Stepping off the Broadway musical stage after 15 years and stepping into the position of Artistic Director of TOTEM – about to perform under Cirque du Soleil’s familiar yellow and blue tent at National Harbor later this month – seems like a large order, but not to Tim Smith.
Crediting his parents for instilling a strong work ethic in him, Smith began his entertainment career at King’s Dominion amusement park in his nurturing hometown of Richmond, Va.
“I learned to sing and dance at King’s Dominion,” he explains, “while working there during the summer to pay for school [at James Madison].”
He would earn a degree in Telecommunications and move to New York where he landed the first of many parts: Grease with Rosie O’Donnell, Annie Get Your Gun starring Bernadette Peters, Dream (the Johnny Mercer Musical), AIDA (Elton John Musical), Sweet Charity starring Christina Applegate and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
From afar, he appreciated Cirque du Soleil’s constant dedication to crafting original, one-of-a-kind, innovative events that continue to stimulate and thrill the minds of their audiences.
“I kept an eye on them knowing I wanted to say in commercial entertainment,” he says. “The environment at Cirque is incredibly diverse; it’s a unique company.”
The passion and dedication he gave to his work on and off the stage has been an integral part in creating a foundation for some amazing productions with Cirque du Soleil. In his second year in the Cirque environment, Smith currently serves as TOTEM’s Artistic Director. He joined TOTEM almost a year ago after transferring from his first Cirque show, Alegeria, which is now touring Europe.
“This experience has been very exciting and exactly what I was looking for because the challenge is the mix of all of those cultures and people whereas in a NY show you are working with singers, dancers and actors,” Smith says. “At Cirque, it is really a unique group of people from all over the world, so none of my tools and theatrical languages translated into my environment here. For example, I’ve never flown 40 feet in the air – now those elements are put on my desk to manage. So, I rely heavily on my artistic team to support me in relating to the performers.”
His artistic team is comprised of coaches, stage management, make-up, wardrobe, and performance medicine members who are physical therapists.
“Ninety percent of audiences say they’ve never seen anything like this before, and ask where we find these people. They are doing these amazing skills right in front of them, which takes quite a bit of management and support.”
Smith feels most theatrical shows dictate to the audience what to think and how to feel. At Cirque du Soleil, they give the audience a crayon and say – create your own experience. “We allow the audience to explore their mind and gain their own concept about the show,” he states. “The audience throughout the experience can take from it what they want.”
The experience also changes with each show. Smith shares that each show is a unique visual experience so audiences will get something completely different each time. A Cirque show has a lot of moving pieces including the audience, which come together under his direction.
“I fit in the middle of all the elements of the productions – I watch the show. I keep it motivated. I make sure that it maintains the high standards of Cirque de Soleil,” he says. “I make sure the audience gets the best show that Cirque has to offer. In addition, I coordinate with the creative team to up keep the elements internally of the show – acrobatics, wardrobe, technical departments.”
Smith’s work continues even after the show ends. As a touring show, he works directly with all departments, making certain the traveling and movement from each city is seamless for the 53 artists from over a dozen countries speaking 11 languages.
“I’ve never seen a collaborative environment like Cirque,” Smith laughs. “It looks like the theatre and smells like the theatre but is a completely different environment.”
This new production traces the human species from its original amphibian state to its ultimate desire to fly.
“TOTEM is one of our newest shows. It’s the shiny new penny with all kinds of things that have never been seen before. It’s the new and unique elements that make it a very exciting time to work with Cirque du Soleil,” Smith says. “TOTEM is about mankind and its needs to reach forward and upward; however, we portray it on stage through motions, incredible skills, and photos so the audience is allowed to explore their own minds with no limitations.”
TOTEM moves between science and legend and is filled with visually spectacular moments. Smith’s favorite moment is the opening. “I love the opening because it really sets up the tone for the evening. It starts really, really cool and draws you into this very exciting show. You really don’t want to be late.
“We are most proud that TOTEM is for everyone; the dynamics of the audience covers the spectrum. They are all clapping at the same thing. It’s truly a universal show.”
Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM will be at National Harbor from August 15 – September 16, 2012.
Details and tickets