as she makes her way back to the Okanagan, Vest will be just behind the curtain when Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion takes the stage at Penticton’s South Okanagan Events Centre June 29 to July 3.
Vest gets a bird’s eye view of every move the Cirque crew and cast make.
“I’ve grown past hammering nails,” she laughed when contacted by The Morning Star in Portland, where Cirque was just wrapping up its run of Dralion before making its way north to Victoria.
“Now I’m making sure things are flowing smoothly, and keeping things calm. They are so focussed, everyone has a personal routine. It’s actually very relaxed and organized back there; either they are listening to something on their iPad, or thinking about what they are going to do in their routine. I’m there to give a hand if they can’t find something, or help with their costumes. I love it down on the deck with the cast and the technicians.”
You could say Vest was destined for the stage.
Back when she lived in Vernon, she was often found on stage and backstage at her school and local theatre, getting actors to their cues, shouting out lines, hammering nails, and making sure everything ran smoothly.
A familiar presence at Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre, Vest caught the acting bug at the age of 12 when she appeared as one of the little mice in the production of Cinderella. She continued to act, playing one of the younger sisters in Fiddler on the Roof, and as one of “The Boys” in the production of Alladin.
It was while in high school that Vest found her true calling in the stagecraft class taught then by former Seaton drama teacher Dave Brotsky.
“Brot was one of my major influences, showing me what else there was to the theatre besides acting,” said Vest, who would go on to get her bachelors of fine arts in theatre from the University of Victoria after graduating from Seaton in 2000.
After that, she spent three summers at the Banff Centre theatre production design and stage management program, where she received the opportunity to work on full length, fully-staged ballet, opera, and other theatre productions while being mentored by professional stage managers.
“I got a good grounding of what it’s like working in the real world. It was a different environment than what I had at university,” said Vest.
It was through one of her contacts at the Banff Centre that Vest moved to Toronto in the fall of 2004 to apprentice with various Ontario opera companies.
A few years later, she was accepted to apprentice for two seasons at Niagara-on-the Lake’s famed Shaw Festival.
“It was mostly musicals, which was just fine with me, as it was what I really wanted to do,” said Vest, who after her apprenticeship, started work as stage manager for Soul Pepper, one of Toronto’s bigger theatre companies.
She also went to Nova Scotia for two summers, where she stage managed shows for Two Planks and a Passion, an outdoor theatre on 180 acres of land, which often stages its shows off the grid.
It was while at Two Planks last summer that Vest received the phone call from Cirque.
“I had applied over a year before, but at the time, they didn’t have a space for me, but this time when I got the call, I went right through to the interview process and had a job with them within two weeks,” she said, adding that going to Cirque’s Montreal training facility was an experience she will never forget.
“The training space was huge. It had a wall of clowns and productions shots from all of its shows, as well as photos of all the artistic directors.”
Now on the road since October, Vest has visited almost every major city in the U.S. as Dralion has travelled from coast to coast. And she never gets bored of watching the show night after night.
A colourful blend of east meets west, Dralion follows the dragon and the lion in which the four elements of air, water, fire and earth come together in an elaborately staged interaction of movement and story telling.
Vest has especially enjoyed working with Dralion’s Chinese troupe of just more than 20 artists.
“They are incredible. They came to us in Montreal in August hardly knowing any English, and now they’ve learned English in addition to doing the acrobatics. I’ve even learned a few words in Chinese,” she said.
“Most of the athletes have been doing this for years. The talent that it takes to do any of those things on any night is amazing. I see the hard work. They still stick to the humour with the clowns, but there is also the grace and artistry that Cirque is famed for all over the world.”
Vest is also looking forward to her former teacher Brotsky, and her parents, who still live in Vernon, coming to see the show in Penticton.
“It’ll be lovely to be back in B.C. I haven’t worked on any shows here since I graduated from UVic. I am pleased to get to bring a great show to my home province and almost to my home town. It’s a big feather in my cap.”
Eight performances of Dralion are scheduled for the South Okanagan Events Centre beginning June 29 and running until July 3. Tickets are available at the SOEC box office in Penticton, online at www.valleyfirsttix.com or by phone 1-877-763-2849.