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Search results "talent": 3 posts

  • 02.06.16, 14:09 Kim Campbell


    If the United States of America has a circus capitol, it might be Las Vegas, home to casinos, conventioneers, and 6 different Cirque de Soleil shows, plus endless variety shows that feature circus acts. It is here that the professionals go to get steady work if they prefer staying local to being on tour.. But while Vegas has big circus, it lacks in small to mid-sized circus companies—the kind that often produce shows that redefine what is cutting edge artistically and draw a dedicated audience. Instead, the performers are employed by the rich tradition of ever changing variety shows that are after the tourist dollar. Cirque du Soleil may have a tremendous presence, but they draw artists from their system of scouts and their global database, meaning in town artists rarely have access to that level of employment.


    On a recent visit to Las Vegas, I took in the oldest permanent circus show in town, Cirque du Soleil’s Mystère, checked out the popular and scurrilous show Absinthe and met up with several circus industry people to discuss how to make it work as a performer in Las Vegas. Nick Karvounis knows more than most how tricky it can be to set up shop in town. When he and his twin brother Alex moved to Las Vegas in 1997 with their seasoned 7-minute juggling act and a dream, they had trouble even figuring out where to audition. “There was a print publication that came out once a month. There wasn’t internet so you had to go to a bookstore and pick it up and if you missed the deadline you missed auditions because everything had to be done so far in advance. So we launched the subscription service VegasAuditions.com as an online trade paper in 2002 out of frustration about how to get audition information and get it quickly.”

    Nick has seen the entertainment industry in Las Vegas become more circuscentric over the years, “There used to be more traditional reviews like Folies Bergere and Jubilee. All of those shows featured show girls doing 20 minutes of dance and singing numbers and then curtains would come down and you’d have a variety act. Since Cirque du Soleil came to town, many of the shows started booking circus acts as the curtain act, so it’s no longer the Vegas style act that’s popular, its trapeze and other aerial acts. That has

    attracted more circus people to town too.”

    Nick and Alex lived in Las Vegas and performed there for 17 years before relocating to San Diego. Although they still perform, managing Las Vegas Auditions and Vegas Report (an industry news outlet) has become their full time work. Nick says Las Vegas is still where it’s at still for the aspiring circus professional. “It’s one of the cheaper places to live in the country. There’s inexpensive housing and variety acts get paid very well.” He admits that there is a robust turnover rate for many shows, but says “The longer you are in town— the more connections you make with performers and booking agents—and there’s work out there for people. It’s a very small entertainment community. The directors and booking managers that are in town know everybody and they go to the same events— the red carpets, the show openings and closings— and you know these people and it makes it a lot easier.”

    He advises newcomers to come with their act together. “You move in and from day one you can present your act and producers know exactly what they are going to get. That doesn’t mean you can’t get work if you don’t have an act though. Las Vegas has many training facilities and people out there are willing to put together an act with you.”

    In some ways, Las Vegas’ entertainment methods seem outmoded. In cities like San Francisco, New York and all over Europe, contemporary shows are developed through aesthetic and marketed in mysterious ways through word of mouth and social media. But Las Vegas is a big machine that operates on older principles. It is the convention capitol of the USA, churning out 22,000 conventions a year, with over 42 million tourists, and all of those people expect to see a show or two. As soon as a visitor steps out of their airplane they are inundated with competing advertisements for every production. Giant billboards, magazine ads, the sides of busses and even hotel lobbies advertise, vying for the purchasing power of every visitor. Las Vegas therefore is not subtle, and their shows and marketing techniques need to be big in order to stand out. Because of this rigorous environment, Nick says there is a constant influx of shows opening and closing, extending and auditioning new acts.

    Portrait of a Circus Artist

    What is all of this like for a working performers? Sarah Romanowsky, a freelance aerialist, sees a different side to Las Vegas. “I love hiking because its physical and its outside and I get to explore and there are so many great outdoorsy places in Vegas. Not many people know that,” she says, ticking off the names of half a dozen lakes and trails and nature preserves nearby. But what brought her to town was the affordability, the opportunity and the consistency of work. Originally based in Los Angeles, she had no shortage of work there. But Sarah moved to town when she and her fiancé, who is touring with Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk, decided it would be the best home base for them. “He likes to do these longer contracts where he is really committed to one show and the cost of living here is so cheap. We have an instant community here. I really feel like I am at home here.  For example, there is a training space called L’Oracle . I train there almost every day, but it’s also social hour. I run in to people I worked with, and people I’ve trained with. It may be networking but it’s also social time.”

    Sarah’s resume is impressive and diverse. In addition to performing weekly on silks at Fantasy in Luxor, she has worked for Cirque De La Mer in San Diego (where she dove in to the bay and swam to a platform to perform aerial stunts). She’s been in commercials both on silks and as a dancer, performed for Cirque du Soleil and at Radio City Music Hall (a childhood dream come true for her) and done more corporate gigs than she can recall. But her favorite work is the jobs that give her creative freedom in her act, what she calls “full artistic control” to choose her own music and create her own choreography. She agrees with Nick that Las Vegas is a place where it is possible to collaborate and explore the art form, if not exactly because of the vision of the employers then for the abundance of creative talent. “The opportunities for creativity are endless, though we don’t get as many independent shows. There are more popping up. What a lot of people do now is get involved in the charity shows in town. There are the shows like One Drop and I’m going to be in Golden Rainbow which happens every year. That’s where artists get to have their outlets for creativity.”

    Although Sarah’s fiancé enjoys the stability of longer contract circus employment, Sarah says being a freelance performer gives her a lot of freedom to work locally and travel as much as she pleases. “I love short term travel. Being gone for a week or two is great. But I like having a home base. I like my bed and my car and I don’t know how well I would do touring. My fiancé has 2 weeks off after every 10 weeks and they’ll send him home, which is nice. Lately, I’ll look at his calendar and where he is that week and I’ll get a teaching gig there. It pays for the trip.” She credits her teaching gigs to word-of-mouth recommendations and also to social media platforms like Instagram where she has garnished quite a following. “It’s going to sound silly, but I feel like it’s part of my job to be dedicated to my Instagram account. The students and studios who reach out to me have all found me through Instagram or Youtube. It’s really cool. I think social media gets a bad rap sometimes but I’ve met so many people this way. I got to go to Europe last year, teaching in Vienna and Bordeaux. I even went to Ecuador.”

    Sarah isn’t as certain that a newcomer could walk in to a job in Las Vegas as Nick is. “For an artist who just wants to move out here blind and start freelance work, I think it’s hard. Its competitive. There are only so many jobs and events and companies. Maybe it’s a bit easier in other cities, because you’ll get all levels of performance, but everyone working here is at a pretty high level.”

    When I asked Sarah what her goals were as a circus artist she said simply, “ A lot of people have their egos riding on checking off a particular box in their career. I’ve never really had that. I just feel particularly grateful that I can do this for a living. I feel so lucky and so fortunate and my favorite jobs are just when I get to be hired with my friends.”

    Evgeny Vasilenko is a 2nd generation Russian slack wire artist based out of Las Vegas where he most recently performed in Twisted Vegas up until its abrupt closing last month, in spite of his three-year contract with them. The show closing had nothing to do with the skill level of its talented cast, and more to do with uninspired artistic direction, if the critics are to be believed. Before this, he performed for two years at Circus Circus Hotel.

    But Evgeny is used to bouncing around, on the wire and off. He originally moved to the US to perform in a small show in California. Since then he has taught children circus, tried starting a family circus (he even has his own tent) and medaled in circus competitions (he won the bronze award at the Latina Festival in Italy in 2015), but currently he says he prefers having a home base in Las Vegas for the performance opportunities, even though he admits he found it hard to break in at first. “I thought that Las Vegas was the capitol of entertainment in the US, and I could easily find a job in town. But it wasn't like that! I did a lot of auditions, knocked on a lot of doors of talent offices, and tried to email the right people to get hired. I still do this! If you're a performer, you should never stop marketing yourself. It was difficult in the beginning for me because of the language barrier and culture, and I didn't know showbiz in Vegas. Now I have a little bit of experience!”

    Evgeny may be getting by on his considerable talents—he is also a Cyr wheel artist and does a quick change act with his wife— but he is still searching for his big break. “I will be honest, I make a better living in the USA than I did in Russia. I don't want to say that it's so easy here though. The most challenging part of my job is to find a good contract and the easiest part is to do this contract! I think I could make a good living in the United States if I could find a stable job in Las Vegas.” So Evgeny is out there, hustling, marketing, searching for the right job and the right agent and figuring out the American dream on his own, but also looking to the future. “I want to make sure that I have something to do that I like very much when I retire and I want to finish my career on a high point!” he says, and he concedes to dreaming of competing at Monte Carlo someday and winning a Golden Clown.

    From my conversations with circus artists in town I learned that Las Vegas has the jobs for qualified performers, pays good wages and is an affordable place to live, but is often short on the solid long term contracts, making it a big part of the work of the professional circus performer just to find the jobs and market oneself, which can be done the old fashioned way, preferred by Vegas—by knocking on doors, or the modern way, by social media. Perhaps Absinthe is a good remedy to that short term contract problem. It’s a wildly popular (also highly advertised) mid-sized tent show right on the grounds of Caesars Palace that packs the Spiegeltent every night and delivers a variety of top level burlesque and circus acts with a raunchy host and hostess to shock the audience far more than the bare torsos of the three acrobatic strong men or the flirty burlesque girls. I spoke to Almas Meirmanov, one of the three Chicago tight rope walkers who perform their comic tight rope act,  after the show. “I came here expecting to perform for a couple of months, and 6 years have gone by,” he said with a shrug and a smile.


    At Circus Promoters, we are committed to increasing your access to happenings and trends in the worldwide circus community. We also aim to provide access to exclusive interviews with inspiring people in the industry.
    If you are not a member of Circus Promoters yet, registration is free and all levels of performer are welcome. Visit circuspromoters.com to create your profile and learn about employment opportunities.
    Kim Campbell is a circus and theatre critic and writer. She has written for Spectacle magazine, Circus Now, Circus Talk and was a resident for Circus Stories, Le Cirque Vu Par with En Piste in 2015 at the Montreal Completement Cirque Festival. She is the editor of American Circus Educators magazine, as well as a staff writer for the web publication Third Coast Review, where she writes about arts and culture. You can follow her frequent musings on circus via Twitter, Instagram or at Kimzyn Chronicles .
    Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Circus Promoters and Kim Campbell with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
  • 29.09.15, 14:52 Kim Campbell


    Photo credit to Samuel Laliberté


    Krista Monson has worn many hats during her artistic career. She started out as a professional dancer and moved on to being a talent scout and a casting director among other creative positions, but she says lately she is most in her skin when she is in the role of creator. From 2004 to 2012 Krista worked for Cirque du Soleil as an artistic director for O and as a casting director staffing all resident shows worldwide. Now she is a freelance circus writer and director working on some overseas projects that are still under wraps.

    For a long time, nearly every artist at Cirque du Soleil came through her casting department. Although she has moved in to writing and directing shows, she is grateful for the tremendous insight in to artists she has gained over the years working in the world of talent scouting and casting. Krista knows how to compile a talented team and she was happy to share the secrets of circus talent scouts and casting departments—from the qualities they seek, to the challenges they face—during our interview.

    Of all your positions in the circus industry, which do you enjoy the most? Choreographer, talent scout, casting director, artistic director, writer, director?

    I would say right now I really enjoy writing and conceptualizing things. I love the research part of it. Like looking at a water scene; it’s exciting to go from hardcore research to sensory immersion, because you are looking for ways to create emotion in people as a concept, but it still needs a basis and foundation. At the end of the day, you don’t want the audience to think about it, you just want them to sit back and feel it. Throughout my whole career I loved losing myself in a project. I loved contributing to something that is great and meaningful. That has taken on different forms for me. And when I was a casting director that was great! I loved it and felt in my skin then too.


    What did you look for in a casting team?

    What I looked for in a talent scout was that strange paradoxical dichotomy of expertise and openness at the same time. The scouts and advisors have to understand what the artistic director needs. They may need a trapeze flyer of a certain height and weight—but they also need to read between the lines–to understand what that artist might need to do besides the trapeze. They may need to do dance, do transitional things or character work. Or the director of a new creation might say ‘I’m not sure what I want. I just want something different and wild.’ The scout and advisor’s view of their own expertise can never be so black and white that they are wearing blinders to another type of talent—they need to be able to react with openness or instinct. So expertise and openness are really critical attributes to working in the casting department.


    What is the biggest quality you seek in a performer?

    It’s hard to sum that up between an accordion player and a base in an acrobatic act, but what they both need to have in common is technical and artistic excellence. Technical excellence is being very skilled at a very high level. Still, there are some guys who are phenomenal who’ve grown up on the streets. They’ve never done the Olympics, it’s not part of their voyage to do that, but they’re very good at a certain skill. The artistic excellence is where the interpretation comes in. Someone who finished a career as an athlete may not have an interpreter background (like acting, for example) but what we can do is recognize a willingness to go beyond their technique. That’s where the artistic excellence is…because it’s that layer that is going to touch people. And they both go hand in hand.


    What types of places do scouts go?

    There is no formula. In circus, there are tentacles touching the entire planet. There is no rule that scouts only go here or there. It depends on what is needed at the time. Definitely Eastern Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Africa, Australia, everywhere! A scout used to be on the plane 200 days a year out in the field because that is where they could get a sense of who each artist is. That is still the best type of encounter, but now with technology we are able to virtual scout. If you have a camera on your iPhone and you are in a remote little village somewhere, you can go to the casting department. So its two ways now.


    What do circus artists always worry about (in an audition or scouting situation) that isn’t really important?

    Artists try to assume what the casting department is looking for, thinking ‘Ok they are probably looking for this, so I’ll do it this way.’ But it’s really important to remove that worry and just to be and maximize everything that you do within the process of an audition or scouting situation. You never know what the need is, so it’s an unnecessary worry that can detract from you maximizing your full performance.


    What should circus artists be more concerned about?

    Just showing us who they are, and that means technically showing what their skill is, but it also means challenging themselves to go a little bit deeper and go beyond their comfort zone, because in an audition it is so normal to think ‘I don’t want to show what I am weak at.’ They want to show their strengths. But when I was a casting director, I found that it is that vulnerability that can actually be very precious and very important because you can see how open the artist is to being directed and they’re willing to cross that line between what they’re good at, trained at, confident at, and yet share that vulnerability. It is only by trusting yourself in that moment about what is being asked and instead of asking questions, just doing it and showing us who you are. If you feel uncomfortable than you are probably doing something right.


    Do you give artists feedback or advice even when you don’t hire them?

    Yes, I try to. I value that exchange a lot, but sometimes it’s just not possible if there are hundreds of people. But I try to whenever possible.


    How many languages do you speak? How important is it to speak multiple languages in your field?

    I speak French and English. French is related to Spanish and Italian so it helps. It is very helpful to speak more than one language. In auditions, a casting department usually facilitates a process that is as open and as comfortable as possible for an artist.  Even though there is a high degree of expectation, usually there are translators or there is someone else in the room who happens to speak Japanese or whatever. But it’s not always necessary, because we use other techniques. We have music and physical direction and things like that…but it definitely helps.


    Talent scouts love it when…an artist is not self-conscious. When they go beyond their comfort zone.


    Anything else you’d like to tell circus artists?

    Be present and maximize every moment of the situation. It’s really important that you don’t assume anything– just really go for it and don’t leave with any regrets. We all second guess what we could have or should have done in the moment. It’s normal. But you face one of two things. Either you face fear or you face regret. I think it’s a lot easier to face your fear than regrets.


    As Krista Monson mentioned, the casting now starts online for artists who share their skills, accomplishments and background. Nowadays, it is much easier and more direct for you to put yourself out there than to wait for a talent scout to come to you.

    As a members of Circus Promoters, you have online tools to help you increase your potential casting opportunities. Your profile on Circus Promoters should reflect that by including photos and videos of you practicing your circus discipline, and information about your experience level and work history.

    If you are not a member of Circus Promoters yet, registration is free and all levels of performer are welcome. Visit circuspromoters.com to create your profile and learn about employment opportunities.


    Bio & links:

    Kim Campbell is a circus and theatre critic and writer. She has written for Spectacle magazine, Circus Now, Circus Talk and was a resident for Circus Stories, Le Cirque Vu Par with En Piste in 2015 at the Montreal Completement Cirque Festival. She is the editor of American Circus Educators magazine, as well as a staff writer for the web publication Gapers Block, where she writes about arts and culture. You can follow her frequent musings on circus via Twitter, Instagram or at Kimzyn Chronicles .

    Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Circus Promoters and Kim Campbell with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.