Feature Article Vol. VI No. 3

 

Viva Fest  Puts Emphasis on New Talent

by Taylor Rice

 

This past February the Vegas community welcomed the first annual Vegas International Variety Acts Festival (VIVA Fest): an innovative approach to the world of circus and performing arts. The festival took place over the course of four days under a big-top circus tent filled with top-level acts of all varieties. The catch? Rather than solely emphasizing the performers already in the industry, VIVA Fest dedicated a large portion of its resources to giving stage-time to performers trying to make a name for themselves. Over 150 amateur performers of all ages competed in nearly 20 different categories based on age and act-type. Overall, the competitions were a hit.

The festival also promoted circus education on multiple levels. Nearly forty seminars were offered over the four day event ranging from safe rigging to hand-balancing technique to navigating the circus industry.

As with all things, VIVA Fest began merely as an idea. After executive producer Mike Rice ventured all the way to Spain to purchase a 2500 sq. ft circus tent, however, it was clear that the festival was no longer abstract. “I had the vision for the festival a few years ago and spent nearly a year finding the right tent just to match it,” Rice said, “I knew once I found the right tent, the rest of the pieces would fall into place.

” But that’s not what everyone had predicted. Prior to the launch of the Inaugural VIVA Fest, Rice received criticism from the circus community about turning an art-form like circus into a competition with guidelines. With this worry in mind, Rice went ahead with creating the judging criteria in a way that encouraged artistry and individuality.

“After a lot of deliberation, we finally agreed on category divisions and judging criteria that we thought would be the most fair to the performers,” Rice said, “The judging was divided into three categories based on a ten-point scale: execution, difficulty and artistry.”

He also took to recruiting a team of some of the most prestigious names in circus who helped with the organization, promotion and technical production of the event. Executive director Carly Sheridan, a former Broadway and Cirque du Soleil performer, recounts some of the difficulties in organizing the panel and promoting the event.

“We knew that promoting the event for the first year with no prior reputation would be a huge challenge. We had to spend so much time just individually contacting as many circus schools in North America as we could to convey why we thought the VIVA Fest was worth participating in,” Sheridan said. “It was hard to get people on board with the concept, but ultimately they did! We are definitely thrilled with the outcome for the first year.”

According to Rice, the main goal of the festival was to create a platform for up and coming performers while also promoting inspiration by bringing together the community. With that goal in mind, the festival was an absolute success.

Former Cirque du Soleil performer and founder of Cirque Mechanics, Chris Lashua, a member of the steering committee, reflects on producing the event and enjoying the rare experience. “VIVA Fest really was a unique opportunity to enjoy circus, swap stories, make contacts, watch young artists showcase their skills and catch up with old circus friends from all around the world,” Lashua said, “I can’t wait for next year!

The true success of the festival, however, can only be accurately reflected by the student performers themselves. According to Wai Goh, a participant, the festival was “motivational” and “inspiring.”

“For aspiring artists like myself, the festival was an opportunity to actually interact with some of the top-level performers and that in itself was inspiring,” Goh said, “Usually you don’t get to meet these performers at shows, so it was a really unique experience to be able to connect with them.”

The motivation for returning next year? “To get first place,” Goh said with a laugh.

“We really do want to get first next year, but beyond that the festival gives me an incentive to train harder and hold myself to a higher standard,” Goh said, “I have done showcases in the past, but nothing has increased my expectations for myself like VIVA Fest has.”

So what can we hope to expect from VIVA Fest in the future? Well, for one it will be returning to the Vegas community on an annual basis. But according to Rice, the festival has untapped potential.

“What I love most about circus is how broadly shared the art is,” Rice said, “So for next year’s festival, I have been looking into various circus schools around the world and trying to learn more about the process of getting them all a visa to participate… many of them have responded that they would love the opportunity.

So now all we have to do is raise the funds.”

Mike Rice the founder of Viva Fest is a former member of the United States National Gymnastic team. He was a member of the original cast of Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere in Las Vegas. He is also the owner of the Inversion Entertainment Group, which furnishes corporate entertainment events.