Tara Young, 49, is artistic director of La Perle, a groundbreaking permanent show in Al Habtoor City, Dubai. The Canadian debuted as a performer on New York's Broadway aged 18 in a show with Cabaret star Liza Minnelli. Ms Young worked with LA Opera, New York City Opera, New York City Ballet and as artistic director of Michael Jackson's The Immortal world tour before former Cirque du Soleil creative Franco Dragone hired her his China show and then La Perle. She tells The National about her colourful week.
It’s our day of rest – Tara Day. We don’t have shows on Sundays and Mondays. I try not to answer emails or deal with the show. I get a massage and love my spinning class. I wake up and swim lengths. I got here today because everything I do is preparation, a lot of hard work, setting very clear intentions and then I get fortunate enough to meet an opportunity.
Offices here (in the UAE) are at work. I tend to be back on email, but I’m still at home. You can get 50 to 100 a day, anything from the schedule plan for the next year to events that need to happen. Marketing is integral because there’s no show without the business side; that’s why they call it show business. As artistic director, you’re maintaining the integrity of the show. I have 88 people on the artistic team working with me to make this show what it is. I usually have a nice dinner.
I do something active every day. I live in Business Bay, ride my bike to/from work along the canal. I get in by 9am or 10am. Tuesday through Saturday are 12 to 14-hour days. Tuesday is a rehearsal day, to rehearse new things. The cast is in about noon, will work eight to 10 hours. We have an incredible performer wellness department that takes care of their bodies. I probably watch three or four shows a week; if somebody is going into a new act I will watch. I do planning for the following week; there are costume fittings, new make-up being tried, physiotherapy…it’s a jigsaw puzzle to put together. Tuesdays are big meeting days: with executives to learn about scheduling, ticket sales. I meet my direct supervisor, dissect that information. There’s another meeting with department heads, then the full cast.
I never get bored – there’s always a new challenge. The wardrobe department, stage management, coaching department, performer wellness department and choreography; that’s all under the umbrella of the artistic director. And then 65 performers. It’s a maintenance job. I report directly to Franco Dragone, (speak) weekly and whenever I need to. Wednesday we have two shows, 7pm and 9.30pm, so we start training 1.30pm or 2pm. I come in two to three hours before because there are interviews. I sit down with the marketing department. I might watch the first show. If something needs to be fixed for the second, we fix it.
Wednesday and Thursday are similar days in terms of rehearsal. I got here over a year ago and we started in a training facility for six months. Then we came to the theatre to create the show. A Broadway show would have 35 maximum people on stage, this has nearly doubled. Their acrobatic feats are really intense, plus high diving from over 20 metres into a very small pool. To do these kind of shows your eyes have to be open, a lot can happen. To help me be better at my job, I talk to these guys, understand what they are doing. We’ve 23 nationalities. Most speak English. We’ve had to teach English to a few. It’s interesting to work with people from lots of different cultures and places. Personal situations come up. We have a full HR department, but a lot of them will come to me.
No emails; sales and marketing and other divisions of the company aren’t working. I bring a little Broadway and teach tap, just for fun, then we do rehearsals. I get informed from our executive producer the big goals, landmarks they want to make, big groups that are coming. There are sometimes talkbacks I need to be involved in. We have tours backstage with members of the audience and influencers. I like doing tours if needed. I feel responsibility to share with everybody what we’re doing, help people understand and interest them to come see us. There’s a team that deals with front of house. We’re selling really well, but the goal is to get the word out there even more. Ultimately (accounts) will involve me in the artistic budget, and I have to manage it.
We have early shows: 4pm and a 7pm. Everybody gets to be out of the building by 8.30pm. You can go have dinner. Right now we’re training, building, to do 10 shows a week. We’ll be doing that January 9. 1 walk around every day. I’m not somebody who sits in my office. I carry my phone, work as I go. There’s one master schedule I oversee, so I need to know where everybody is. The sales department does big group sales. We want people in the seats; that’s our business model. There’s a huge investment, not only the initial cost to build the show and theatre, but operational investment. We ultimately want to keep attracting people to Dubai.