Cirque du Soleil Actually Wants You to Leave Your Smartphone On Now with Latest App

Traditionally, live entertainment has started and ended at the theatre door.

SAP in their latest collaboration with Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil is moving beyond logistics to provide audience members with an immersive experience—one that goes beyond the stage and invites spectators to break longstanding rules and pull out their phones during the show.

The business software company has launched a new app designed specifically for Cirque du Soleil’s latest production, TORUK – The First Flight. The app offers interactive content to circus-goers that can be accessed before, during and after the show. It allows audience members to engage with the performance and interact with the events taking place on stage, as well as to explore Pandora, the alien world where the story takes place.

While there were worries about distracting the audience and disrupting the experience, Louis Malafarina, head of corporate partnerships at Cirque du Soleil, says that the company’s creative team was “supportive from the start.”

Since beginning to develop the app last summer, SAP has worked to create an immersive, 3D experience without overshadowing the circus experience, says Malafarina. A number of effects ended up on the cutting room floor, including a photo based activity that just didn’t mesh with the project’s objectives.

Using real-time analytics and geospatial capabilities, SAP’s technology is able to map the entire arena and who’s in it.

“Ultimately, we’re measuring the interactivity of the audience members and the various sections they’re sitting in,” says Adam Novek, client partner, innovative business solutions at SAP.

He calls the app “an enabler between the audience and the show,” which allows the show’s controllers to bring an on-stage effect back to audience members in real time based on how the users are engaging with it on their phones.

Entering into completely uncharted territory lent this collaboration an air of opportunity and innovation while also presenting numerous challenges to the team, according to Bill Keays, strategic science and technology advisor for Cirque. Known unknowns, like venue bandwidth, combined with the nuts and bolts of functionality across myriad operating systems and tight timelines mean success “is all in the details,” Keays says.

He explains that ultrasonic sound is used to trigger push notifications in the app, a workaround to overcome wi-fi dead zones in cavernous stadiums and the potential for data overloads when sending information to hundreds of phones at precisely the same moment.

Ultimately, SAP and Cirque are working to figure out best practices and how to apply those in the future. Leveraging the power of big data to learn about audience preferences in real time is “the ideal scenario,” for Cirque says Malafarina. From optimizing customer traffic flow at sales kiosks to creating a uniquely intimate experience for hundreds of audience members, the next step is still to come.