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Charly Ortega: The Challenges Of Partnerships

By Liam Klenk

Early on, Charly Ortega found himself working for shows that were brought to life in collaboration with large corporations. He was fascinated by the challenges these business partnerships presented in his daily work as a stage manager. And, he decided to specialize in navigating these unique environments.

Charly Ortega was born in Mexico. He discovered his love for the performing arts early on. For a while, he performed tight rope in the circus.

After high school, he went to Sheridan College in Canada, to study theater production. There, the main focus was on musical theater. This was fascinating. However, since his tight rope performances, Charly had developed a strong love for circus.

To be close to the circus again, he began coaching in his summer semester breaks.

And, eventually, he studied stage management.

For his postgraduate, Charly went to UCL in Belgium to specialize for one more year in circus management.

Cirque du Soleil’s Joya at the Vidanta Riviera Maya Resort was the first show Charly worked for. Joya is the smallest resident Cirque show.

Yet, it was the perfect starting place to build on what Charly had learned during his studies. And, it was circus. Exactly where Charly wanted to be.

He arrived shortly after creation. And made an interesting discovery.

While most circus shows he had visited and known up until then had been managed by the circus company, Joya followed a very different business formula and process. Even though Joya was created by Cirque du Soleil, it was run entirely by a partner – Vidanta.

For Charly, this meant organizing and operating the daily shows, while at the same time teaching the partner, who had never run a circus show before, how to do the show.

Charly decided this was an advantage. An environment of growth and challenges.

Other circus shows were used to always having complete control. At Joya they did not. It meant an entirely different approach, navigating the wishes and needs of both the circus company and the partner at the same time.

Charly was intrigued and decided to look for other shows that were also running under the control of partners.

He was hired by The Han Show in Wuhan, China. A show that was created by the Dragone Entertainment company, yet after creation was taken over by the Wanda corporation.

This was a huge transition for Charly. He went from the smallest Cirque show to one of the largest shows in the world. Joya had 1 lift and no water, The Han Show was an aquatic circus show with 18 lifts and one of the largest pools in the world. The show had both a wet and a dry stage. In addition, the auditorium moved to reveal more of the expansive wet stage.

Overall, the concept of working with a partner new to show business was familiar to Charly. As senior stage manager, it became Charly’s responsibility to teach the locals how to run a show while taking care of the daily operation.

At the same time, he went through a growth and learning process as well. This was his first aquatics show. And there was a lot to learn about how an aquatic show operates.

While in Wuhan, Charly enjoyed learning about the Chinese culture as well, and about the totally different way of handling daily business.

For him, work is and has always been about having fun. About how to improve the show as a team.

Approx. 30 expats worked on The Han Show in the beginning. Unfortunately, none of them spoke Mandarin and most of the many locals didn’t speak English. Thus, each department had a translator. When running the show, a translator was involved in the calling process as well.

Right there is one of the major values of a team. Together we can accomplish something even larger than we ever thought possible.

Show Call

At some point during his contract, Charly was contacted by Cirque du Soleil. They were looking for a stage manager to join Varekai. Charly opened a conversation with The Han Show management. He felt the timing was good. Only 3 expats were left in the show, and only 1 translator still remained in the building. The locals were ready to take charge completely. It was time to leave.

So, Charly re-joined Cirque du Soleil. Management positions were shifting. A new generation was slowly taking over. New heads, new people, a new generation.

Charly greatly enjoyed his work with Varekai – until it was closed in December 2017.

After Varekai, Charly went aquatic in a different sense of the word. He was approached by his former superior at Joya, who was now heavily involved in the Cirque du Soleil at Sea projects by 45 degrees.

Working on a cruise ship was a whole new ball game. Charly and his technical director Tania Ordonez had to develop SOPs to deal with the sea conditions.

Again, even though the shows were created by Cirque du Soleil, control lay with the partner, MSC cruise lines. Slowly, they built a relationship with the cruise line and with the other departments onboard.

Over time, the shows needed to be changed. Sea conditions hadn’t been considered when originally creating them. So, it turned out, for example, that too many balancing acts had been put into the performances.

Balancing and heavy seas don’t go together well. Other acts were introduced instead, like aerial acts, that could perform longer on a swaying stage.

The theater onboard was top of the line. There were turntables, winches, a lot of technology.

The big difference to the shows Charly had done before, however, was that on the cruise ship, all this technology was operated by far fewer people. Only 20 altogether. It was a small team operating a large vision and venue. This was the main challenge.

Charly stayed onboard for 8 months. Then he saw a stage management job on LinkedIn. For Dragone Entertainment’s La Perle in Dubai. He applied and was offered the position.

He arrived in Dubai just a week after re-creation and was very excited because he looked forward to going back to the world of aquatics shows. Dubai was a larger city than Wuhan had been, as well as more international. Many spoke English, which was delightful, because he was able to talk with people when he went out.

Backstage as well, the primary language used by everyone was English.

It felt like coming home. Because Charly reentered the universe of Franco Dragone.

Then, there was the element of working with yet another partner who was in control of the show – Al Habtoor. For many of Charly’s colleagues it was the first time working for a Dragone show as well as working with a partner.

For Charly, at this point, it was familiar territory. When others were amazed and stressed about some of the questions and demands put to them by Al Habtoor, Charly recognized some of the same issues as he had encountered in The Han Show.

Again, it was all a question of Al Habtoor, a partner who had never managed and run a show before, growing into a new role.

Charly stayed about a year. Then, cast and crew underwent massive changes. Over the course of only a few months, seventy people of the cast and crew were switched out. It was a time of transition.

Thus, when Cirque du Soleil called to offer Charly a position for the creation of their new ice show Axel, he was ready.

This year, just before the Covid-19 closure, Charly was supposed to transfer to Alegria. Now, like so many of us who work in the world of live entertainment, he is patiently following the news and hoping for the re-opening of our shows…

 

More from Liam Klenk:

Don’t Wear That Hat: Theatre Superstitions & their Origins

Entertainment with A Splash: A History of Aquatic Shows

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