As We See It

One Drink With: Emily Elizabeth Burton

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Emily Elizabeth Burton digs the Moscow Mules at Atomic. And she’s been known to down a Butterbeer.
Photo: Adam Shane

One reason I became a journalist is that I truly enjoy the art of conversation. I love learning about people—finding out their passions and penchants, discovering mutual friends (and foes), sharing a laugh about something that tickles both our funny bones.

Here at the Weekly, we chat with many fascinating people living in Las Vegas, often focusing on the work they do. So we’re switching it up—formal, schmormal—over cocktails at their favorite bars, talking about anything that comes to mind.

We kicked off our One Drink series at Atomic Liquors with Emily Elizabeth Burton, who balances her job as assistant stage manager for Cirque du Soleil’s O with helping out the family business—her brother Nathan Burton’s comedy-magic show—and spending time with her friends at Downtown hot spots like VegeNation and Velveteen Rabbit.

So, cheers!

Cheers! Thank you. Thanks for thinking of me. ... I’m usually the one coordinating the details and handing them over to my brother and then sitting in the background waiting for it to be finished. So it’s fun to switch it around.

Emily has been a vital component to her brother Nathan Burton’s show since … well, childhood (more on that later).

Why Moscow Mule?

They’re famous for them here.

Burton, backstage with a Cirque performer.

Really? I didn’t know that.

That’s what I was told by someone. And it’s like drinking a Sprite in a fancy cup. What are you drinking?

A hoppy sour.

Oh, like a fancy beer. Want to try this?

Sure ... They do make them well. Are you a Moscow Mule purist?

I don’t care. As long as it has alcohol in it, it’s fine. And it has to be in a copper mug. ... I’ve never stolen one, for the record.

Tony Hsieh just walked out of here.

Oh, I missed it. Was he wearing a Zappos T-shirt? You should be like, “And ... interview! And ... press conference!”

Yeah, I’m going to stop this right now. I have better things to do.

I’d be fine with it.

So, it was your day off today, but you just got out of a meeting. Why’s that?

I’m head stage manager this year for One Night for One Drop. It’s the fourth year for the show, and this will be my third year [working on it]. This is the most responsibility I’ve ever had with it. It’s a huge project. It’s even more ambitious this year, because it’s going to be at Smith Center. Before it’s always had a home [at a Cirque theater]. So this year we’re rehearsing at Zarkana [theater] as close as we can, and then we have a week to load in to Smith Center to make it happen, which is ambitious for a Cirque show that’s not set up for touring.

You’re the stage manager at O, Cirque’s water-focused production. I hear that pool is really deep.

Yeah, it’s 17 feet deep for the artists. The whole pool is 25 feet deep with all of the machinery and stuff. I got scuba certified there, which is really fun. ... Watching O underwater is one of the most incredible experiences that you can ever do. ... I had a really bad dive because I was so excited with all the amazing stuff that goes on down there that I kept floating to the top because I was hyperventilating, and they had to pull me down. (laughs)

Many scuba courses end with a dive at Lake Mead, which Emily did to achieve her certification. As a native Las Vegan who is terrified of deep bodies of water, I was curious.

Was diving in Lake Mead scary?

That was just gross. It wasn’t scary. I was more just uncomfortable. ... You can’t see. You’re just in mud. It’s like literally being surrounded by mud. Although when you get down enough there’s a sunken barbecue set, like a patio set, with a skeleton hanging out, and a grill. It’s the only thing down there you can see. Like someone put it out there.

I saw on Facebook that you went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter recently.

I’m more of a Cirque nerd than a Harry Potter nerd, because Cirque got me there. I went to see La Nouba, which is a show that’s only a few months younger than O, and it’s going to close at the end of 2017. So I had a few days off. Normally I would go on a big trip for my break in December, [but] because of One Drop I had to stay, so I went to Orlando to see La Nouba [and] I did the parks before. The Harry Potter one is incredible. It’s amazing! The attention to detail is insane. They do this genius thing where they sell wands for like 100 bucks—I don’t know how much they are, they’re expensive wands, but you can point them at all these different spots around the park and they have an LED light on them and you can make magic happen. So you can make a water fountain turn on or make a light turn off or make something move.

I’ve been practicing my swish and flick.

I think that’s important, the swish and flick. I had Butterbeer. It’s delicious. Non-alcoholic.

I’m a Harry Potter purist. Hogwarts students can only go to Hogsmeade when they’re 16, and 16 is the legal drinking age in Britain, so I put those two facts together. Those kids are totally getting schnockered! I’m bringing a flask with rum when I go.

That would be good, actually. Fireball. Put it in there. A delicious butterscotch drink.

I might’ve been wrong about Emily being a fellow HP nerd, but I could tell from occasional Facebook posts that she’s a voracious reader.

Burton, far left, backstage with her Cirque coworkers.

What’s the best book you read in 2015?

They’re not all new books. I have a hard time. I went to Sarah Lawrence in New York for college, and it’s a very literary and nerdy place. Here I have a harder time figuring out what I should read next and to find that community. I read anything from trashy YAs, so I can talk about them with my coworkers, to more literary fiction. My favorite is Haruki Murakami, the Japanese author. They released the first book he ever wrote that was never published this year, which was good. I read a book called Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel that was literary fiction … and it was amazing.

Emily is fascinated by books set in post-apocalyptic times. She’s also into books about the circus—not surprising, given how she makes a living.

How long have you been with Cirque?

Four years. I started out part-time, so I could do my brother’s [show] full-time and then go to Zumanity at night. [After] almost two and a half years I went to O full-time, so now I just do my brother’s show on my day off. So I did that today. I had my One Drop meeting, and then I went to the magic show so I could see some new lighting and new illusions we put in. And my brother just had his first baby, so I held the baby, because the baby watches the show every day. Except for the one part where we use the “Harlem Shake” music. He does not like the Harlem Shake.

How long have you been working for your brother?

That’s why I moved to Vegas 10 years ago, to work for him full-time. And then the whole time I wanted to work for Cirque, as well. Cirque is a big company that can be challenging to break into. And then once you’re in and prove yourself, then they treat you really well. So it took like, five years, that whole time.

You were helping him out long before Vegas, though.

When he was performing at birthday parties, I was like his 5-year-old assistant getting levitated. There’s one trick I hated because he always hit me on the head, so he’d have to put a 20-dollar bill at the bottom of [a dollhouse] for me to go inside of it. He was [performing magic] way before I was born. It’s very much a family business.

Emily Elizabeth Burton has been helping out her brother Nathan with his magic career since ... well, childhood.

What do you think about magic?

I don’t want magicians to beat me up, so I can’t say what I really think. I love the kitsch of magician culture, for sure. Like any entertainment industry, [magicians] all know each other. They are friends slash hate each other. It’s all very competitive. It’s funny when you do go to magic parties. The illusion guys are all in one corner, the close-up guys are in one corner—they have no respect for each other. And then within the close-up guys, there are coin guys and card guys, and you start chatting with one of them and all of a sudden your ring is in their beer bottle and you’re like, “All right, stop it.”

So you dig Atomic. Where else do you like to spend time?

I love PublicUs for food; it’s a delicious meal. I have a couple buddies that live Downtown, so we spend a lot of time down here.

Where do Cirque employees go to grab a drink after work?

Almost all Cirque shows end up at McMullan’s.

One of your Facebook photos also leads me to believe you’ve been a showgirl for your brother’s show …

Burton, far left, splits her time between assistant stage managing at Cirque du Soleil's O with stage managing her brother Nathan Burton's (center) headlining comedy-magic show.

I’m not a showgirl. There was a period of time where I did the opening trick, where he makes four showgirls disappear. I was like, “Sure, I’ll put on fishnets and do that thing.” It was fun to have that experience and know what the girls go through.

I bring up the Weekly’s Confessions of a Showgirl columnist, and next thing I know we’re talking strippers with bylines.

One of my favorite genres is books written by strippers. Which are not well-written, surprisingly.

Did you read Jenna Jameson’s memoir?

Yeah. It’s pretty good. Not as good as Holly Madison’s book. Did you read that?

I didn’t.

Aww! That’s juicy. Every Las Vegas person should read that. It gives you a whole insight on several characters in Las Vegas. I got the audio version, so I’d listen to her. So literally at work I would be like, “Guys, I would walk with you to the car but I’ve gotta walk with Holly.”

Burton, center right, with Cirque performers.

Emily’s copper mug is still half-full with Atomic’s delicious Moscow Mule as I polish off my beer. We joke about how the interview feels like a blind date set up on the Internet.

At least you don’t have to be thinking, Ugh, this guy sucks, I gotta down this!

Gotta get outta here. SOS! Internet dating is the worst. Real life is easier. I always try online dating; I always have it in my pocket. Because when you feel like real life’s not happening, you’re always like, Eh, at least there’s possibilities on this online thing. But it just never actually leads up. ... One guy wrote me and he was like, “I would totally be happy to Netflix and chill with you, but I also would consider Hulu and relaxing,” or something like that. And I was like, “Aww.”

I'm sure you tell all your dates about being a theater student in high school.

It was fun. My high school theater teacher told me I would never work professionally in the industry. So I made sure last time I [went] to visit, I was like, “Can I come talk to your students—and mostly you?”

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