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With Shows Closed, Strip Performers, Stage Technicians Struggle


(AP Photo/John Locher)

Dancers rehearse before an event in support of the Restart Act, which would give flexibility for businesses in spending Paycheck Protection Act loans, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, in Las Vegas. The event was held to raise awareness for entertainers and live event workers who have been out of work since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Shows like “O”, "KA," "Mystere," and "Le Reve" made Las Vegas a mecca for live entertainment.

The costumes, music and acrobatics that crossed language barriers made the shows hits among tourists from all over the world, creating a billion-dollar industry.  

However, since these shows went dark, performers, technicians, designers, and producers say the past six months have been a struggle finically and emotionally. 

"It's one thing for something like this to happen gradually and for people's careers to sort of wind down," said Vuk Rajcevic, the general stage manager for 'Le Reve: The Dream,' "There is a sort of finality to it and you sort of start to accept and you move on... this is something that has happened so quickly and so suddenly that it was an incredibly huge jolt to  a lot of people."

Rajcevic said, like a lot of people, show performers and technicians who worked on the shows tied much of their self-image to their profession, and when that profession disappears, it can be catastrophic.

Colin Patrican was a high diver with "Le Reve: The Dream." He agreed. He said after the shows went dark he knew many people who worked on them that went into deep depressions.

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He said he knew people who turned to alcohol and substance abuse to try to cope.

For many people, performing is all that they know how to do.

"We truly love what we do," he said, "This is our passion. It's in our soul. It's in our hearts. We love nothing more than doing this."

Nadine Brandl is a former olympian for her home country of Austria and a synchronized swimmer. She also worked on "Le Reve." She said it's not just a job but a community of people.

"Oftentimes for everybody, it's not just a job but being in a show comes with so much more," she said, "You gain so many close friends... they're very close to your life you almost call them family. Some people start families through the shows. So, it's a very tight community."

There is no word yet on whether some of the shows produced by Cirque du Soliel will return when showrooms are allowed to reopen. 

But Wynn Resorts announced over the summer that "Le Reve" will be permanently closed.

Didier Antonie is one of the co-creators of "Le Reve." He called the closure a "slap in the face."

"All the performers, all of us, we kept in touch and we kept training and kept up hopes, and we were so excited to come back," he said. 

He said all the people involved in the show believed tourists would be eager to see a show when everything reopened, but that didn't happen. Antonie didn't think it would close because it was a popular show and voted one of the best on the strip.

Rajcevic doesn't agree with the decision but he understands it. The finances of a show do not pencil out with strict limits on capacity.

"Under very strict guidelines and rules, a 1,600-seat theater, socially distanced, at 400 or 500 people, that is not going to cut it financially," he said, "And that's what it comes down to."

As the pandemic changes how 'normal' life operates, the whole future of entertainment in Las Vegas is in question.

Even before the pandemic, Antonie noticed audience numbers dropping. Add to that a desire by casino companies to improve profits, he believes they won't invest in the big production shows that have been a staple of the Strip for years.

"I think the big companies are going to be afraid of investing so much money to make such unique shows in Las Vegas," he said. 

When Antonie started with Cirque du Soliel, the companies cared more about creating something impressive that an audience could only see in Las Vegas but that is not the goal anymore.

"The pandemic won't help this," he said, "The casinos are going to say, 'You see, maybe we were right. We have to go for what kind of show we can do with less money and make a lot of money.'"

Rajcevic tends to agree. He said that smaller shows like "Absinthe" have been successful and that might be the direction for the future.

"That could be the new direction that Didier is talking about," he said, "Looking at it from a financial standpoint, I have a feeling that very recent history has shown us what direction Vegas is heading in and I think the pandemic and shutdowns have allowed for companies to sort of stop, think and re-evaluate what it is they want to do moving forward."

While the casino companies re-evaluate what they want to do going forward, the individual performers and technicians are also trying to decide their futures.

"It is so unclear at this moment," Patrican said, "The optimist in me is saying stick through it for a year, wait to see what happens after the elections, after a potential vaccine comes out, to see what the state is like."

However, the other side of him believes the pandemic may drag on a lot longer than anyone expects.

Antonie, who is originally from France, and his wife, who is originally from Canada, have decided to stay. They thought about leaving right after the "Le Reve" closed, but with the community they've found in Las Vegas, they decided to stick it out for a year.

Brandl is also staying and embracing the constant in life - change.

"The thing is though life is a lot about changes," she said, "And change is ultimately the very nature of life. So, adaptation is important. The question is more or less if one is ready for that."

Colin Patrican, former high diver, "Le Reve: The Dream"; Vuk Rajcevic, general stage manager, "Le Reve: The Dream"; Nadine Brandl, former olympian and synchronized swimmer, "Le Reve: The Dream"; Didier Antonie, co-creator, "Le Reve: The Dream"

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