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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

My Big Butt...and other reasons I don't work for Cirque du Soleil

My butt has been the center of much conversation in my life as a performer. I’ve had it referred to as “a nation unto itself” among other less charming titles. I have always been bottom heavy, even as a little girl, and as a dancer and artist it’s been one of my dominating characteristics. Every performer overhears things being said about them by audience members who don’t believe they can be heard (btw...we can hear you) and in my case it’s always been, “look at her BUTT!” I ain’t mad...I like my butt just fine. It suits me and i find it looks nice on a hoop. It makes me feel powerful and feminine. Whatever, this is not a post about butts, even if it did make a damn fine title.

photo by Howard Tu
There comes a moment for every freelancing aerialist that they will have to face this question: “Have you worked for Cirque?” Followed by the inevitable, “did you ever think about trying?” This question is brutally annoying, because A) Cirque is a word that means circus. It does not just refer to one company, however large. And B) it is a given that the asker is looking for one answer only...yes. And any other answer means you have failed. Other irritating versions of this question including the ever-patronizing, “did you ever think about doing this professionally, like in Cirque du Soleil?” are equally obnoxious to anyone who is already “doing this professionally”.

Do not misunderstand me. I greatly respect Cirque du Soleil, and enjoy much of their work. I honor them for their origins, and for what they have done for the artform (arguably paving the way for it to be relevant in the lives of so, so many more people than it was before). This is not a condemnation of the company whatsoever- however it is a story about how I learned the importance of defining success in my own terms. Which much to my surprise and in service to my sense of humility, I had not done as well as I believed I had.

So...have I worked for Cirque du Soleil? The answer is no. Here is the story of how that came to pass, for once and for all, so that it is here for all to see, reference, and hopefully enjoy.

The year was 2014, and after applying by way of creating my profile I was invited to the aerial circus performers audition in Las Vegas! Well shit my bricks, I was on cloud nine! I discovered my good friend Ms. Eve Diamond was also invited, so we immediately joined forces to share a room in one or another of the ridiculous casino hotels and share a rental car, blablabla. Eve is gorgeous, strong, tireless, and really really FUN, so I was looking forward to what was sure to be a great trip.

By the way, I should mention here...I had every intention of scoring that audition. Strong? Check! I could murder the list of conditioning recommended on the website. The flexibility requirements were child’s play. But most of all- i had made my best act yet that prior spring...a unique, dynamic explosion of lyra to Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower”. I was achingly proud of it.

I realized, of course, I probably wouldn’t be allowed to perform that act in a Cirque show. Someone else was in charge of most of that stuff (that stuff means, the actual creative art that goes into these enormous shows). But I was after the holy grail, the golden ticket...the ability to say “yes” to that damnedable question.

And I felt no doubt that I had earned my place amongst those mighty titans of industry. It was basically a formality to go through the audition.

What an ass I was. Just reread that last sentence and get a really good idea of what an ass I was.

The audition day came, and it was just as fun and awesome as I expected it to be. I felt no competitiveness with my fellow candidates...why would I? I was not feeling insecure. I was feeling exultant. I cheered and hollered for everyone (btw, you’re kind of a jerk if you can’t wish another candidate well. Come the fuck on.) and they cheered and hollered for me. Eve destroyed it, and so did another friend of mine who was there- yeah...our world is small, you will know people at auditions.

And I performed well, and was happy with my work. Fast spin, all tricks were bossed.

And they didn’t call my number. And they didn’t and they didn’t, and then they were thanking us for being there, and they still didn’t call my number. I wasn’t crushed...I was shocked. They invited us to stay for feedback if we wanted some, and you bet your ass I did.

I couldn’t help but notice, all of the hoop artists they asked to stay were good. But they weren’t all GREAT. Some were! Some were extraordinary. But more of them were entry level hoop artists, with great gymnastic ability. And some hadn’t demonstrated a fraction of the work I had put into my own craft.

My question was, what the hell???

I finally got my turn to ask for feedback, which of course I did politely, because while I might be an insufferable fool in my mind, I can control my demeanor. The casting director was lovely and very approachable; and in an no-nonsense manner told me I was very unique, dynamic, and highly skilled, but my body type didn’t fit what they needed. When I blinked back at her, she indulged me by explaining that it frequently does boil down to costuming.

This shouldn’t have been own first coach, the great Kerri Kresinski, had warned me of this, having been passed over at many auditions where she performed in the top percentile, yet didn’t get picked because her body type didn’t fit the costuming. And yet, I hadn’t really heard her until now.

The casting director kindly pointed out that in a different discipline, they did accept female body types that weren’t “tiny little things” but for my specialty I simply would never fit what they needed.

I thanked her sincerely and departed with my mind finally blown open to the idea that my coach had tried to suggest to me years ago. I had to take a second to remember every drop of blood and sweat and the money and the sheer bloody force of will that it had taken to make me the creature I was, was at this juncture worth less than the price of a new costume in this particular situation. That is not something to be upset by; it is not fucked up**, and it is not insulting. It is a fact to acknowledge and then move on, further educated.

**EDIT!!!!!!  JUNE 12, 2020**  Do you know- I don't agree with myself anymore.  It is fucked up.  It is insulting.  When the stage is meant to be a representative of life, it is right and proper that that representation be as diverse and varied as the world it is meant to comment on.  This system needs to be challenged.  When a variety of body types and skin colors are rarely if ever seen on a high-production stage YES THAT IS FUCKED UP and it needs to change.  Yes CdS didn't see my look as a right fit, but I had lots of other yeses.  I'm a completely average sized, pretty white woman, and I got hired a lot.  WTF.  Imagine how much more frequent an experience this is for an artist of un-average size or an artist of color or BOTH.    Ok back to the story but I want to make that clear.  I lived.  I learned.  These systems are broken.

What happened next? My good friend Eve (who did get into the database with her killer rope act) and I retired back to our ridiculous casino hotel, put on slutty dresses and lost $5 each at the slot machines. Then we had cocktails and celebrated a day lived very well.

Ms. Diamond and Ms. Rex

So what's the point of this story?

I'm so glad you asked.

Just like being good does not get you jobs, and getting jobs doesn’t mean you are good, being good doesn’t get you cast. Being a good fit for what they are casting for at that time gets you cast. Don't get the audition? Still want the job? Wait a year then audition again. You don't know what they are looking for.

Most of the big companies that hire circus artists in the United States and beyond are running a business. They operate as a business, not a dream machine. Specific looks are very important to the finished product, and the product has already been planned; signed sealed and delivered, designed by dozens of experts who are well compensated for their time. No one is in business to make you feel validated. They are making shows.

Lots of people are making shows. YOU can be making shows. You might not have the Zarkana theater at your disposal, but at some point, neither did they.


If you can get a job with Cirque du Soleil, go boss that shit. If you can get a job with anyone, go boss that shit.

I beg you to examine your own beliefs about your work, your artistry, and what you view as success. A moment like this one will probably happen to you, if it hasn’t already, and you will see that your own definitions of success and accomplishment are imperative. Not only when confronted by the once and future king of what the world at large considers successful in the circus world, but by the mighty weight of the outside world’s opinion of this thing you are doing with your life; which is already under attack at every possible angle for the crime of being unusual.

Now go out there with your big butt, short arms, bad skin, and whatever else you’re sporting and find someone who can’t wait to put it on stage.

Or just say fuck it and put it on stage yourself.

But wait! There's more...

If this article caught your eye because you want to audition for Cirque du Soleil, please note there is no reason whatsoever to delay. The link to create your profile by way of an application is here:

You can update your profile at any time with your new work, better video, better photos, so waiting to "figure out your reel" is not an acceptable excuse. Do it today, if you want to do it.

As an addendum, please note that you will need to complete a resume to complete this application (and for pretty much any other application).

Hey 'member that time I told you how to write your resume?

Me too.

If you are on my mailing list- you also have access to a downloadable template.  What could be easier?!

I also invited my list to mail me a copy of their resume- and the first five I received got a dressing down by way of feedback.  That part is closed...but anyone joining my league of demons email list gets access to the template, forever, as my gift to you.  

So here’s to you, and here’s to me, and here’s to butts and resumes.

Rachel Strickland


Rebecca Ostroff said...

What a great piece of writing!! Thank you for writing this.

Rachel Ni Bhraonain said...

Felt like laughing and crying. Thank you for sharing. Rach xx

Anonymous said...

Not a circus performer, just loving this breathtaking moment of honesty, humor, and encouragement. Thanks for writing!

Tedward said...

Next time you're asked if you work/applied at Cirque, just ask back if they've applied at WalMart. Clearly they're all about big companies, and that might shine a light on how the biggest company in a field might not be the right fit for everyone.

Anonymous said...

Cirque du Soleil more and more turning into Mac Donald's of art, as simple as that. Incompetent people at leading positions, "artistic" directors, and other bosses are just bossing around creating "amazing" work atmosphere and "professional" relations.
Sad, but this company is no longer the best, but the biggest. And biggest companies not the right fit for everyone.
Create your own art, be unique, do not try to bend yourself into the "standards" of big corporations like Mac Donald's or Cirque du soleil.

Unknown said...

Thanks! This is a great article. Definitely sharing.

Steph said...

I have a big belly. But I'm strong. Not being the ideal body type does not exclude me from making awesome art. I needed this right now.

Unknown said...

Fantastic piece. Open, honest, intelligent and with a big 'old hunk of sass,just like yourself. Much needed,thank you

renaldito said...

Hi Madame Rex,

Nice thoughts about our situation as artists.

I am 61 now, and so happy that I passed soooo many auditions in my career. Denied the job many more times that getting it. Judged on my appearance, hair, silhouette... I am grateful to have learned so much about the industry, the casting process (I get on the other side of the table now, most of the time), and, above all, my vision and expectations.

Very happy with your conclusion: do it yourself - and be yourself!

All the best, be safe and have fun!

renaldo - physical actor, clown, ex-acrobat

Unknown said...

Beautifully and accurately captures the process of having your artistic life challenged. Some real profound and meaningful thought happening here, and so craftily written into an inspirational message for others to experience. Thanks Rachel for putting this and your art out there into the world.

Yulia said...

Love reading it. Word of wisdom. I think the point was made when you said "run business". Big companies are big machines that need lots of parts that have to fit together. It's easier to put the same size of bricks together. The choice of bricks usually made during creation and mostly towards "tiny little thing". Though AMALUNA creators made a different choice and few female college gymnasts now have a chance to get a job at this show. Anyway love the honesty

Unknown said...

I never noticed your big butt. Your impressive strength and shining smile overshadow everything!

RJ Owens said...

This is beautiful! I happen to work for CdS and couldn't agree more with your insight. It is also incredibly wonderful to see a performer with their shit completely together!

S. I. said...

Thank you for taking time to write this 💗

Unknown said...

love this ..

Mandy said...

This was a fine piece of writing and hit the spot for me, even though I work in a totally unrelated field. Thank you.

Andreas Scharfenberg said...

You wrote:...They operate as a business, not a dream machine. Specific looks are very important to the finished product, and the product has already been planned; signed sealed and delivered, designed by dozens of experts who are well compensated for their time. No one is in business to make you feel validated. They are making shows...

My answer to this is: thats exactly why there shows so boring and flat. You see them and you forget them...its a product. Often not a good one even. Being in perfomance for 25 years, teaching in circus now for 7, i more and more adore the "misfits". Because there are alive and not a number. Celebrate your butt!

Bendingh said...

Great! I'm involved in the youthcircus world in The Netherlands and I'll pass this extraordinary article through via my fb page. Every (beginning) artist can learn a lot from this. Thank you.

aftbowen25 said...

Thank you for this! I am a writer and this applies to trying to land a literary agent as well. They are always looking for something different depending on what is popular at that moment or what they personally are interested in at that moment. If you don't fit their genre du jour, they pass you over. Thanks for the encouragement to keep plugging away!

Andy said...

Love it. Great piece. And yes dear, I am referring to the article ;)

Brittany said...

This article ❤❤❤ yes. Thank you for sharing I needed this so much!

Anonymous said...

thank you, this is so good, and applies to every 'art' that is also a business. ie, all art. beautifully written too.

Anonymous said...

Just read this following a massive disappointment earlier today. Had applied for an 11 month contract position with Facebook. They'd invited me for the second round, we were in the process of calendar fixing then my agent called to break the news that they'd seen couple more people this week and that hey'd decided to progress with one of them. Was furious with the lack of professionalism and careless hope raising etc and your beautiful writing soothed my bruised ego and reminded me what matters most. Thank you for you.

Anonymous said...

Love this, Love your perspective, Love your energy. You go, girl!!!! Thank you for posting, writing and sharing so much. Adore you and your craft.

Kat said...

Thank you for sharing your honest and empowering story! I am a huge fan of cirque with a little "c" and former TZ staffer (not a performer but supporter for life). While I can appreciate Cirque du Soleil, I prefer the work of brilliant, strong and dedicated artists like yourself - performers who share their personality in their art form. Thank you for being brilliant YOU!

I'm in sales and want to share this with all of my industry colleagues as often we work for weeks or months creating a proposal - throwing so much collective creative juice into it and sometimes (often) we don't win the business. Your story is a great reminder to stay proud of who we are, what we produce, and we have to offer to the right client. We may not be the best fit for everyone but we can always be proud to stay true to ourselves! THANK YOU!

Desiree said...

Well said. I hope many artists aspiring to make it to a big stage head your words. I was with Cirque when we launched in the US in 86...not as performance artist but in marketing and management. I was there when we were young, small and just learning how to navigate in the big brand world. The heart of a performer is where it's at. Follow your craft and your audience will be there waiting.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Madame Rex .... my best to you. Keep shining. Love directness honesty and say it like it is.

setaside2 said...

Fucking brilliant. I intend to forward this to both my teens (girl and boy)... This isn't just for creatives, this for living better within one's shell, and doing it honestly. Thank you, lady. Didn't know if you before but make no mistake: you are thoroughly unforgettable, now. Even through the acquaintance of word.

Much love. -Marc

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your wonderful posting, and for sending such a powerful message to others about the importance of defining success in our own terms, no matter what industry we might be in. From the bottom of my heart Im wishing you the best of luck in your future endeavours.

Unknown said...

I just re-read this for like the 6th time and love it more and more each time! I look forward to the day I meet your bad-ass self that I have heard so much about from my equally bad-ass friends--- throwing myself head first into circus late in life my age is your "big-butt" both are glorious in their own right :)

CynthiaP said...

Powerful post.

wmcloud said...

An aerialist being asked if they've tried working for Cirque du Soleil feels like the equivalent to a question I've gotten over and over as a singer- have you auditioned for American Idol? Ugghhh never have and never will, I've got plenty of other things to do as a professional musician so just STAHP IT ALREADY! ;)

Rachel Strickland said...

You feel me!!