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My two days as part of the Cirque du Soleil cast has left my mind racing. The image of me bowing, in character, to an applauding audience at the finale is something that I will never forget. I am humbled and privileged to have been invited as a performer into the inner sanctum of such an incredible group and this smile is something I can’t get rid of. Did I mention I can’t even cartwheel?
‘Sexy, Fun, Acrobatic’
Zumanity as a show is by far the most risqué of the Cirque du Soleil shows. This I did not know when Cirque du Soleil kindly invited me to perform with them to help me with Number 48- Be in a Play! With a burlesque feel and a cast of extreme beauty, I was full of nerves and excitement as Pierre the senior director of Zumanity welcomed me at the stage back door and led me behind the scenes. Walking past green rooms, wardrobe rooms, makeup studios and warm-up areas it took just seconds to notice that nudity was not only confined to on-stage performances, but part and parcel of everything backstage too. In amongst an international cast of the most athletic and sculptured people I’d ever seen, I was finding it easy to feel quite inadequate!
Pierre briefing me on etiquette before entering backstage
Based beneath the intimate Zumanity theatre located in the New York New York hotel of Las Vegas, the plan was that I would meet the cast, have a wardrobe check, rehearse my ‘cues’ before then performing in 5 separate scenes through out the show. Not physically being able to do the simplest of circus tricks, my role was more so confined to walk-throughs, subtle teasing of the audience and a voyeuristic role in the simulated ‘Orgy Bath’ scene towards the end of the show!
Intimidated but eager to perform, it was the wardrobe check that got my heart racing the most. Opening up my personally prepared cupboard, Pierre presented to me my costume with flair as he opened the door;
“Viola!” he declared as he swung his arm across his body as if playing a precisely struck tennis backhand towards the coat hanger within “Tonight your character is a boxer!”
Not quite sure what to expect as I peered into the cupboard I thought there’d been a mistake as when all I saw was a lonely pair of white underwear hanging nervously from a small coat hanger. I’d never seen a boxer wear anything similar to these, but this was it; my costume. Gulping, I realised there was going to be no where for me to hide in these and that it was too late to start doing frantic sit ups in an attempt to improve a body far inferior to those around me.
“We also have a gown, some boots and a championship belt for you, but that will be for the last scene only”
Cautiously and behind the privacy of a hanging sheet, I slipped (or squeezed) into what was essentially a white restaurant serviette, my underwear. Sucking my stomach in and spinning to see myself in the mirror I couldn’t help but laugh. They were tight! Expecting Pierre to reconsider my role, his immediate laughter and reassuring pat on the back was a good sign. Jack however, the head wardrobe guy who had prepared my wardrobe, then peeked his head and stared at my groin too;
“I think we’re going to need some padding?” Again I couldn’t help but laugh. Stood there like a dummy, I felt helpless. On one hand my ego wanted to argue his suggestion but on the other it also wanted to impress the crowd and cast- I was emotionally torn but before I could construct a quick-witted response, Jack set my mind at ease, “I’m joking, they all wear padding- don’t worry”.
My full uniform- tight white undies included
Part 2- The Rehearsal
As much as I may have stood out as an outsider, the cast were as welcoming as they were talented. Being approached by everyone in costume as they went onto stage to rehearse and then return minutes later after flipping, twisting and contorting 40 feet in the air, I immediately felt as though I was part of the family, only slightly more static.
“We can’t wait to get you on stage tonight! we’re going to flirt with you and make sure you never forget us!” was the general type of comment I received from female and male cast members alike. They were very friendly.
Being the curious type, I could have watched for hours as I sat there backstage witnessing strangely dressed characters, adorned in heavy make-up, carry out otherwise trivial tasks such as watching TV, making dinner and discussing politics. Watching a 7 feet tall drag queen chat to a man 3 feet and 10 inches in height who in turn was holding the legs of a topless Mongolian female contortionist is a scene I will most likely not witness again- certainly not whilst eating dumplings.
- Alan and his partner partner- incredible aerialists!
Amongst the wonderful mayhem of it all, it wasn’t long before I was introduced to Katia, my on-stage partner for the evening. Stunning, flexible and outright lovely, she was everything a man wearing a tiny pair of underwear didn’t need. Dismounting from some kind of inverted splits manoeuvre that she comfortably held whilst doing a hand stand in the warm-up area, she flipped to her feet and welcomed me to the team with a thick Russian accent.
“Welcome Sebastian!” she smiled as she leant in and gave me a warm hug.
Confidently wearing her outfit, a racy and lacy black lingerie number, I felt like I needed to close my eyes as not to appear rude but in a room cluttered with performers parading latex body suits, G-strings, suspenders, and occasional bras, I was slowly becoming accustomed to this as being normal.
“I will take you now to your rehearsals” This time she laughed. And off we went, hand in hand as she led me through a number of corridors and stair wells until we reached ‘stage right’ where for the first time I could see the stage.
The stage was shaped like a key hole, with the back curtain being the flat bottom part and the audience curved around the top edge. My first scene, The Waterbowl, involved Katia and I entering from the back of stage and slowly making our way up a spiral staircase that overlooked the stage. Hand in hand and in full view of the crowd, this action I was told was called a passage. Having had the pleasure of watching the show in the audience the night before I remembered the Waterbowl scene as the one with two girls frolicking in a giant glass fish bowl whilst performing gut-wrenching contortions on each other shoulders. If you’re finding that hard to picture, do not worry, this is something that has to be seen to be believed.
- The Waterbowl
“Have you done the sort of things before?” Katia asked,
“Absolutely not” I answered blankly.
“Well you are very lucky you know. We never have guest performers and even our own performers are not allowed to come on stage for a live show without weeks of training and introduction to our cues.”
This point made me even more nervous. Cirque du Soleil, as I was beginning to witness, was a well oiled machine with precision and timing being perfect on and off stage.
“So all we have to do in our scenes Sebastian is look sexy and seductive- its really easy”. I had no doubt that this would be easy for someone who looked like the beaming Katia but dressed in my serviette I found the concept of sexy hard to grasp.
“And Katia, when we get to top of the staircase, what do we do then?” I asked, not sure how to fill in a five minute scene. The answer was shocking.
“Oh we just stand there and stroke each other sensually. It’ll be fun”
I needed a cold shower.
In all I had 5 scenes in the show and with a tap on the shoulder I met Antonio, the other character who would take me on stage for my third scene. Introducing himself as the resident jiggalo (this I assumed to be his character as opposed to vocation), his black fishnet singlet was covered hideously well by a golden PVC suit and a dark greasy wig. Each costume was made so well.
“Welcome Sebastian! I will have a lot of fun with you tonight, specially in our scene”
In amongst a world of seduction, costumes and characters I felt like I had been dropped in the middle of an abstract teenage dream. This I needed to address before show time.
My final scene was aptly named the ‘Orgy and Bath’ scene. I say aptly because the scene consisted of an orgy next to bath and even in the knowledge that this was all part of a carefully crafted and choreographed performance, I found it hard not to blush whilst watching the rehearsal. Set on the circular part of the keyhole-shaped stage, everyone’s bodies folded delicately over the person next to them as they caressed and convulsed on and around each other to make a ring of sultry seduction.
“So as we all get on stage for the orgy” continued Katia, “I will walk to you to the grand piano that overlooks the orgy and you will just stand there by yourself watching like a voyeur. You will not actually be in the orgy but you have to show the crowd that you’re enjoying what’s unfolding in front of you” This I guessed would not take too much acting.
With my rehearsal being more a of a brief explanation of what I should be doing as opposed to actually doing it, we finished with an hour to spare before the show and I walked back to the green room with butterflies filling my stomach.
- A nervous ice-breaking photo with Katia
Could I really act this out?
Part 3… The Finale
At 7pm the doors opened to the large crowd that was waiting in the foyer and quickly the 1000 person plus theatre began to fill with bodies and excitement. I watched on from backstage becoming more nervous by the moment. Up until now it had all been a somewhat sheltered introduction to the world of theatre but with the general chatter of the audience now filling the room, I was reminded quickly that everything that went on here was for them, the audience. The only thing separating us now was a thin curtain. The energy and anticipation was building quickly and I was nervous. Thankfully somebody was holding my hand, it was Katia.
“Enjoy this, you’ll be great” she whispered to me, seconds away from the first scene.
Standing under the cover of darkness just a few feet from everyone, I began to think how I would approach being sexy as I waltzed onto stage. This admittedly was something I should have planned already but before I could put any thought into it Katia yanked my hand in the direction of the crowd, forcing me to stride forward. She then began to walk seductively onto the stage and into the light for all to see. I found that without any control of what I was doing I could only follow. My moment had come and with a slowed and exaggerated stride that my subconscious mind must have decided was as close to sexy as we were going to get, I pranced across stage with a light sweat building on my brow. Now, drowned in light, I was in full view the onlooking audience. What were they thinking?
- The First Passage with Katia!
A few seconds of stage-fright later and I found myself following Katia up the stairwell to our first position as voyeuristic onlookers. In full make-up and black lingerie, Katia slowly turned around a teased me up the stairs with a beckoning finger but again I felt as if I was doing something rude even looking at her. I hadn’t felt this shy since being at school. Stopping at the top of the staircase and leaning over the balcony ledge, I gazed over the whole stage and witnessed the two Mongolian contortionists begin their incredibly sensuous Waterbowl performance. This at least helped me enjoy what was a anxious first few minutes. Katia, stood by my side, then purposefully turned away from me and gently pushed her backside into my groin. At this precise point any composure that I might have still had immediately jumped off the balcony to it’s death. I was a mess. With no acting or performing background I, unlike Katia, was not able to automatically switch from my own self into a character and as such I don’t think a more shy boxer had ever been witnessed. This type of behaviour to me belonged to lovers and I needed to quickly acknowledge that this was nothing more than an act. Noticing I needed prompting, Katia grabbed my hand placed it around her body and onto her thigh. She then leant forward and arched her back before turning her head and winking at me. This didn’t help. Feeling like a prepubescent school boy who was way out of his depth on his first date with the high school bad-girl, I knew that I needed to make a move so with nervous courage I took control of my limp and lifeless hand that was sitting on her thigh, and began to run it gently towards the outside of her hips with my fingertips. It felt naughty, but this was acting! Responding to some actual movement, Katia span around to face me and placed her hand on the back of my neck. Pulling me in slowly she gently leant in towards me and whispered,
“You are amongst friends here. Just have fun”
Katia was a seasoned performer, as well as a great person. I was lucky to be under her guidance. Wanting to know how to move forward, I asked the one question that made sense,
“Is it OK for me to touch your bum, then?”
“Of course! That’s your job!”. My relief was almost tangible.
- The Stairwell Scene
Although seemingly an immature question, knowing the boundaries helped me act more naturally and immediately I began to loosen up. Just as I began to enjoy my role more and more though, it was our cue to exit the scene and down the staircase we descended before vanishing through a secret back door. As the door closed behind me I put my hands on my knees and let out a big sigh of accomplishment.
“Yeeeeeeooowwwww!” It was like i’d just broken free. I remember experiencing the same feeling when I finally learnt to ride a bike. I couldn’t wait for the next ride and it seemed the entire cast and stage crew were on my side as they all offered hugs and high-5’s.
Feeling more comfortable, my second scene quickly came about. Essentially carrying out the same role with Katia, our passage revolved around a high octane male stripper who teased the audience with a dozen red roses that he threw into the crowd. The performer; Willie Bronco, was built for this role. Thankful not to be seen with my shirt off anywhere near the gyrating Willie (who’s abs I stopped counting at 13), my focus at this stage had changed from pure survival to appreciation, and with the added composure I began to notice how happy each performer was as they danced, spun and touched one another. They were all smiling, inside and out. It was the kind of refreshing smile that I believe comes with pursuing your passions in life. As such the audience who I was enjoying making eye contact with as well were all smiling too. The show was awesome.
The scene progressed and like a man inspired I quickly fell into my groove as Katia and acted out a series of poses and innuendoes that felt more natural than the first attempt. Of course the nerves were still loitering but by the time the scene climaxed with Willie dropping his G-String to expose his namesake (thankfully hidden behind a bevy of beautiful female dancers who closely encircled him!), I left the stage elated and wishing that I could do something more significant in the show. This though was of course impossible. Or was it?
Scene three was one I was looking forward to and with Antonio the jiggalo taking the place of Katia, I walked centre stage in full view of everyone. Really embracing our roles as we slouched against a pillar towards only a metre from the front row of the audience, Antonio and I pointed and gestured to near by cast and audience alike in a manor too promiscuous for any others setting outside of the show. Encouraged to tease and proposition the crowd with cheeky gestures and whistles, Antonio had mastered his jiggalo character worryingly well. He was a great performer and after making a female member of the crowd blush after asking her to participate in some fun with the two of us, he then began whispering questions to me as he pointed to random people on and off the stage. Finding it hard not to blush myself, he then did something I was not expecting,
“I think you’re doing a great job so I leave you now!”
This was not planned but as quickly as he then winked at me, he vanished off stage, leaving me completely alone- my heart raced and mind paced- I had no idea what to do! Amongst a vocal crowd and a pounding heart, I instantly smiled- I could’t help it. Armed with the feeling that I’d been entrusted by Antonio, I for some reason then decided to drop to one knee and cheekily began to tease one of the closer audience members in my own reserved way. For the first time, I really felt comfortable. It was amazing.
My journey of 100 Things has led me to appreciate the incredible connection that we as people are capable of. At some point during the evening I took a moment to again acknowledge how this unique experience was made possible by people willing to reach out and help me. But for all the positivity of what was fast becoming one of the most unbelievable items from my list, nothing could prepare me for the last scene.
The Bath and Orgy finale was a scene people spoke about more so any other. In no way disguising the fact that the crescendo of the show was all about sexual intimacy, it was Katia again who introduced me to the stage and walked me to the piano, just as we’d rehearsed hours before. With mood lighting, a full cast and a scent of desire, the audience watched on in anticipation of what was about to unfold. I did the same as I leaned against the piano and channelled my voyeuristic boxer character. In front of me Katia walked off and vanished into the group of the thirty or so performers who were now taking shape on the circular stage. Draped in sheets and scattered with pillows, it looked like a huge bed and as each beautiful person laid down and spread themselves over the body next to them, I watched on intrigued, grasping onto the piano like a schoolboy who’d stumbled into a scene far to provocative for his eyes.
The crowd soon hushed and the soft music lingered. Gazing on in amazement I then noticed a few of the closest cast members looking at me with intent as they began stroking each other’s bodies. Returning an acknowledging smile, I could;t hep but think that they were trying to communicate something with me, but what? My role was simply to stand and watch, I was not cut out for anything else! A seductive wink followed by a welcoming hand confirmed my suspicion, they were inviting me into the orgy. This was not part of the script! Under the glow of a spotlight and in full view of the audience there was only one thing I could do; I had to join!
Walking slowly towards the throng of near naked bodies, I reached out apprehensively to the welcoming hand that stuck out from the middle of a blend of bodies and sat down. Although a slow and sensual scene, my mind was a moving so quickly that each second was a blur. Surrounded by sweaty and sensual bodies, I was unsure what was about to unfold and as if on cue the circular stage that we all now laid on began to rotate like a carousel of lust, parading each performer to the on-looking crowd. Around me legs arched over torsos perfectly as hair flicked and whipped the inside of thighs. Hands wondered discretely and groups of twos, threes and fours moulded and romped as one in what was a giant game of human-Tetris. Having not played before I felt like I needed an invite to begin and sure enough a moment later a stray hand or three had found there way onto my body. I was in the game and there was no escaping- it was time to embrace it. Catching the eyes of cast members and audience alike, a hand pushed me to the floor as another ran its way down from my neck to my ankle. Now laying on my back, I noticed Katia on the opposite side of the stage which made me wonder for the first time who had been touching me so sensually. Up to now I had not taken any notice due to my nerves. Lifting my head up as our section of the stage turned to be front and centre to the crowd, I looked to see who owned the hands and other bodies parts that covered me and instantly froze. Without realising it I found that I was not as I thought wedged in-between the two Mongolian contortionists or the beautiful female hoop- performer, instead I realised that I was in fact wedged in between two men! I was the meat in a man-sandwich and a hungry audience reminded me that there was no where to hide. With no other option than to fulfil my role, I put my head back down and laughed. Life is fun, if nothing else.
- The Bow
My journey of 100 Things is something I am no longer in control of. The whole Cirque du Soleil experience reminded me of this and I would not change this for the world. The goodness of people is something I’m lucky to see each and every day and as I walked out to stage for a final bow, the crowd’s applause to a cast of performers that I now call friends, confirmed how important this journey is for me.
Its thanks to the goodness of others that I’m able to say the following;
Number 48- Act in a Play- TICK!
- The Cast (me in the middle)
100 Things… What’s on your list?