A Delightful Distraction

A Delightful DistractionInstead of foundering in the tragedy currently playing out in the Gulf, the Destin community comes together over something joyful By Zandra Wolfgram

fter firing a series of questions at me, Simon Painter hired me on the spot. My job: to handle local marketing for what Painter, the associate producer for Le Grand Cirque, described in a lyrical London accent as “the most amazing thing this town has ever cast eyes upon.” His passion was palpable. I was mesmerized already, and the thrill of the show was still 10 weeks away.

I jumped right in. I devoured the glossy press materials and music-laden website, and eyed a dramatic video that made me catch my breath. Could the Destin production live up to all of this hype? As a theater geek, I hoped the show would deliver. But as a marketing maven, I was no stranger to hyperbole, so I felt it only fair to reserve judgment. So, like everyone else, I watched as “the next generation of Cirque du Soleil (Southern style)” took shape.

As we powered through a guerilla marketing plan that spanned the Emerald Coast, images of the Wheel of Death — the act touted as Le Grand Cirque’s pièce de résistance — were emblazoned on ads for websites, billboards, newspapers and magazines. No glossy handout, brochure or sandwich board was spared. Along with the dizzying images, the pulsing beat of the extravaganza’s intro music was burned into my brain.

At this point, I questioned my sense of reality and wondered: Does this happen to everyone who works on this show? The dedicated crew and staff imported from all around the world think nothing of working nights and weekends; the adage “The show must go on” is alive and well at Le Grand Cirque. But I’m not sure if they are they smitten with this particular production or just bitten by the theater bug. So I pressed on and went to press with posters, the Wheel of Death looming larger than life (or in this case, 22 by 28 inches).

Soon, the corporate lodging partners were in place, billboards were up, ads were running and word-of-mouth was buzzing. Talk about death-defying feats. These producers had better have more to show than engaging accents. Now, my sweat equity was on the line, too.

Finally, opening night was here. I was certain I had soreness in my elbows, and somehow I had broken my toe along the way. (Sadly, it wasn’t from kicking butt.) A bit worse for wear, I wondered: Could I still suspend my sense of disbelief and allow the magic of the show to take me away?

You bet I could … and I wasn’t alone. My family of four — and about a thousand other eager patrons — were whisked into a fantasy right in the middle of Grand Boulevard. The Moulin Rouge-inspired lobby area was filled with every indulgence — from French wines and artisan cheeses for grown-ups to festive toys aglow for tots. Even the menu announced that the hot dogs were “Le Grand.”

A deep voice from behind the curtain beckoned all ladies and gentlemen. We presented our tickets, took a playbill and found our seats. The lights dimmed, and out popped a tall, lanky clown with wild hair and soulful eyes. We looked at each other and smiled; the kids giggled. Silly or not, we were ready to go wherever this clown wanted to lead us.

Soon, orange-flamed dancers filled the stage, and then polka-dotted jesters flew high into the sky. One after the other, incredible athletes impressed us with their strength and balance, while beguiling ladies entranced us by spinning plates on long sticks and hundreds of hoops around tiny waists. We were dazzled by the sparkling acts, colorful lighting and pulsing music that seemed to come at us again and again.

Finally, the Wheel of Death elicited gasps from the crowd. In the end, when the clown mimed that he “hearted” us, we felt the same toward him. It was amazing.

I eased back in my center-row seat and thought: The children are so happy. These adults worked hard at their jobs in order to for them to enjoy this evening of entertainment. The entire community seemed relieved to come together over something joyful instead of commiserating over the ongoing tragedy in the Gulf.

As the lights came up, one thing seemed as clear as a klieg light: Whether you might be adding on to a great day or looking to escape from the national news — or perhaps just the summer heat — Le Grand Cirque is a delightful distraction. And that’s the truth.

Zandra Wolfgram is a freelance writer and owner of Wordplay Ink, a marketing communications company based in Fort Walton Beach.