My Big Butt…and other reasons I don’t work for Cirque

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.

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 news…my own first coach 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.

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.

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.

Rachel Strickland

{ SOURCE: MadameRex Blogspot | }