It took 100 local union workers to raise Cirque du Soleil's big top on Camden's waterfront on Monday. The theatrical circus troupe is setting up a temporary home in the city to put on its newest production, TOTEM, which opens May 30.

It is the first time Cirque has ever been hosted in Camden. Moving the event from south Philadelphia to its neighbor across the river serves as one more way to promote both cities under the Two Cities - One Waterfront brand, said Camden's Mayor, Dana Redd.

"It's pretty exciting for the city of Camden to host Cirque du Soleil in the downtown waterfront district and to partner with the city of Philadelphia," she remarked.

TOTEM will take place on a 10-acre parking lot just south of Campbell's Field. A 10-week $50,000 lease agreement was executed between the Cooper's Ferry Partnership, the Parking Authority of Camden and Cirque, explained Joe Myers, CFP's Chief Operating Officer, in an email statement. PACC will receive the entire lease payment, he disclosed.

Myers said the lease has options for renewal, which could bring Cirque back to Camden for future tours.

Why Camden?

CFP was approached in 2012 by a Philadelphia-based site selection company looking for large event space on the waterfront, Myers stated.

After jointly proposing the hugely successful Red Bull Flugtag event, Philadelphia's Delaware River Waterfront Corporation and Camden's Cooper's Ferry Partnership teamed up again in the bid to bring Cirque du Soleil to the area.

The organizations saw the bidding process as just another opportunity for both cities to take advantage of their respective waterfronts, said Anthony J. Perno III, CFP's Chief Executive Officer.

Their proposal highlighted the PACC lot's visibility, access to public transportation and the waterfront as a growing entertainment district. Another asset was that startup costs could be kept to a minimum thanks to the waterfront's physical infrastructure, parking, and utilities which would be necessary to accommodate Cirque, Myers elaborated.

Perno says the event is great tie in for how both organizations see the Delaware River connecting the two cities as a playground for the region. They have a shared goal in luring tourist dollars to the united waterfronts in an effort to turn the area into Philadelphia's number one visitor destination.

"This really is a partnership," he noted.

As for Philadelphia, it will draw revenues from it's waterfront parking areas and ferry service. The RiverLink ferry will offer special ticketing for those who park on the Philadelphia side of the river, Perno said. Another benefit? The view of the Philadelphia skyline from Camden's waterfront serves as direct-to-attendee advertising in the form of a life-sized post card.

Transformation on the waterfront

Over the next few days, 1,200 tons of equipment unloaded from 65 semi-trailers will transform the Camden waterfront into a small blue-and-yellow tent village. Around 150 locals have been hired to help with the production, said Cirque du Soleil spokesperson, Francis Jalbert.

In order to accommodate Cirque's tents, the parking lot's light poles had to be taken down, said Perno. They will be put back in place after the circus leaves town.

A boost for a beleaguered city

Redd says she expects the city will receive an economic boost from the influx of visitors. Cirque du Soleil will serve as a catalyst for an individuals to spend and buy locally at the city's restaurants and other venues on the waterfront, she noted.

"It certainly gives us the prominence in the southern New Jersey and Philadelphia region for great things happening," Redd stated.

TOTEM runs from May 30 to June 23 on the Camden Waterfront. Tickets range from $43.50 to $105.50 for adults and $33 to $77 for children. cirquedusoleil.com/totem to learn more.


Photos by Bas Slabbers