What’s it like being a Cirque du Soleil performer?
Apart from being the world leader in circus arts, Cirque Du Soleil is now the largest theatrical producer in the world, generating up to $850 million in annual revenues. The company’s shows are renowned around the world for their high-flying acrobatics, elaborate costumes and sets, but there is something just as equally important: athletics.
After all, 40 per cent of the performers in Cirque Du Soleil’s recent show, LUZIA, come from a professional athletic background.
Workopolis had the chance to speak with Kelly McDonald, a LUZIA performer and former NCAA gymnast. Here’s her take on the physical demands of the show, and what it’s like to be part of the world’s most famous “circus.”
Workopolis: LUZIA is about a journey through Mexico. What has it been like to take people on this journey?
McDonald: It’s been so much fun. Before a show is launched, you only got to see it in little snippets; you don’t see how the whole thing comes together until it’s show time. And I’m so proud of the final result, and what we come up with. It is a colourful, amazing, poetic show that I think amazes people and makes them smile.
Your scene is called Adagio and is supposed to represent love. Tell us more about it.
I am the flyer in the act – there are three male porters that throw me around in the air. The scene is in an old bar and it’s kind of a different reality; there are animals and different characters in the background. It’s quite poetic – it’s a foggy scene, and I get to flip and fly through the air.
You come from a gymnastics background, so you have the skill set, but how do you get into character for each performance?
I do the physical warm up with my partners in the act, but I also find the relationship that I want to portray on stage with each character as well as with myself. A lot of it comes from the set and costumes. It helps me get into the emotional side.
You competed at the NCAA level while at the University of Washington. How did you get started in the sport?
I started gymnastics when I was five because my two sisters were both into it. They ended up quitting and moving into different sports, but I fell in love with the sport and competed through university. After that I was fortunate enough to transition from sports to performing and I fell in love with it all over again.
What was it like to get hired by such an iconic company like Cirque Du Soleil?
It was a dream come true. You’re working for the best company and you really have a chance to create your own show. No matter how long I am here, a piece of me will always be with LUZIA.
What has been the biggest difference between competing at the NCAA level and performing for Cirque Du Soleil?
A big difference that I have found is in sports, you have to follow the rules. There are numbers; you are judged; there is a code of points. You win or you lose. When you’re performing, you get to be more creative. You get to move outside the rules, to think outside the box, and try and find something new that will touch the audience in a different way. There isn’t any real winning or losing.
What goes into training and show preparation?
We do between eight to 10 performances each week and we want to be fresh and energetic for each audience. That means we have to stay both mentally and physically fit. I do this with a range of activities. I get outdoors as much as I can, and we have weights and workout equipment at the big top (where we do the shows), which I use on a regular basis.
LUZIA has been on the road since 2016, and has performances across North America already scheduled for 2018. How do you deal with travel? Do you get home sick?
I’m fortunate to often have visitors from home, and of course Skype and FaceTime – there’s a lot of technology that helps with that. I have also shared traditions from home with my Cirque family. For example, I host a Thanksgiving dinner. This year we made turkeys out of gloves and filled them with water to make water balloons. My family does that back home; they like all this weird stuff and I try and bring them here with me.
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