Feature Article Vol. VI, No. 7

Combined Audition Yields Good Results

This past July Cirque du Soleil for the first time held its annual audition in collaboration with the two other major Canadian circuses: Cirque Èloize and les 7 Doigts or 7 Finger as it is known more generally in the United States.

According to Samuel Roy, a talent scout from the Cirque casting department, the idea came about a year ago. At that time Cirque used to stage its annual audition in Montreal  by itself, but they were growing increasingly dissatisfied with the number of aspiring artists who turned out wanting to try for a position with one of the Cirque shows.  They turned to the rather tightly knit circus community that exists within the city of Montreal.  There is a feeling of solidarity and cooperation here that is unique in the circus world at large.  Since the Cirque casting department was friendly with their counterparts in Èloize and 7 Fingers, the idea of organizing an audition together was broached and enthusiastically accepted by all parties.

All the companies were alike in finding it more and more difficult to attract people to come to live auditions because of the new technologies. “The speed that can be put to work if we ask for videos or demo requests can discourage some from attending live auditions,” Roy says.  “They don’t value live audition as much as before.  For us  it is important to meet the artists and see how they behave in a group, that way their social skills and the speed with which they pick up instruction can be assessed.  Since they will tour as part of a group living in close quarters, we need people to be able to fit in.”  So it was agreed that the three companies acting as one would be able to attract more and better quality applicants than if they acted alone.  As a combined effort such an audition could attract more potential artists because they would be able to showcase their talents before three companies at the same time.

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Once it was decided to go ahead with the idea the next step was deciding when best to hold this super audition. It seemed logical to all to hold the audition some time during the city’s eighth annual  circus spectacle Montreal Complètement Cirque Festival, which is held in July each year.  At that time companies from all over the world could be expected to be in town as well as many individual artists who had come to see the latest innovations to be found in the contemporary circus.  So not only was it good timing for the three companies involved in the audition it would also add another value to the festival.

This audition was used by all three companies as a general audition rather than for specific productions. Cirque always has many casting slots it needs to fulfill, either for replacements in shows already running or new productions being planned.  The other companies looked at the audition in the same way, so the audition process was designed to look for general talents and qualities rather than anything specific.  Because of this all the people who began the audition process did not complete it, once their potential or lack thereof was decided upon, usually after the first day, the first cut was made.

It all started with pre selection. Each of the three groups decided in advance who they wanted to invite.  Even if only one company wanted to invite an individual all three agreed.  During the first day each company began deciding who they would cut so that on the second day they could focus more fully on those they were potentially more interested in.  When someone wanted to keep someone, all three went along with that decision.  However, it took all three to agree to cut someone.

It was also agreed that no company would offer anyone a contract until the very end. As soon as the audition concluded anyone could make an offer to any artist.  Cirque it turned out was not ready to make any specific offers.  In the past they have sometimes made an offer and then were told by the artist that he was in negotiations with other companies.  They informed the casting department  which company they preferred going with, and we honored that request.  In that way the process is very pro-artist.  “This is something we want to keep,” Roy says.  “So even if more than one made an offer the choice was always the artist’s.”

With Cirque the artists never know when we they might be called again and offered a contract. For some it might take a long time before they get that call.

More than two hundred applied on line to audition. The  on line application asked everyone to send a link to their video which showed their act or training, with their best work, tricks and shots of their skills.  They also had to do a presentation about themselves as well, saying why they wanted to participate, etc.  The forty-five who were eventually invited were selected from these two hundred applicants.

During the first day all the artists presented their acts. By the end of that first day the original forty-five was cut to twenty-five who were asked to come back the next day. “These were artists we wanted to spend time with. They were the best artists who had some chance of being used,” Roy explains.  On the second day they were asked to do certain acrobatic moves, like handstands, partnering, and tests of flexibility, strength, dancing and acting.

1360x982_0010_Samuel.jpgSamuel Roy who explained the audition process  joined Cirque du Soleil as an acrobatic talent scout, he toured worldwide with several major companies including Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Èloize and Cavalia.  When he ended his perfoming career he joined with Nicolas Gravel to form Throw2Catch, a project specializing in the production of contemporary circus shows.  He later formed an acrobatic training and development center called Studio ArtsCorps with Jérôme Le Baut. Because of time restraints and a growing family he is no longer associated with these projects.  He is, however, still interested in encouraging the innovative development of acrobatic arts.  He cites Daniel Cyr who developed the Cyr wheel as an example of the kind of creative innovation he hopes to encourage.

“In general,” he says, “in circus we are not often asking ourselves questions like what can we do that is different from what other people are already doing. We see people who have no tradition who learn everything on the web, but are not being creative.”  He believes young artists should be asking how, once they learn a discipline, they can change that discipline, and not just the technical tricks or the repertoire on an apparatus, but something to change the discipline into something new.  “When I speak to artists and they ask for feedback, I always try to push them in new directions that they had not thought of before.”

In regard to the issue of contemporary vs. traditional circus he says, “I don’t like to divide; its all circus.  The purpose for both styles should be the same.  I respect both.  Tradition is where we are coming from and we should never deny something that is important to the circus community.  I think in both styles there is something to develop in the skills and apparatus.  It doesn’t matter which style; it must be something that brings circus skills further along.”