As we were escorted towards the backstage of Cirque Du Soleil it occurred to me that we might be about to lose the magic of what we just witnessed. Often walking backstage after a show destroys the mystery. I need not have worried, our evening was becoming more magical.
My companion was lucky enough to be one of two random selections from the audience earlier in the evening. Already already walking on air after this stint on stage with the clowns and a minor celebrity at interval, she was now meeting one of the performers, the one she had been encouraged to embrace on stage – ‘Sexy Man’ – her night just got better.
We find ourselves in a second tent adjacent to the famous blue and yellow Grand Chapiteau. This is an enormous space. In one corner there are chairs, couches and a flat screen TV with a live feed to the stage. This is the Green Room section. In another corner is large closed off sections for the cast to do costume changes in. Another area has an administration area with desk, clipboards, pinboards and paperwork, and yet another huge section for the costume department. Enough room for sewing machines, work benches, materials for repairs and racks and racks of costumes. These sections circle the largest section which is devoted to exercise mats, gymnastic equipment, weights and a trampoline. This is where the performers warm up, train and spend most of their days.
Already a team is collecting the costumes to have them laundered for tomorrow show and the cast are heading off to the shuttle bus to take them back to their accomodation. Aaron Felske is waiting to have a chat with us before he joins them.
From gymnastics at the age of three along with his sister he started finding his interest also stretched to musicals and at thirteen he was starting to perform. Working in theatre and dance carried on through school.
He joined Cirque du Soleil five years and performed in a few of their productions since mixed in with other shows. He joined Kooza in February this year having just finished the US production of an American in Paris on Broadway. Aaron Understudies one of the lead Characters in this show, Trickster, which means Aaron is part of the ‘House Troup’ (including the every popular ‘Sexy Man’) when not stepping into the striped suit. “I will be playing that role tomorrow. I usually play Trickster at least once each week”.
Aaron will usually arrive a couple of hours before the show starts if he is part of the House Troupe. If he is going to be playing Trickster he arrives three and a half hours before the show. So a typical day would be five to nine hours, six days per week mostly spent within this tent or in the Big Top next to us.
What about the future? Is there something you would really like to tackle in a Cirque Du Soleil production that you have not had the opportunity to explore yet? “I think it would be singing. I would love to do something with that but there are not a lot of opportunities for male singers in these productions.”
What is the DNA of a ‘Cirque’ show? “The high level of talent, the acrobatics, stunning costuming and imagination…also an intimacy with the audience….Cirque are always working hard at that”. It is true there is a very strong connection with talent, acrobatics, and creativity whether it is costuming, makeup, music or physical abilities in all there shows. To that end they are constantly sourcing new talent. General audition are conducted every year around the world. A quick look on the website and this January they are holding auditions for circus performers in Paris (Audition and Scouting calendar here). If there is nothing in your discipline or country on the calendar, you are invited to apply on line for an initial assessment, you can even send in video. “Scouts are at major athletic events and gymnastic competitions” and ex-olympians are commonly snapped up. “There is an Australian three time Olympian in this production. It is pretty cool to have people of that calibre in a show like this. It is inspiring for us too.”
With this worldwide search going on, a typical cirque production becomes a multicultural phenomenon. For example a quick look through the program for this show reveals of the 48 performers and musicians there are 15 Russians, 5 Columbians, 5 Mongolians, 4 Canadians, 4 Americans, 3 Spanish, 3 Australians, 2 French, 2 Chinese and one cast member from Brazil, Italy, Belarus and Moldova. That explains why there are a team of chefs on hand to cover all the national food and dietary requirements.
No matter how professional a show is and how high the level of excellence is, doing so many shows and with so much going, there is always going to be a few moments of error. “I came out with the wrong hat on once and another time when I jumped out of the box I landed on my bum. That’s live theatre. You can’t always have a second take”.
Just like that we have to end the interview. Aaron has to catch the shuttle bus and we have to move on and meet someone from the wardrobe department. That chat will be part of the second article combined about in a few days.
Lynden Jones for Theatre Now and Talking Arts