The Kodak Theatre undergoes a transformation between Iris and the Oscars.… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
In the two weeks it took Cirque du Soleil crew members to strike the sets, pack the costumes and remove every trace of evidence that the company and its resident show, "Iris," ever existed at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre, the most pressing questions didn't concern logistics or disassembly. After all, the $100-million production had been conceived with the knowledge that come each February of its anticipated 10-year stay, the show would have to decamp to make room for the Oscars.
"The plan has been in place for months," says "Iris" technical director Kevin Kiely, surveying the organized chaos taking place on the Kodak's stage early in the moving process. "The biggest concern hasn't been executing the plan. What everyone's really wondering is: When are they taking out the coffee makers?"
The answer, it turns out, is a little too soon for everyone's liking. Not that caffeine was the primary fuel helping the nearly 100 members of the Cirque crew break down the show to meet their early February deadline. But the removal of the machines, along with all the support staff's office equipment does show just how thoroughly the troupe needed to scrub its presence from the Kodak.
"We are a resident show that 'tours' once a year," "Iris" operations manager Laura Patterson says of the set breakdown. "Our tour, though, is confined to a warehouse and the Kodak Theatre's car park."
The clearing out, though complicated by the enormous amount of scenery, props, lighting, costumes and audio equipment featured in the "Iris" show, is actually less arduous than it might seem to someone who has watched the hooray-for-Hollywood production. For example, take the two pieces of scenery featuring the image of a whiskered man sporting a top hat and monocle that flank the stage. Those are broken down into four components. Once workers remove the material containing the image and disassemble the frame and wire-mesh structure, they're left with pieces that, in some cases, could fit in the back of a midsize car.
"A lot of it is window dressing," Kiely says. "It's as simple as that."
Cirque du Soleil began loading the "Iris" sets into the Kodak almost immediately after last year's Oscar ceremony. "Iris" had a soft opening in July, followed by the gala premiere on Sept. 26. The show currently has a planned 10-year residency at the Hollywood theater, and it will share the venue with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' big awards night through at least 2013. After next year's Oscar ceremony, the academy has the option to relocate its awards show.
"I don't think they're going to be leaving," says Patterson, who worked for seven years as the Kodak's head of production before joining Cirque. "We're good neighbors. It's a nice hand-off, one that works well for both parties."
The academy's production crew arrived at the Kodak just as Cirque's team put the finishing touches on its load-out. Workers wasted little time before beginning to modify the theater for the Feb. 26 Oscar ceremony. Several rows of center-section seating were removed to make way for a "media cockpit" that will house cameras, teleprompters and consoles. Cosmetic changes followed, reconfiguring the Kodak to resemble, in the words of Oscar ceremony co-producer Brian Grazer, "a classic movie theater, like the Village or the Pantages."
That look, adds Grazer, who is producing with awards-show veteran Don Mischer, will complement the theme of this year's Academy Awards — celebrating the collective experience of going to the movie theater.
Meanwhile, Cirque's "Iris" company finds its belongings stashed between a 7,000-square-foot warehouse in Los Angeles and the 6,000-square-foot parking lot beneath the Kodak. Cirque filled 16 semi-trailers for the move with five of the 53-foot containers needed to house the production's elaborate show deck, a 126-piece removable platform that covers the existing Kodak stage.
The troupe is using its hiatus to overhaul some equipment before returning to the Kodak on March 5 to ramp up for a March 24 gala reopening. But it's routine maintenance, Kiely says. Remarkably, nothing got nicked in the move. That may be a byproduct of the 45,000 square feet of stretch and bubble wrap used to encase anything and everything as well as the sturdiness of all those extensively cataloged, color-coded road cases. Or it could well be the outgrowth of a simple theater maxim — you break it, you fix it.
"Oh, they know that if anything happens, they're the ones who are going to have to put it back together again," Kiely says of the crew. "They have a definite, vested interest in making sure this goes smoothly. We all do."