If you’ve ever seen a Cirque du Soleil show, you know the costumes and props are a huge part of the performance. Colorful, intricate, stunning, they’re an essential part of telling the story. And for some shows, they’re quite numerous.
Such is the case for "Totem," Cirque du Soleil’s latest touring show, which boasts almost 1500 costumes, wigs, shoes and accessories. As the head of wardrobe for the show, Amanda Balius is the one keeping track of all of them.
She travels with the show and makes sure that all costumes make it from one country to the next, altering them for comfort along the way, all while maintaining the original vision of the costume designer. Here’s how Balius manages to get it all done.
HLN: How did you get into this field?
Amanda Balius: I went to school for theater and performance, but my university required us to do technical work as well, so I had to do lighting and scenery and costume shop. I actually spent a lot of time in the costume shop and also with props. After I graduated, Cirque was in a resident show where I’m from, and I just happened to be there in the right time and the right place and got hired.
HLN: What was your first job with Cirque?
AB: I was a wardrobe assistant, so I took care of costumes. We tend to break up our wardrobe assistant positions. For Totem, we have one who takes care of costumes and wigs and another who takes care of shoes and accessories. After I was with the company for about seven years, I got hired as head of wardrobe on another show.
HLN: As head of wardrobe for Totem, what are your main responsibilities?
AB: My job now is a lot more clerical. I have to deal with budgets and ordering, and since Cirque du Soleil shows are now lasting up to 15 years, there’s a long process with ordering, especially when new artists come in. But I’m also more impacted by the show’s concept now. It’s part of my duties to make sure that the designers’ vision is carried throughout. Even when we have to tweak little things for the artists’ comfort or for the tricks that the artists are doing. I have to make sure that it’s still the vision that the costume designer and the director of the show originally saw.
HLN: Do you work closely with the costume designers and the director of the show?
AB: Right now, we’re still working pretty close because this is a fairly new show. As the shows get older, some of that pulls away. Although we always do have a very strong working relationship with the designers because they realize that we’re the ones making sure that everything goes and looks the way that they want. Usually, about once a year, the costume designer will come on tour and hear our issues, as well as re-evaluate fabric choices if they’re not working out or they don’t make that fabric anymore.
HLN: With 1,450 pieces of costumes, how in the world do you keep track of it all?
AB: We do have an inventory system that helps us monitor all of that. But usually about once or twice a year, we go through and check that program against what we actually have. For us, it’s very important to keep our inventory up to date because we’re a touring show, and when you’re in Europe, you’re changing countries every city. You have to go through customs every time, so our inventory has to be really well-maintained for all the documentation needed to get in and out of a country.
HLN: How/where are the costumes made?
AB: They’re all handmade in Montréal. We have actually quite a lot of costumes that start out as a base color of fabric and then they’re either printed by hand, painted by hand, or printed with a computer. That way, we can really get the fabric that we want. With what we do, it’s hard to just go to a fabric store and find something that works. So everything is printed the way the designer wants it and it gives the designers room to be creative.
HLN: What’s the most common choice of fabric for this show?
AB: Lycra. We also use a version of Lycra called Tactel, which is the same type of fabric that’s used in a lot of sports clothing because it’s made to wick moisture away from your skin, which is, of course, more comfortable for the artists.
HLN: How do you maintain the artists’ comfort throughout the years? What happens if something rips?
AB: We have a whole set of procedures with Montréal that we do when that happens. If it’s basic and we can alter it for comfort without affecting the design, then we do it. If the design is part of the alteration, then it goes to Montréal, because the integrity of concept is very important to observe.