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Cirque audience participant no shill

LAS VEGAS--I'll admit it, straight off. I'm a Cirque du Soleil junkie.

I've seen most of their traveling shows, have loved them all, and I even worked as an usher on "Alegria" when it was in San Francisco two years ago. And I recently wrote a story about the technology of the Cirque du Soleil.

Call me stupid, but one thing has always puzzled me about the Cirque, and about some other high-concept shows, like "Blue Man Group." And that is that during the performances, they always bring someone from the audience on stage to help out with one thing or another. And I've never been able to figure out if the folks they pull from the seats are shills or for real.

In some cases, there's no question they're shills. For example, I went to see the wonderful Cirque show "O" at the Bellagio on Friday night and at the beginning of the show, the performers pulled a normal-looking guy up on stage. At first, it wasn't clear if he was for real, but within a matter of minutes, he began climbing up a very, very tall ladder. No way the lawyers let some random ticket buyer do that. Shill all the way.

But later in the show, the performers pulled another guy, this time from the front row, up on stage, and began dancing with him. And suddenly I had my answer: This guy was for real, and therefore so were many of the others I'd seen over my many years of Cirque devotion. And how did I know? Because I knew this guy.

He was online games publisher NCSoft executive producer Richard Garriott, whom I had interviewed just the day before at the Consumer Electronics Show here about his company's forthcoming racing game, "Auto Assault," and about the . No shill, he.

Anyway, after "O" ended, I found Garriott in the mass exodus from the theater and asked him about being thrust into the spotlight in front of hundreds of strangers. He said it was indeed a total surprise--especially, he added, because he had just come back from a bathroom visit when they grabbed him.