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:

www.cirquedusoleil.com/jobs

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:

The Application

Applying for Cirque also requires some paperwork. In addition to the video demo I needed to send them:

  1. A cover letter (PDF)
  2. Resume – including date of birth, nationality, contact info and all school and experience marked by year (PDF)
  3. 3 photos – 2 headshots and 1 full-length shot (jpg/PDF)
  4. One audio demo (mp3)
  5. 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.

Submission

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.

Great!

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

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.

Great!

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.

Japan

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.

Back Home

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.

Final Conclusions

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.

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11 Responses to How To Audition for Cirque du Soleil as a Musician

  1. Nick Rosaci says:

    Great article, David. I know the MD of the local Cirque show here well. I doubt he makes anywhere near 60k though. We’ve been guessing around 100k.

    Cirque has some of the best musicians in the business. So, like you said, this was probably a fluke of an audition. If their practice was more consistent with this situation, I doubt many musicians would stick around.

    But, from what I hear, Cirque is hard work. You play quite a bit. That’s the tradeoff for having such a decent paid gig.

    Either way, at least you got a free trip out of it. Just an excuse to see more of the world!

  2. Nick Rosaci says:

    By the way, the first link to the Cirque site is broken. The first seven characters or so are redundant.

  3. Rhythmkats says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Dave. Your awkward experience with Cirque is not the first I’ve heard. I know a few people who have worked for and enjoyed their time with Cirque and a few others who have been frustrated by their experiences.

    I actually took a general percussion audition with Cirque when their scouts were in NYC. They sent me 5 tunes to learn and included the written charts and mp3′s from the appropriate live shows. Most of the tunes were pretty straight forward and I learned them as written with adjustments from what I heard on the included mp3′s. At the audition, the talent scouts seemed uninterested in hearing the parts as they had sent them to me. I’m pretty comfortable creating my own percussion parts, and had added a few “personal” choices into the mix to show that I was comfortable doing so. But it really seemed like they wanted me to throw the part out the window completely. It really threw me. If I were to do the audition again, I would probably infuse even more of my own ideas.

    I should specify that this was not a drum set audition, but percussion…where choices about instruments and colors are perhaps a little more open. It was a different experience, but one I’m glad I did.

    • That sounds right to me as well. To their credit, they seem to look primarily for musicianship and creativity in their musicians. They have been known to write shows around the skill set of their musicians they’ve hired – rather than trying to find performers to play what they’ve written. It seems like they get good results from that.

  4. That sounds like it would have been an incredible experience, except that it sounds like it was also REALLY AWKWARD.

  5. nitekat says:

    What a great website!! I have to say that is a really crappy experience, big corporation or not!!

    I also auditioned for cirque a few years ago in LA as a multi instrumentalist including keyboards straight out of music school (and learned some of your audition pieces). I must say the head of casting, Andre, was nothing but fantastic. It was quite intense having to learn so many pieces for different instruments but Andre made me feel really at ease, as he could tell i was a little nervous! (then during my first performance the piano key stuck!!!) .

    In the end i didnt get the gig. I got through to the pool of musicians on their “Call list” but my skillset didnt match an immediate vacancy exactly. I even got a personal email a few days later encouraging me but that I didnt have enough experience for bandleader.

    If i could just add one thing. For my audition of the Cirque pieces, I didnt use the music in front of me. I memorized it (im a crap sight reader anyway). I think that really helped. They could see in my body language that I was really feeling it and knew the parts, to the extent that when I played the crescendo in the The Barge peice from “O”, he even let out an “oh yeah!!”. That felt good.

    He also asked me to just play different styles or grooves ad hoc he just called them out! i.e. Latin, Gospel, blues which I was able to do, i think he liked that too.

    I never got that call, but a friend who was a percusssionist got the same email, then got a 3 year contract 5 months later! maybe one day!

    btw we were told $70k, never saw a contract though.

  6. Sarah Vee says:

    Hello David,

    I came across your site unexpectedly and I’m glad I did! I have a few questions about the auditioning process that I would like to ask you.

    While filling out the application on their job site, did you attach your photos and demo vid to your resumé or were those sent separately? I’m confused as to how to send them.

    This show is located in Vegas at the Mandalay Bay and they are in need of a guitar player asap so I’m in a rush to complete my application. If you can give me any advice to expedite this process I would deeply appreciate it!

    Thank you!

    Sarah

    • Sarah –

      As I remember it I uploaded my photos, cover letter, resume, etc., as separate files.

      If you have a friend who works for Cirque already and can recommend you – I think that is the best way to expedite the process.

      Dave

  7. Stefano B. Stefano B. says:

    Very good article, Dave.
    I had submitted my application for the Cirque in November and been turned down in January. Their answer was the following: “Bonjour Stefano,

    We regret to inform you that your application will not be retained, as our evaluation has determined that your material does not meet the needs of our current projects.

    However, we encourage you to pursue your creative path. Please note that you may submit a new application in 2 years.

    Thank you for your interest in Cirque du Soleil. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours.”

    I have a strong feeling that musicians are considered like actors. It is not only about your music skills, the way you “act” on stage is important too.
    Anyway, I recorded five songs in my studio and did a very quick rough mix of the raw sound. I used also a Go-pro camera (you know, the HD fish-eye cameras used for extreme sports) and the result was interesting!
    All the best!

  8. karishma javh says:

    HI DAVID, I GLAD AND HONORED TO READ YOUR STORY WITH CIRQUE DU SOLEIL,
    I KNOW THEY AS A VERY IMPORTANT CORPORATION..THEY ARE LOOKING FOR TALENTED PEOPLE, WITH HEALTHY MINDS AND STRONG MINDS… ALL THEY DID TO YOU I COULD CALLED IT WAS PSYCHOLOGICAL STRATEGY TO SEE WHO YOU ARE FOR REAL… BECAUSE THEY WANT MATURE PREPARED PEOPLE IN ALL TERMS THAT CAN REALLY DEAL WITH ALL TYPE OF CIRCUMSTANCES. THAT’S VERY WISE, YOU KEPT THE PATIENCE, TOLERANCE,FOCUS AND NOT INTIMIDATED…KNOWING THAT YOU ARE VERY SECURE OF YOUR SELF, AND YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WANT.
    MY STORY : I SUBMIT MY APPLICATION AND WENT IN PERSON TO LAS VEGAS IN ABOUT A WEEK… THEY SAID THE CALL BACK IS NOV 3RD BUT THEY HAVE NOT CALL ME IS ALREADY NOV 2ND… MY AUDITION WENT FINE… BUT PIANIST COULN’T PLAY THE ARIA.. BECAUSE VERY DIFFICULT BUT I KEPT SINGING… WAS DISAPPOINTMENT BECAUSE OF THAT… AND KEPT SINGING BUT THEY STOPPED AND SAID: OH.. ITS OK.. THAT WAS EXELLENT.FOR ME WAS EXTRANGE…THEN THEY ASK ME FOR ANOTHER SONG.. I DID WIH CD. I KNOW I WOULD BE ONE OF THEIR BEST CANDIDATES.. SO MY SECURITY IS STRONG… AND I HAVE A VERY GOOD PERSONALITY… YOUR STORY GAVE ME STRENG: DONT GIVE UP!!!! AND WONT STOP UNTIL I GET WHAT I WANT!!! THANKS YOU SO MUCH FOR POSTING, YOU ARE A VERY BLESSED TALENTED MUSICIAN, ALSO AN INSPIRATION !!! THAT’S HAVE A HUGE HEART… FOR HELPING OTHERS WITH THE SAME ASPIRATION AND DREAM. THANKS YOU SO MUCH… AND I HOPE TO SEE YOU AND SHARE THE STAGE WITH YOU @ THE SAME CIRQUE DU SOLEIL… THE BEST THING IS I SEE MY SELF DOING IT… AND I WONT GIVE UP!!! KARISHMA

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