BWW Interview: Krista Monson of VIVID at Friedrichstadt-Palast Berlin - Dynamite comes in small packages

BWW Interview: Krista Monson of VIVID at Friedrichstadt-Palast Berlin - Dynamite comes in small packagesDuring a break from rehearsals at Berlin's famed Friedrichstadt Palace (Friedrichstadt-Palast) Variety Theater, I had the great pleasure of spending some quality time with the Canadian-born Director, Choreographer and multi-disciplined Artist, Krista Monson. In Berlin to direct VIVID, the new multi-million dollar production opening on October 11th, Ms. Monson has a very tough act to follow. Over the course of its two-year run, the theater's last production, "The One," a variety show with spectacular costumes by Jean-Paul Gaultier, broke every box office record in the 99-year history of this historic, 1,900-seat theater with the largest theatrical stage in the world.

If Krista Monson was worried about fulfilling either the theater's or audience's expectations with VIVID, she hid her nerves extremely well. She is a petite woman, blessed with a very winning smile, an enormous amount of energy, and a calm, nurturing aura that fills every centimeter of this cavernous theater. As the saying goes "Dynamite comes in small packages."

Ms. Monson, comes to the Friedrichstadt-Palast after a very successful, 11-year run with Cirque du Soleil, first as Artistic Director of "O", then as Casting Director for Cirque's resident shows worldwide, and most recently as Conceptor and Stage Director for Cirque du Soleil Special Events. She recently discussed all these projects. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.

You've worked for Cirque du Soleil. What's the difference working for a government-subsidized theater like the Friedrichstadt-Palast, as compared to a for-profit producing organization like Cirque? To be honest, life is filled with interesting paradoxes and contradictions. Before Cirque, I was a director/choreographer, and I quickly became entranced by multi-disciplinary work. I made the move to opening ceremonies for major athletic events, so when I started working with Cirque, it was really about the inter-disciplinary aspect of it that appealed to me. Fundamentally, Cirque performances are still based on "circus." The Cirque rehearsals are called "trainings." It's more than just semantics. Like Olympic athletes, the acrobats have their training schedule. The dancers and other artists, would rehearsals separate from the acrobats. Due to its foundation in circus performance, onstage rehearsals and stage time were dedicated first to the acrobats, and then to everybody else. Here, the difference is not that it's a state-run company, but, historically, the Friedrichstadt-Palast's shows are based on revues, not the circus. It's exactly the opposite of Cirque. The ballet, all 60 of them, who have a daily morning ballet barre, have more dedicated stage time and stage rehearsals than the acrobats. Again, the primary performance focus of these two institutions is quite different.

Because this is a federally-funded institution, as an artist, producing, directing and coming up with a concept for this show, did you feel you had more artistic freedom, because this theater, in contrast to Cirque, does not live or die based on ticket sales? Fascinating question. Again, I go back to my "paradox" comment. I absolutely felt free. It's part of my learning and embracing Berlin. I was asked by the theater to "push the boundaries." All artists love to hear that. There were a couple of things that the house insisted on. For example, the Kick Line [à la The Radio City Rockettes --Ed.] must be a part of every show. I had to work that into the concept. How does one organically include a kickline into the storytelling? We wrote a story for this show, even if it's at times fantastical. However, I felt an absolute freedom to bring new concepts forward. The concepts were critically appraised, but I felt a general acceptance of any new direction that I wanted to take with the show.

BWW Interview: Krista Monson of VIVID at Friedrichstadt-Palast Berlin - Dynamite comes in small packagesHow long have you been working on VIVID? Two years. The first year we spent refining the concept of the show. The dancers have been rehearsing their choreography since May, and we've been rehearsing full-time since the beginning of August.

Do you think that shows like Cirque du Soleil or VIVID are the further development of Vaudeville? It's an interesting point. I have great respect for the host country where I am working. You have to listen a lot, when you come to a new place to work. I studied German Cabaret shows, before arriving here. Berlin has such a huge place in world history. I think these revue shows are a pre-cursor to Vaudeville. This theater is in former East Berlin. The Palace was a place where the East Germans came to escape. They wanted to see color and to see things that were otherwise not available to them in their everyday life. You have to know and respect that history when you're working in a theater like this one.

Is that why the show is called VIVID? In part, absolutely. It's called VIVID, and the subtitle is "The Beauty of Things." Well, what are things? Some things that are beautiful are invisible. Other things can be impressive and big and fantastical, sparkling and beautiful. But you can pass things on the street that are beautiful, but not recognize them any longer. People are sometimes dealt a card in their life that changes their lives forever in a split second. How do we react to that? Do we put our head in the sand or look at it as an opportunity? Are we able to see the beauty in danger, in melancholy, of small little fireflies? If you can appreciate the smaller or darker moments, how much more will you be able to appreciate the huge and spectacular moments of beauty?

BWW Interview: Krista Monson of VIVID at Friedrichstadt-Palast Berlin - Dynamite comes in small packages
Set Design: VIVID

Can you put into one sentence what you want VIVID to communicate to the international audiences that come to the Friedrichstadt-Palast? What message do you want the audiences to walk away with? I hope that after seeing the show, people will be able to better recognize the small things, the invisible things and the big things that enhance and challenge their lives. The show is about learning to appreciate the beauty of the unknown. It's about learning to embrace the unknown and seeing it as an opportunity to challenge oneself and to grow.

Is there anything else that you would like to communicate to the readers of Broadway World about the show or about yourself? That's what VIVID is -- It's the question, "Is beauty what we see or is it a reflection of who we are?" If people will open themselves up to opportunity, they will learn who they really are.

VIVID starts preview performances on September 27th and will celebrate opening night on October 11th. Information and Tickets: https://www.palast.berlin/

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From This Author Mark Janicello

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