Working on Pandora

Posted: November 25th, 2016 | Arts & Entertainment, Featured, Features | No Comments

By David Dixon

Stage manager and Helix High School alumnus, Kevin Katan, has been living an exciting and artistic life. He is currently involved with the touring Cirque du Soleil show set in the same universe as James Cameron’s “Avatar,” “Toruk: The First Flight.”

Ever since he was young, Katan focused on theater arts. At Helix, he participated in theater, show choir and Christian Youth Theatre.

In college, Katan attended UCSD and received a degree in theater arts. Through his connections with the campus, he worked at the La Jolla Playhouse and The Old Globe. While being involved with different shows around the world, he kept on trying to work with Cirque.

“I persistently applied for jobs with them over the years,” he said. “The opportunity to work on ‘Toruk’ came up last year. I wouldn’t have gotten it if I didn’t develop a love for theater.”


Helix High School alumnus Kevin Katan is the current stage manager for Cirque du Soleil’s production of “Toruk: The First Flight,” which was inspired by the film “Avatar.” (Courtesy of Chase Angelo Dean)

Working on “Toruk” has given Katan more appreciation for the cinematic science fiction epic. He admires the theme about how the humanoids known as the Na’vi are connected with their planet. That message is reflected in the live adventure.

“It tells an important story about how you can lose your connection with the environment,” he said. “The tale is a very universal one.”

As a stage manager, he has to make sure the performers are safe.

“It’s a very physical production for the artists,” he said.

On an artistic level, he helps make sure that the content of the story doesn’t change at the numerous theaters.

“This includes the timing of the cues, the visual elements and having the artists in the right position,” he said.

One of Katan’s favorite scenes uses kites to symbolize different creatures from the planet, Pandora.

“The artists run to create their own air current,” he said. “It’s been a technical challenge for us to monitor air flow so we can make the act come across as seamless. Working on this sequence has been really rewarding.”

Katan was lucky enough to meet some of the biggest names associated with “Avatar.” Cameron came to Louisiana during early rehearsals before opening to share his thoughts and input. The successful filmmaker watched the official premiere in Montreal and again in Los Angeles.

“He was very happy and had nothing, but praise for us,” he said.

In addition, Zoe Saldana also watched “Toruk” in L.A. Katan respected how much she enjoyed seeing Na’vi clan members onstage.

At the moment, Katan plans on only focusing on his work as stage manager of “Toruk.”

“I’m glad that I get to be working on this project right now,” he said. “It’s been a real blessing working with this group.”

In spite of his busy schedule, Katan still makes time to visit La Mesa and spent Thanksgiving week with his family here, including his “mom and grandmas” who still live here.

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-12-37-22-pmWhen it comes to “Toruk,” Katan wants audiences to know that the plot is more crucial compared to other Cirque productions.

“The narrative is the primary vehicle of the show,” he said. “We are using acrobatics to reinforce the story that we are telling, as opposed to being the main drive of the evening. That makes this journey more unique compared to other Cirque shows that have come to San Diego.”

If you haven’t bought tickets to “Toruk” yet, it’s guaranteed to have the typical visual mastery associated with Cirque. Katan is an example of how being devoted to the arts can pay off in spades.

—David Dixon is a freelance theater and film writer. Reach him at

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