I want to preface this article with this: I didn’t get the gig. I got a free trip to Japan for 5 days of interviews and auditions, but in the end the gig went to the other guy.
So I can’t exactly tell you how to get a gig with Cirque, but I can tell you how to audition (and, maybe, what not to do).
It was January, 2010, when I got a call from a colleague of mine. He had previously worked as a keyboardist for Cirque in Vegas and had since operated, now and then, as one of their recruiters. He told me Cirque was looking for a new music director for a tour they had in Asia and my colleague had recommended me for the spot.
He wasn’t sure what the pay would be, but he estimated that it would pay about as much as a music director on Broadway would earn, which is somewhere around $150,000+/year. Of course I said yes. I told him I would go through the audition and recruiting process and make him proud.
My colleague forwarded me the music that I would need to learn for the audition. That included 9 selections from the show, along with demo recording of the songs and backing tracks that I could record to.
Registering with Cirque’s Jobs Website
The first step with Cirque, though, is to register for their online application system, located here:
I want to emphasize this – they seem to be very strict about their application process, and there are no exceptions – you have to follow the rules exactly as they present them or your application will be disregarded (or simply lost in their system).
So I registered for their jobs site, then set about to make my demo video.
The Demo Video
Cirque du Soleil is smart about it’s videos. They don’t want professional-videographer-quality videos for auditions. I think they know, like everyone, that professional quality videos and recordings can include a great deal of smoke-and-mirrors – including punch-in overdubbing, auto-tune, huge reverb, and all the other tech tools that can turn an otherwise average musician into a virtuoso.
They don’t want any of that. They just want you to put a camera in the corner and hit record.
So, for my video I used a regular ol’ digital camera – my Panasonic DMC-FS15, a 12-megapixel point-and-shoot camera that I got for Christmas the year before. I used the built-in microphone and edited the video (minimally) with Mac’s stock iMovie application. Nothing fancy.
It took me 5 days to learn the songs and make the video, working from morning to night. I would practice a song until I had it polished, then hit record on the camera.
In the video instructions they requested that I talk a little about my background and why I wanted to work for Cirque. So I also videotaped myself talking (which I now find impossible to watch without cringing).
Here is my final audition video that I sent to Cirque:
Applying for Cirque also requires some paperwork. In addition to the video demo I needed to send them:
- A cover letter (PDF)
- Resume – including date of birth, nationality, contact info and all school and experience marked by year (PDF)
- 3 photos – 2 headshots and 1 full-length shot (jpg/PDF)
- One audio demo (mp3)
- One 5-minute video from a recent rehearsal
I sent them my grid-based resume that you can read about here. I found 3 photos and sent along my standard demo recording. Here is a copy of the cover letter I sent (with specifics blacked out).
For the 5-minute rehearsal video I brought my little point-and-shoot into the gig I was doing at the time and hit record. Back home I edited out a 5-minute block of time that showed me playing and interacting with singers. I would show you that, but some of the performers there were equity actors and rules are rules – I can’t post the video without their consent. Anyway, it doesn’t matter – I’m sure you can picture it.
Once I had all of this material together I submitted all of it to Cirque through my profile on their jobs website. I remember finding that process a little confusing – the job site’s interface can be difficult to use – but eventually I was able to submit it.
Altogether it took me 6 days to put together and submit my application to Cirque. I worked on nothing else for that time. It was very time consuming.
After successfully submitting my materials I called my colleague and let him know. He then alerted his contacts at Cirque’s headquarters in Montreal and we were all finished.
Basically, that’s the end of this article. That’s how you audition for Cirque du Soleil.
But perhaps my experience might help you with yours, so I’ll tell you the rest of the story.
A Call from Cirque du Soleil
Normally it can take Cirque a long time to get back to applicants. I’ve heard of people being called out of the blue, 4 years after their application, for a gig. I imagine it was because I had been recommended, but this is not how it went for me.
I got a call from Cirque’s headquarters 3 days later. They told me that the job that I had applied for was no longer available. In fact, they told me that someone had been in negotiations for that job for some time.
All I could think was…geez, I just wasted nearly a week on this thing – and in the end we’d been given bad information?
It was a nice phone call, though. I was still grateful for the opportunity to be recommended and apply anyway. They said they liked my playing and would keep me in mind in the future.
Another Call From Cirque du Soleil
Three weeks later Cirque called back again. They said the position was, suddenly, available again and they would like to consider me for the job.
The next step was a Skype interview with the higher-ups in Montreal, which we scheduled for a few days later. At the interview I met with, if I remember right, three people who were all from the recruiting/human resources department of Cirque. It was a nice interview – we spoke primarily about chain-of-command issues and management styles. Like any music director gig, it’s always less about music and more about how best to manage people. I felt very confident coming out of the interview.
They told me that they were considering 3 candidates for the job, and they would advance only 1 candidate from this round of interviews. That candidate would basically have the job, but would need to fly to Japan to meet the tour and make sure it was a good fit.
A few days later they called again and told me I’d advanced to the next round! Great, I thought, that means I’ve basically got the job!
This was on a Monday or Tuesday, and they asked if I could fly the Japan the following Monday. I cleared my schedule, told all my friends I’d (basically) landed a job with Cirque and packed my luggage.
The catch was that I would need to agree to the terms of the contract prior to flying to Japan. There was good reason for this, of course. They didn’t want to pay for me to take a trip to Japan only to find, when I returned, that I wouldn’t sign the contract.
This is where things got weird, though.
They were reluctant to tell me what the pay or benefits of the job actually were. They weren’t entirely sure, even, where the tour was going over the next two years (which was the length of the contract).
I thought that was a little weird, but I didn’t worry too much. I called my colleague for advice and we both agreed that I should just have my lawyer take care of this part of the negotiations. What do I know about contracts this big anyway? This is how it’s done on Broadway (the scene I know most about) – when you are hired to be a music director you have your lawyer negotiate the contract.
So I called my lawyer. To my complete surprise it turned out that my lawyer was the same firm who had been negotiating the previous candidate’s contract – they told me that those negotiations had fallen apart when Cirque offered too little and the candidate had walked away from the table.
I was in a better position, though, as I had less credits than the previous candidate and would probably be much better suited to the results of the previous negotiation.
However, the offer from Cirque was considerably less than I expected. It was more in the $60,000/year range…which you might remember is less than half of what I’d expected all this time.
My lawyers worked to get the offer increased, but Cirque seemed reluctant to budge. By the end of the week they’d moved a little bit and I’d accepted the terms. It wasn’t as much as I expected, but it was enough. I was excited about the job.
On Monday I left for Japan. My friends (and employers) all figured this was the last they’d see of me for awhile and they wished me well. I found subs for all of my gigs.
On Monday morning, while I was at the airport, Cirque called again to let me know that the other candidate and I would be staying at the same hotel, and perhaps we could meet up at the airport in Japan.
The other candidate?
I’ll spare you the drama that followed. I’m not entirely sure how things went down, but the story I ended up with was something like this: 2 days before I left for Japan they called another candidate who hadn’t previously been part of the process and told him to get ready to leave for Japan. He was being considered for a music director job with the same tour in Asia.
Why did they do that? I’ll never know. My guess is that they didn’t like that I’d lawyer’d up…but I had only meant to do the professional thing. Perhaps they just didn’t like my lawyer? I really don’t know. For whatever reason they started to get a bad read on me – and, actually, that part doesn’t bother me. Why they still took the time and expense to send me to Japan for a week is the part I can’t understand.
What followed was 5 days of interviews, meals and meetings. It was really tense, to be honest. The other candidate and I knew that we were competing with each other for this job, both of us wanted it, and we were thrown together in this strange situation in the middle of Japan.
There were personality tests, auditions on tape, auditions with the music director, meetings with the crew, lunches with the artistic director, dinners with the other band members, more interviews late at night.
I’ll admit it – I really wasn’t mentally prepared for all of this. I thought I was going to Japan to meet my new co-workers, not fight with a stranger for a job that paid half of what I expected it to.
You can imagine about how well this all went. I did my best, but I’m sure they saw a little shadow in my eye that hinted at my misgivings. I don’t fake emotions well. I’m sure I seemed a little put off. I was.
We left Japan without any indication about who had won the job. It was a full week before I got the call from Cirque that told me that they had given the job to the other candidate. My reaction was a mix of disappointment and relief. I felt bad that I’d lost the gig, but the Japan experience had left a bad taste in my mouth that I wasn’t eager to revisit.
I had to rebuild things here in NYC after that. Obviously I’d made a big deal about how I was very close to working for Cirque du Soleil, and I had to retract all of that, apologize to subs and employers and get my old gigs back. It wasn’t as hard as it sounds, I think I just found it a little embarrassing.
I still think that Cirque du Soleil is an incredible company that puts on high quality shows. I’m not sure if the situation I went through with them was a normal recruiting process, but I’ll say this – they are a private corporation that has grown and seen a lot of success. Corporations don’t make a cake that big without breaking some eggs, you know? They do what they have to do to get the best product possible. And I think I just caught the bad end of that stick back in 2010.
Bottom line, they are a major employer of musicians and other artists worldwide – and for working artists that is something that can’t be ignored. I recommend auditioning for Cirque. Once you get the gig they really seem to take care of their people.
If you’re interested in the Cirque gig, take my story with a grain of salt. Sign up for their jobs site and make your own story.