Last night my girlfriend and I went to see Cirque du Soleil inside the Prudential Center of Newark, New Jersey. Having been a veteran taker of the PATH, it was not all that hard to get to from Manhattan, and I felt that little unexpected surprise when sunlight suddenly smacked me in the face and I remembered that, yes, this train does sometimes run above ground. We arrived early and had time to kill, so we walked around the stadium. But there’s not much to see there. As far as I could tell, there was one open restaurant, a remade building surrounded on all sides (and down the avenue) with burnt-out brick husks. It just testifies to the nature of the neighborhood that no one wanted to own a store next to a bustling sports stadium, where the audience is pretty much captive. Newark is not known for its welcome streets.
So we hugged the stadium and walked to the opposite end, where several patrons were congregating, and sat. My girlfriend took out my camera and began snapping pictures of us together. One of the ushers comes out of the building and offers to take our picture. Another woman comes up from behind and says, “There are no cameras in the building.”
“But I came right from work,” I said as my girlfriend nudged me in the arm to just shut up.
“Put it in your car,” the usher says.
“I took the train from Manhattan. I have no car.”
“Well, I’ll have to ask my boss.”
Uh oh, the dreaded boss!
We then imagined scenarios in our minds: checking my bag with security only to find items missing when it’s returned to me with no explanation of how that could of happened (and no recompense for losses). Or maybe pretending to put the camera in our “car” and coming back. A thousand other scenarios played out in our heads. It seemed silly, and so I was determined to go in anyway, camera in bag. After all, every human being these days is equipped with a camera on their phone, and they certainly weren’t asking people to leave their phones behind.
We moved to another entrance, far away from the usher who warned us. Suburban people crowded by this entrance. How did I know they weren’t from the city? The clothes. It’s always the clothes. Out from the door comes an overeager usher feeling empowered in his role and issues the same warning: no cameras. You will be searched. No food or drink. I looked at my bottled water, unfinished. It would have to go. My girlfriend grew nervous. “Give me your camera,” she said. “I’ll hide it in my bra.”
But I was adamant. The stupidity of denying camera photography but not camera phones really irked me. The reason, of course, was obvious once I thought about it. Flash photography would be dangerous to the acrobats. One poorly placed flash of light could blind a pour soul right when he needed to see. And then, splat.
But of course no one stated that. That would have assumed the audience was both intelligent and courteous. Instead, it was simply sated: No cameras. And the implication: You can’t be trusted, so we will treat you like criminals. And, you know, I had come right from work and I had no car to put my camera in, and, really, it wasn’t like I was carrying a gun, and if someone told me not to take a picture, then I simply wouldn’t take a goddamn picture. So I put my camera in its usual spot inside my bag, under wiry headphones, suntan lotion, hand sanitizer, dozens of pens and pencils, usb keys, and the like. My thought was any man would not want to rifle through my bag once he saw all the things inside. It’s like rifling inside a stranger’s bathroom cabinet, in a way. Gross.
An usher came out. He looked like Biggie Smalls, only bigger. “We will be searching you. Men to the left. Women to the right.”
A woman behind me said, “This is starting to feel too retro, like we’re children.”
I agreed, as we were ushered in. I felt, disconcertedly, like I was walking into a gas chamber. The sense of foreboding was ominous. Is this how it always is here? I asked myself. I took off my sunglasses. I opened my bag zippers. I had nothing to hide. The best place to hide things, after all, is in plain sight.
I was scanned by a hand-held metal detector. No beeps or squeals. Phase 1, check. Then off to the bag searcher. I walked right up, bag open. Here I am. He looked through the large pouch. Ikigami manga and Swamp Thing by Alan Moore. Then into the small pouch. My heart started beating frantically. But no, I knew I would best him. He moved his hand over the zipper. He dug in. He tossed the contents to the left, to the right, and then once more. But there was a lot, and my instincts were right. What man wants to stick his hand in someone else’s junk, especially junk with lotions? He handed it back to me.
I was in!
The entrance was a huge vaulted chamber with banners hanging down from the lofty ceilings. My first instinct was to take a picture. Heh. And I almost took it out. Almost, before the high of sneaking in such contraband faded and I remembered what a stupid, foolish thing that would have been. But just for an instant, I debated it.
As for the show itself, well, I wasn’t very impressed with Allegria. To me, the opening was dull, and the connecting acts of two fatuous clowns did nothing for me. I did enjoy the winter scene where the character is blown by a blizzard and a million tiny pieces of tissue paper were blown out over the audience. With the lighting and the tumbling paper, it really resembled snow. Quite a cool effect. And the contortionists and the acrobatics were all well done. I don’t fault them for the mediocre show. But, and I hate to say this, I saw an acrobatic show at a place called Streb in Williamsburg performed by 16-year olds who did a better job both acrobatically and at entertaining the audience than these seasoned professionals. This show really could have used some spicing up.
And, you know, I saw dozens of camera flashes, even after a soft-spoken girl at the show’s opening implored us not to take pictures with a flash camera for safety reasons. I guess the audience wasn’t courteous or intelligent after all. There were girls taking group photos in the hallway after the show. I wondered were they hid their camera.
Not to mention getting charged $4 for nature’s most abundant substance after being told I couldn’t bring my own in. (Water, that is).
This is not to say I won’t see Cirque du Soleil again. I’ve heard recent shows are more entertaining (Allegria, I believe is almost two decades old). But I won’t be going back to the Prudential Center any time soon. I didn’t like being treated like meat, nor the total lack of anything to do outside the stadium. Though, I did snap several really cool pictures of the Newark train station with my contraband camera.