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Struggling Las Vegas Performers 'RISE' For Socially Distant Shows

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Zach Green

A major new show is coming to Las Vegas. "RISE" is set to open next year.

A big, brand-new production seems unthinkable when so many existing ones have yet to reopen. 

But that’s kind of the point of “RISE.” It was made not only for the socially distant era but also to help out-of-work talent get by.  

Wayne Wilson is the co-director of “RISE: A Socially Distanced Entertainment Experience". He said the key to show is the use of storage containers. Wilson said the show will be outdoors, and it will be able to adapt depending on what restrictions might be in place.

Wilson said the goal is to give people the entertainment they are craving during these unprecedented times but in a safe way.

"People just want to do something," he said, "They want to be out with their family and friends and in a safe environment."

He believes the show being outside in an almost festival-like atmosphere will allow for the energy that can only be found in live events.

The show's theme is based on the idea of construction. Construction cranes and trucks are part of the aesthetic. Wilson said the theme is reflective of what the entertainment community is trying to do right now: rebuild.

"Our industry has been torn to the ground. We loved the symbolism. When you drive down the Strip and you see these giant cranes in the air, it almost becomes a piece of art as well, representing what we're going through right now," he said.

Support comes from

He said they wanted to find a bit of poetry in the cold machines that we see every day.

Danila Bim is a co-director of the show. She said one of the big advantages of the show is the venue. She said the audience will see a venue that they have never seen before.

"It's a new aesthetic with the cranes, with the social distancing, and our idea is for them to feel like they are walking into a new space," she said.

She said live entertainment companies around the world are trying to navigate this new reality. The advantage that "RISE" has above others is the experience of its team members.

"I do believe we can offer something special because of our venue because of our collaboration and because we are made out of all the entertainment industry of Las Vegas and all those years of experience, and I do believe our team is our secret weapon," she said.

As part of the COVID-related restrictions, all of the performers will be wearing masks. Bim said that is one of the challenges.

"Our face is mostly what we use to communicate and our bodies," she said, "It has definitely been a challenge for the clowns. How do you comedy with your face covered?" 

However, Bim said the whole show is about overcoming problems, and the face mask is only one of them.

One of the key forces behind the new show is Dragone. Dragone is the production company founded by Franco Dragone, who was behind many of the early Cirque du Soliel shows and "Le Reve" at Wynn Las Vegas.

Francois Girard is the CEO of Dragone. He said "RISE" is more than just a production.

"It is much more than a show. It is a grassroots initiative. It's a movement. It is the rage that artists and people without a job are expressing. Dragone just wanted to support this and sponsor it because it fits our values," he said.

Girard is hopeful the new show will make a difference for the entire industry. The live entertainment industry has been decimated by the pandemic, but he believes people need the performing arts.

"People love to have live experiences in the real world," he said, "People prefer performers. They feed off the crowd, and people need it. It's the reason it's one of the oldest forms of entertainment in the world." 

Girard thinks there will be a place for live performances after the pandemic, but we need to make sure the industry is still there after the pandemic is over. He said it is important that people who are passionate about the performing arts still have a place on stage.

One of those passionate people is Keith Thompson. He is a composer and founder of the Las Vegas Composer Showcase. He helped write some of the music for "RISE." 

"So much of the music that was written for "RISE" is particular act or entertainment that is being presented. So it is very much a collaboration," he said, "In the same way we wanted this to be grassroots and we wanted it to be earthy, the whole feel of it was kind of tribal."

He said he wanted the music to take the audience on a journey, and he wanted it to be a community effort. Other local composers collaborated on the music for the show.

"Michael Brennan and I co-founded the Composer Showcase 14 years ago and since then it has become a bigger deal. We're a non-profit now and doing our best to help the community," he said, "That is what connected us to 'RISE' and the Dragone organization because they wanted to do something for the community in the form of providing some kind of work." 

Thompson was already working on providing financial relief to performers, musicians, and technical crew members, who are out of work, through the Entertainment Community Relief Fund. 

He said the directors of "RISE," Dragone and his group all had the same ideals and goals for the entertainment community, which he notes is very small in Las Vegas.

Wilson is hopeful the show will find a home and open in March. Girard said there are about six months left of rehearsing before a complete version of the show will be ready for the stage.

They are still looking for investors and partners to get the fully developed show off the ground. The showcase of "RISE" held this past weekend relied on donated time and equipment from dozens of partners including UNLV and 4Wall Entertainment.

Girard said the show could be the future of Las Vegas shows. He said that large production shows like Cirque du Soliel need a lot of people in the seats to make them profitable.

"We're exploring different formats and 'RISE' is part of that exploration," he said, "We work from trial and error and 'RISE' is part of this process."

Girard believes the show could branch out in several different directions as things change over the next few months and years.

Wilson said "RISE" is not a "COVID show." Instead, it is more a story of a community coming together to help each other survive. 

"It's been traumatic here. All of our friends are being laid off and it's been horrible," Wilson said, "Anybody that can help find solutions out of this darkness it's inspiring. I think the community of technicians, artists and designers have been overwhelmingly positive. We just hope we are able to cross the finish line together and get back to work."

Guests

​​Keith Thompson, Composer and Founder, Las Vegas Composer Showcase; Wayne Wilson, Founder of Velvet Crane and Co-Director, "RISE"; Francois Girard, CEO, Dragone 

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