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Phillip Toussaint
Phillip Toussaint. (Photo: Gregg Segal)

Dream Jobs 2012: Designing Automation for Acrobats

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Dream Jobs 2012: Designing Automation for Acrobats

Jan. 31, 2012
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Phillip Toussaint’s computer code moves the scenery, props, and other gear that make magic for Cirque du Soleil and other extravaganzas

Phillip Toussaint is crouched inside a hot, dark crawl space, looking down at a giant statue of Elvis Presley. This must be Las Vegas. Peering through a grate at the stage 10 stories below would make just about anyone a bit acrophobic, but Toussaint doesn’t feel “all shook up” -- he’s intimately familiar with the motor control cabinets, motorized trolleys, and other gear that surround him and that move the scenery for the Cirque du Soleil production Viva Elvis.

Toussaint points to his favorite collection of nine whirring winches. They lift a 27 000-kilogram hunk of scenery that incorporates seven trampolines; the crew calls it the Got a Lot. Toussaint wrote the code that controls the Got a Lot’s precise travels along a laser-guided path. He’s an automation engineer with Stage Technologies, a maker of hardware and software for automating spectacular set changes and gravity-defying flying effects for concerts, opera houses, and theater companies all over the world

Toussaint, a self-professed computer nerd, always knew he wanted to be a programmer. In high school, he enrolled in a class on theater lighting to fulfill an arts requirement and became excited by the technical challenges of theater. At the University of Arizona, he majored in computer engineering and minored in theater arts.