On Wednesday, August 22, Cirque du Soleil will present their outstanding production, Quidam to the people of Kelowna. Quidam tells the tale of a young Zoe, a bored girl whose parents are distant, apathetic, and ignore her. Her life is dull and feels meaningless and so she escapes into an imaginary world, Quidam, where she encounters a host of characters who encourage her to set her soul free.
We had a chance to speak with publicist Jessica Leboeuf and Adrienn Banhegyi, a three time world skipping champion and Quidam soloist. Read on to learn more about the history of Cirque du Soleil and life as a performer, including the embarassing malfunctions that can happen during a performace.
For more information on times and tickets, please click HERE and watch the video below.
Valaura Vedan: Jessica, Quidam is a long running show, it's been going about 16 years now, right? What is it that keeps Quidam coming back?
Jessica Leboeuf: It's a show that really that's growing old in a really nice way. It's got a nice maturity to it and it's still very [relevant] and it really speaks to people. And people see that when they come to watch the show, you can't tell how old it is. It's a very timeless piece. And It's a very human show. When you think about some of the scenes that you see, some of the characters that are human based, people really relate to it a lot. So it's really made that show a Cirque du Soleil classic performance. It represents everything that made the company famous throughout the whole world.
VV: So with the production running for 16 years, it's only been a couple of years that you guys have been running it in arenas, prior to that it was in the big top. Other than that have their been any other changes to the production or to the way the show plays out over the last 16 years?
JL: Not so much,the artistic integrity of the show is kept by the artistic director and his team on tour, so they're very close to the show and they make very seamless transitions when we have new performers. Although it's an organic, living, breathing production as well. Everything is live all the time played by humans and everybody that comes in also brings a little different flavour or different artistic approach to their act or character. And I think it's the artistic directors job to find the perfect balance between keeping the original concept and keeping it fresh for both performers and audience.
VV: There's over 50 performers, but how big is the production together, if you were to include production teams, directors, etc?
JL: It's basically double that. There's as many people working on the stage and backstage to make this whole thing work. There's 100 of us coming from 23 different countries. We have the technicians, catering, and accountants on tour. We have physiotherapists, all the performers. Everything that we need, we bring with us. It's like a little village on the move.
VV: With there being so many performers that are from different countries and crew members that are from different countries, how do you guys tackle any language barrier problems?
JL: Well we all have a weird accent usually, and talk with our hands, but the common language for business that Cirque chose is English. It's really enriched by a lot of different technical terms, artistic or sports terms, that are in different languages. Some circus terminology as well, so we have a “Circupedia”, if you will.
VV: If someone was just a fly on the wall backstage they might understand like 65% of what you're saying then the other 35% might be a little bit unusual?
JL: Yeah, well like I said, we talk a lot with our hands too. Like say if someones giving skipping tips to the Chinese or the Russian, we may use our hands more to explain. And at one point we just finally all understand each other. We all make [an] effort.
VV: How much rehearsal time goes into something like Quidam?
JL: Well let's say from the whole creation process, from the creative sparks to the actual show being onstage, it's about a little over a year process. It depends on the show. So you have kind of the artistic concept and then they bring it to the technical genius and ask, “Can we make this happen?” So there's that, then we have designers that will come and [design] make up and design the costumes. There's sound design, lighting design, everything... the aerial acrobatic design, stage design. So everything is done by somebody that is a genius in their own field. Pretty much everyone that we hire to work with us, is the best at what they do. And I think that's why the shows are so good and it's such a good production and it's long lived. Just like a show, like Quidam, that's been on the road for 16 years.
VV: Cirque Du Soleil has grown from pretty humble beginnings. It was just 20 street performers originally, so how did that journey from just a group of 20 street performers to 22 large scale world productions evolve?
JL: The original founders were very courageous and made very high risk decisions, always keeping creativity and the well-being of the show in mind. So, the first time we had a successful show outside our province in Quebec , they talked with Desjardins, the only financial institution that agreed to lend money to go to the Pier Festival in Santa Monica. They had just enough money to put the show together to bring the big top and the acrobats there and put it up. If it didn't work they had to leave the tent there and come back hitchhiking. The show was very successful then and marked the beginning of our international adventure. Every time the Pier celebrates a milestone, Cirque is there to celebrate with them. We learned how to scope markets and decide which city would work. And now we perform in over 300 cities in the world, and more to come. Every year we go to new cities. Last week we were in Lethbridge, Alberta which never had a Cirque show before and we brought Quidam, and it was very successful and it's one of the best crowds we've had. They were really loud and giving lot's of feedback. We were backstage and the artists were like, “Can I go back?” We were all really excited.
VV: Yeah, I understand that because I'm from a small town in rural Alberta, so when you live in that small town and you feel like something's been given to your town, you feel privileged and so you appreciate it that much more, because you know that's not something that you get all the time.
JL: I would agree with that definitely. People are never shy to stop us on the streets and say hi and ask us questions, always in a very nice way. It's fun for us to get to meet our fans and people like that.
VV: So you guys are set to perform 8 shows in Kelowna, so with the rather large setup, how many seats actually remain?
JL: So what we do is we don't take the whole space, we block a third out, and we put up our backstage because we need a lot of space for all the rehearsals and to put out the props and costumes. Also what we do is we won't even put all of the seats that are left, we won't open all of them. So for Prospera Place we will just have under 2700 seats open. That's maybe 100-200 more than we had under the big top. So the seating replicates what we used to have under the big top because we like to keep a sort of intimacy. Even if it's in a larger venue we still will change the lighting accordingly and add a few things so that when they come they have the reminiscent feelings of the bigtop.
Valaura Vedan: [To Adrienn Banhegyi] What is the life of a performer like? What is your average day when you guys are leading up to production, what does that look like?
Adrienn Banhegyi: well during the tour we change the city every week so what happens is we have two days off as soon as we arrive to the city and normally we start with rehearsals to adjust to the new environment and stage. That's pretty much what the first few days are about. We perform from the Wednesday to the Sunday and we do train as well. Every week we have a meeting with the artistic team and they kind of evaluate the show and tell us what needs to be improved and what they were happy with and how things look from the audience side.
VV: Are those nerve racking meetings?
AB: No, it's actually a very relaxed environment and it's a meeting where we sit on the floor of the stage so it's not like a strict office meeting. It's really friendly and we can also come up with suggestions and think about the show. They want to hear our ideas too.
On a one show day it's easy for us. And normally after we finish the show we stay to work out, in the backstage area we have the gym. Actually most of us do that. And we have catering in the arena so we eat together, and Sundays we have brunch. Most of the people manage to wake up earlier to make their way to the kitchen (laughs) and it's a nice little gathering time where we have a big brunch together and it's a fun environment to work in and with the travelling part you get to see a lot of places. Every city brings a new energy and refreshment. Different places react differently. Some parts in the world they are waiting until the end to show their appreciation and other places people are cheering during certain acts. It's interesting to see different reactions.
VV: So it really is like quite a large family then...
AB: Yeah we are 52 artists and 50 technicians, so it's kind of the people on tour replacing our families a little bit because we spend most of our time together. Even when the day's over we plan our activities in small groups. Some of us go on a bike tour to explore the city, some other people like to go to cinemas or stay inside and sleep. It depends on your type of personality. But it really does become your family.
VV: Is there anything in Kelowna that you've been looking forward to?
AB: The water and the beach, there's a lot of people kayaking and wake boarding and that's definitely something that we will enjoy. I hope the weather will be nice. We found the Bread Company downtown and we really enjoy that place! They make really great sandwiches.
VV: Were you naturally gifted when it comes to skipping rope or did you start off kind of clumsy like most kids and grow into it?
AB: I think I was a little bit clumsy in the beginning. I think some people are more talented with certain moves than others, and for me, I think I'm kind of a hardworking person who likes to practice a lot and make sure that everything goes perfect at the end. When I look back at some of the videos from 15-20 years ago, it's very funny now, it doesn't look too professional. The ropes were the ropes you can see in some toy shops. But as everything else, it depends how much energy and practice you put into it. I can look back now and see the improvement. I did competitions for 15 years and so those also show the results of the first couple of years.
VV: So your journey to joining the Cirque Du Soleil family took a little bit of time, it wasn't an immediate thing, right? Because you submitted a video and went for an audition and then waited a few years before they called on you. Now that you're finally part of it, is the experience everything that you hoped it would be?
AB: I actually didn't know what to expect. I saw the show on TV and I didn't know what the life kind of includes on the tour, but it's a very nice company to work for. On tour we have a physiotherapist and Pilates instructor, catering, wardrobe, and tour management taking care of all our paperwork so it's, in fact, a very easy life. We're 100 percent taken care of. Staying in nice places, and pretty much the only thing you have to do is the show. It's actually a really nice place to work and I think I got a lot more than what I expected. When I went to Montreal, which is the first station that you go to, because you have to go through sort of a training period, a sports psychologist is helping you, to get you ready for this new kind of lifestyle. Because you come from an average life where you train, you go to a competition and you go back home, train again, and maybe you go to another competition. And here you are on the road you have to be ready to perform everyday, consistently. You have to be in a costume, and top shape all of the time. And you have to [prepare for] the environment and there are people from different cultures and you have to adjust to this kind of lifestyle. The treatment that you get from the company really helps to be able to adjust to this kind of life.
VV: So do you have any advice for aspiring performers or young kids who have seen Cirque and would like to be involved in these kinds of productions?
AB: It's really nice to watch the show and see the things, and find something that you're kind of more interested in. Jump rope is pretty much an easy thing to try because you only need the rope and you can practice pretty much anywhere. But if you're more interested in aerial acts, find a local circus school where you can try your skills and you can train, because it's more about the practice and kind of how you set your goals. If you are a person who is willing to put a lot of energy into your goals you will definitely get there one day. Also, for sure check the website of Cirque Du Soleil because they also have openings and castings and you can see different kinds of jobs. Not only for a performer but as a technician or management position as well. So you can find lot's of different things and keep yourself updated for possibilities so you know which way you are going in the future.
VV: Do you have any stories of an embarrassing moment that's happened or maybe a mess up in a competition or something?
AB: At one point, [during Quidam] I'm in the mama character because we are doing rotations. We are changing around the roles so that everyone gets to do a little bit of everything, so that it's not getting boring. So, when I'm doing the Mama character for the first time and it's in this red dress and in this red dress you have to lay on a skateboard and do a freestyle swimming imitation and move forwards to the front of the stage. When you get there you wait a few seconds and have to push yourself back and follow the stage and turn and go off the stage.
VV: Oh my goodness!
AB: It's not easy on the skateboard and I thought, “It's ok. I'm going to be able to do this, I've tried a few times, and it's going to work!” So I got to the front of the stage, I pushed myself back and I got stuck in the dress and my skateboard didn't move anywhere. I managed to go a little bit further but I hit all the lights in the front with my feet [laughter] and at one point my skateboard didn't move any more so I had to remove it from underneath myself and put it to the side on the stairs and I thought I would just imitate on the floor the same movement and move forward and the next act was ready to perform and everyone was looking at me on the floor, trying to freestyle swim, and I'm not moving anywhere. [Laughter] I had to stand up and run off stage, and all the people backstage 9we have the TV's backstage so they can follow the show) were crying from laughter! “What happened to Mama? Where is your skateboard? How come you are running off the stage?” So that was kind of a moment, now its funny, but at the time it was like, “How am I going to get off here!?”
VV: Well thank you for sharing that with me because it can be a difficult time to go back to those moments.