It used to be that running away to join the circus didn’t require much more than a free spirit and a reason to leave home. But the rise of Cirque du Soleil over the past two decades has not only radically changed the face of the circus, it’s changed what it takes to join the circus, as well.
With Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna set to open May 29 in Edmonton, company manager Jamie Reilly offers her insights on how to make it to Cirque’s signature blue-and-yellow big top.
In days gone by, roustabouts weren’t exactly getting paid to think, but with Cirque, crew members are more likely to be hired for their understanding of engineering principles than for brute strength. “When you’re setting up custom-built infrastructure, you need the best people to ensure all goes well,” says Reilly. That includes having requisite paperwork in order. “We need to make sure that we respect building codes in every single city, country, state and province that we go through, around the world. That, in itself, is an extremely thorough process.”
The dramatic, humanist element at the heart of all Cirque shows means acting ability is held in high regard. “When the performers are on stage, they’re not just coming in and doing an acrobatic number and then leaving; they’re being characters,” says Reilly. “They’re part of the entire show, representing storylines of the show, so the acting ability becomes very important, because it’s not just about the movement, it’s about the significance of the movement.”
Circus schools and workshops are a great way to acquire the kinds of acrobatic and clowning skills Cirque showcases. Though the company supports circus education and training all over the world as a philanthropic endeavour, Reilly says there’s not one specific academy that could be considered the “Harvard” of circus schools. While many performers apply to work with Cirque, there’s also the chance of being “discovered” – Cirque’s scouting program is similar to that of professional sports, with scouts constantly out looking for new talent at events such as the Summer Olympic Games and international-level gymnastics meets.
For all the ways Cirque has changed the circus, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the nomadic lifestyle. “You can be the most talented person acrobatically, but not everybody is cut out for being on the road and living out of suitcases,” says Reilly. “The one thing that joins us all together is our ability to live in that adventurous way. I think that’s very personality-based, regardless of the talents you have.”
Cirque du Soleil’s Amalunaruns May 29 to June 16, at Northlands Park. For tickets and information, visit cirquedusoleil.com/amaluna.