Up in Lights
Alex Manuel has a pretty cool job.
The twenty-five-year-old Mandeville native, who graduated from LSU in 2007, is working for the biggest water show in the world — in China.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “I really didn’t think I was going to get the job, just because [the show] is so much bigger than anything I’ve ever worked on before, and I didn’t think I had the experience to do it … It’s been surreal.”
Manuel currently lives in Macau, one of two special administrative regions of the People's Republic of China that borders the Guangdong province to the north and the South China Sea to the east and south.
There, she works for “House of Dancing Water,” a theatrical extravaganza that combines aerial arts with elaborate water stunts and daring acrobatics.
Manuel, who graduated with a degree in technical theatre, works as one of the show’s 130 technicians. As an electrician, her job consists of making sure the show’s elaborate lighting sequences run smoothly and using key lights to let performers know when to go onstage.
“It’s not electrician work like you would think an electrician would do,” she said. “We have a big fountain and lighting sequence during the show that’s choreographed like a dance … We maintain our equipment, as well as the integrity of the show and the lighting.”
With a production cost of around $250 million US dollars, “House of Dancing Water” is Macau’s most expensive show. It took five years of planning and two years of rehearsal, but “Dancing Water” now puts on eight shows a week and regularly fills its 2000-seat theatre.
Manuel said that the show is often compared to Cirque du Soleil— an appropriate comparison, since the show’s creator and director, Franco Dragone, directed Cirque shows in the ‘90s.
While Manuel never thought she would end up living in China, she’s always known that she wanted to be involved with the technical side of theatre.
“I’ve been in the theatre since high school,” she said. “At LSU, I spent all of my time in the theatre … I stage managed, I did costumes for a little while, and I worked as a scenic construction assistant for three years … I did a little bit of everything.”
In addition to her lifelong passion for theatre, Manuel said she has always had a passion for LSU.
“I grew up a Tiger. From the time I was born, I bled purple and gold,” she said. “My parents met at LSU, and basically my whole family went there. I grew up watching LSU football with my dad, so it meant a lot to go to games as a Tiger.”
When she wasn’t working backstage or tailgating with her family, Manuel spent a lot of time at the Honors College.
“For me, the Honors College was exactly what I needed at LSU … I grew up taking gifted classes, so it gave me the small classes and a more focused curriculum that I was comfortable with,” she said. “I got to know my professors actually talk to my professors … it made my transition into college life much easier.”
Manuel said that one of her favorite Honors College experiences was taking a course on postmodernism in American theatre.
“The class was taught by Professor Babcock, who was amazing. I was so excited that somebody outside of theatre was gearing a theatre class towards other people. Theatre is a pretty small, isolated community, so it was nice to take a class where people had different ideas about the subject.”
Living in China, Manuel is now exposed to people with different ideas on a daily basis. She described her past eight months in Macau as a learning experience and said that she has gained a lot through her exposure to so many different cultures.
“It’s very, very different,” she said. “It’s hard not to speak the language … and it’s just very different to be this far away from home. I moved out here not knowing anyone. It’s not a bad thing, it really teaches you a lot about yourself. I know now that I can make new friends out of my comfort zone; most of my friends are not American, and that’s completely new for me.”
Manuel said that she’s not yet sure when she plans to return to the States, but that she want to do a lot more travelling in the future.
“I sort of take every day as it comes — that’s how I try to live my life,” she said. “I never thought that I would end up here … so far it’s been a dream.”
Despite her desire to travel and see the world, Manuel hopes to eventually to end up back where she started.
“I’d like to come home and live in Louisiana; I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” she said. “[And] if life takes me somewhere besides theatre, I’m open to that. I want to see it all, and do it all.”
Story by Elizabeth Clausen, LSU Honors College For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-8831
Story by Elizabeth Clausen, LSU Honors College
For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-8831