For Cirque show at Luxor, a cinematic spin

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A “R.U.N.” motorcyclist performs for attendees of July’s Comic-Con International in San Diego.
A “R.U.N.” motorcyclist performs for attendees of July’s Comic-Con International in San Diego. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil will add to its lineup of Las Vegas productions next month with "R.U.N.," a "live-action thriller" at the Luxor. Written by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez ("Spy Kids," "Desperado," "Sin City") and directed by Michael Schwandt (creative director of "The Masked Singer"), "R.U.N." follows two clans in chases, combat and stunts through a gritty underground landscape.

Schwandt, who has worked on numerous live performance and TV productions, answered questions about "R.U.N." via email. The answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: How is "R.U.N." different from other Cirque productions?

A: There are no overt circus acts in the show. There are no "acts" in the show, period. We created chapters -- extended action scenes that feature stunt and performance disciplines. The chapters are longer than traditional Cirque acts, making for longer moments of engagement in the environment and story.

Musically, the show is extremely contemporary. Our composer, Tyler Bates, has scored many films and TV series [including "Dawn of the Dead," "300" and "John Wick"] as well as produced rock albums. The sound landscape we're crafting feels unique to Cirque. Popular music is integrated but reimagined to fit the aesthetic of the soundtrack and the visual world we're creating.

Video is very important to the show's storytelling, both to create environments and as a narrative tool. We have shot a lot of footage more in the vein of a film -- a storytelling medium that audiences are accustomed to, but not necessarily in the live spectrum.

Michael Schwandt
Michael Schwandt

Q: How elaborate is the storyline?

A: We first identified stunts that were valid, executable and sustainable onstage. We took that wish list of stunt disciplines and contextualized them into a real, present-day, tangible story that audiences could really follow and understand.

That led us to explore the graphic novel aesthetic, which gave us a framework for having spoken narration as the catalyst for moving the story forward, and more importantly, the establishment of a signature visual style. The spoken-word narration is the inner monologue/dialogue of our main characters, so the audience has clear insight into the moments we want them to easily understand or how characters relate to one another.

Q: What was it like collaborating with Rodriguez?

A: Working with him has been great; he actually surprised me a lot. He holds no pride of ownership to any ideas and has been extremely collaborative, which is how I like to work. You get to a project's best overall vision when minds meld.

We had to construct a narrative around the stunt disciplines featured in each chapter, which meant to some degree he had to build a story around existing thoughts and ideas. Even with his hectic schedule surrounding his other projects, he makes time for this and is genuinely excited about the live medium. For him it's something new and different.

Performances of Cirque du Soleil’s “R.U.N.” begin Oct. 24 at the Luxor Las Vegas. Billed as a “live-action thriller,” the production is directed by Michael Schwandt and written by Robert Rodriguez, director of movies such as “Spy Kids” and “Sin City.”
Performances of Cirque du Soleil’s “R.U.N.” begin Oct. 24 at the Luxor Las Vegas. Billed as a “live-action thriller,” the production is directed by Michael Schwandt and written by Robert Rodriguez, director of movies such as “Spy Kids” and “Sin City.”

Q: What is the demographic appeal to this, as opposed to Cirque du Soleil's "O," "The Beatles: Love" or "Michael Jackson: One"?

A: Cirque du Soleil is always exploring new ways to reinvent itself and create offerings for new audiences. Audience expectations and sensibilities are evolving. With the easily consumable social media and live-performance video content on so many platforms, people are craving new and different options. Generally, I think this show will appeal to a younger demographic, people who are fans of action films.

Q: What do you want the audience to feel?

A: The show is designed to have the audience feel myriad emotions, much like any cinematic adventure. Unlike a movie, though, our action will be in person and exceptionally immersive. You don't just watch it: You experience it, chapter by chapter, moment by moment. Like a movie, there are elements of the storyline that, if shared, would spoil the journey that you can only get from watching it in its entirety.

Q: Is there one element of which you're particularly proud?

A: The show features various types of hand-to-hand combat. With that comes elements like high falls, wire work and fire stunts. We have multiple types of motorcycles in the show; everything from street stunt bikes that perform flatland stunts to trial bikes and [freestyle motocross] bikes that perform ramp and structural stunts.

Q: How has Luxor's theater been enhanced for this production?

A: Two big items are in our toy box from a set perspective. The first is onstage, and it's a very large, fully collapsible system of platforms, ramps, podiums and staircases. This beast of a structure is a statement piece for key scenes that can also serve as a massive video screen on its audience-facing surfaces.

The other is out in the house, wrapping around the audience on either side. A network of platforms and staircases provide a multileveled performance space close to the audience. The structure's surfaces are covered in a translucent projection material that provides a video-friendly projection-mapping surface, or when lit from behind, provides a window into the structure itself. When you look at the projection surfaces as they sandwich the main stage, which can also take video content, you're left with a giant movie screen almost 180 degrees around the audience.

Additionally, well before the audience steps foot in the theater, we immerse guests into the show's world from the moment they walk up to the box office and every step they take thereafter. The Luxor Theater has a long walk from the box office to the lobby and concessions area, so it was a perfect opportunity for an environmental experience. Without giving too much away, it will definitely become an Instagrammable signature space for the show.

"R.U.N." will play at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays beginning Oct. 24 at the Luxor Las Vegas. Tickets start at $69 plus tax and fees. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.runlasvegas.com.

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