Q&A: Michael Schwandt
For its exciting new Luxor show, Cirque du Soleil had to approach R.U.N from a fresh perspective, and one of the individuals who guided that effort was director Michael Schwandt. He's worked on TV projects including The Masked Singer and American Idol, and concerts and tours with Kendrick Lamar, Katy Perry and John Legend. He was happy to provide Las Vegas Magazine a glimpse behind the curtain.
Is this your first time collaborating with Cirque?
It's my second time. The first was much quicker, essentially translating performances for television, so it was more expeditious that time around and I wasn't creating from scratch.
How exciting was it to land this gig creating with Cirque?
Oh, absolutely, of course it was super exciting. The company is such a benchmark in live performance. And I have a tendency to be involved in projects where companies are trying something they haven't done before or something new for the brand, which means I have to put my thinking cap on. I'm always looking at new ways to approach live performance.
Why do you think it was so important for Cirque du Soleil to move in this very different direction at this time?
I think the landscape of entertainment options is diversifying. Consumer and audience tastes stretch across generations and age groups and they are continuously evolving. I think it was a valid and important step for this company to make, to continue to diversify, and they are acknowledging there is a different way to bring what they do to the table, in a new platform and as a new entertainment experience.
You've directed and produced a vast array of shows, events and performances. Did you find elements in the creation and direction of R.U.N that were familiar to you, sort of applying those skills and experiences from your past?
There are absolutely more differences than similarities between R.U.N and anything I've done before. It's interesting because I've pulled from experiences across a greater swath of project types, kind of grasping at things I've done from a super-wide range more than ever before. There are definitely a lot of new challenges for me in this realm and stunts in general is a new realm for me to understand. It's been a tremendous learning curve for me personally.
The action and driving storyline of R.U.N really set it apart from every other show on the Strip. That seems like an essential creative decision.
Absolutely. We're aiming to be more direct, to guide the audience with the use of voice-over narration which we hope keeps them invested in the journey from scene to scene, and the performance in each scene supports the storyline. Everything is interconnected. We hope you're not only following the journey but becoming really invested in the main characters.
What was the most exciting part of this creative process for you personally?
I think it really has been testing my skill set. There's so much video content in the show and I love working with video, but it's really been about finding a way to present something new within each scene. Tyler Bates and I had an awesome ride together crafting the music for this show and the whole synergy of pulling together video, music and stunts has been super exciting. It's been challenging but also very rewarding.
It's also unique in that the story is set in Las Vegas. What inspired that choice?
It's an interpretation of Las Vegas. We had this idea that we could take inspiration from the city where Cirque has such a strong presence and kind of set the benchmark for quality entertainment, and how cool that would be. And it was a great way to inject a different energy into the show.