A staggering array of fabrics - many custom­-­printed in an on-site textiles workshop - as well as buttons, sequins, zippers, and other materials, are inventoried by show name, ready to be packed in kits and sent to the sewing room when new garments must be made. A shoe shop designs and fabricates custom-fitted footwear ranging from a clown's creature feet to a 12-inch platform for the adult-themed Las Vegas show, Zumanity. In the hat shop, a town's worth of labeled, numbered plaster heads sport a wild array of masks, wigs, and hats, all under construction with an array of materials, including toothbrush fibers and improbably long feathers.

All this works, Uranis explains, because of systems that grew as the company did. Thick, black, three-ring "bibles" for each show describe every costume in detail, including dye recipes and fitting tricks. Computers track inventory, but technology is low-key and discreet. A new computer-aided system that will allow costumers to cut patterns electronically still awaits activation.

Many organization tools germinated during an especially rapid growth spurt in the late 1990s, when two new shows a year were being created and company systems faced overload. "We had a lot of meetings for a while, and everybody talked about their reality," Uranis says. "It works because it has to," she adds. "Or we'd go crazy."

IF CIRQUE DU SOLEIL'S outlandish costumes are one signature, another has to be its performers' startling feats of flexibility, strength, and balance. Vice president of show quality and former casting director Murielle Cantin and her team roamed the globe to find them, following tips from a network of scouts, haunting gymnastic competitions, and placing advertisements. She looked for both technical skill and entertainment potential. "Not everybody can be put on a stage," she says. "That is the big challenge."