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How Chicagoland Native Stacey Magiera Landed Her Dream Job as a Cirque du Soleil Artist

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Cirque du Soleil’s “TORUK – The First Flight” (Photo: Errisson Lawrence)

What is your dream job? For Chicagoland native Stacey Magiera, it’s being a Cirque du Soleil artist. Magiera grew up in the Chicago suburbs of Jefferson Park and Barrington, training in gymnastics at an early age. Later, as a college student at the University of Illinois-Chicago, she continued to pursue her passion for competitive gymnastics. Magiera spoke about her background, how she landed her dream job, and what it’s like performing with Cirque du Soleil as she returns to the Windy City for performances of Toruk: The First Flight

When did you start doing gymnastics?

I started gymnastics when I was 7 years old and I did club gymnastics for about 15 years. My parents put me in gymnastics because I was always tumbling around the house, jumping on the couches and vaulting over furniture. They wanted to save the furniture so they put me in the classes. I loved it so much.

It started out just being fun and then I started getting better so I made the team. So I started going to competitions and being in higher levels. As a punishment my parents would threaten, ‘If you’re not good, you can’t go to gymnastics.’

Stacey Magiera from Cirque du Soleil's TORUK - The First Flight

A young Stacey Magiera from Cirque du Soleil’s “TORUK – The First Flight”

How did you feel when you started competing?

It was very nerve-wracking at first and with club gymnastics there aren’t that many competitions a year, so you never really get used to it. Every competition is just very nerve-wracking and stressful. It wasn’t until I did high school gymnastics, I did two years at Barrington High School. There are multiple competitions per week. I got into the rhythm and I got very consistent. It was the same when I went to college – I did 4 years of division 1 college gymnastics at the University of Illinois-Chicago. So I got quite used to it.

Have you trained in other sports or arts?

I did about five years of dance and I took ballet, tap, jazz and pointe. I was on the dance company at the Bataille Academie in Barrington. The training for gymnastics got more intense, so it required more hours and I liked gymnastics better than dance so I dropped that. But in gymnastic floor exercises, you’re doing a dance routine with leaps and jumps and tumbling. So my dance training definitely helped with my gymnastics, I just enjoyed doing gymnastics more.

Stacey Magiera from Cirque du Soleil's TORUK - The First Flight

A young Stacey Magiera from Cirque du Soleil’s “TORUK – The First Flight”

How did you discover circus arts?

Everyone I knew in high school was done with gymnastics. College is kind of the end of the road. So I was getting scared when it was coming time to graduate because I wasn’t done and then all my friends on the team retired. I really wanted to find a way to keep doing gymnastics of some sort and performing.

I found out about Cirque de la Mer in San Diego. They taught me how to do Chinese poles and flying trapeze into the water. We did high dives and tumbling, so that was my transition into circus arts. It was such a blessing to find out about the performing world and that you could make it into a career and do it for a living.

When did you learn about Cirque du Soleil?

I saw Corteo in Chicago and it was a big-top tent show. Just walking into the tent I thought it was the most magical place. Then I saw the show and it inspired me to just keep training hard and so that maybe I could do this one day if I’m lucky.

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Stacy Magiera performing in “TORUK.” (Photo: Thierry Ballange)

What was the audition for Cirque du Soleil like?

I had no idea how to get into Cirque du Soleil. I thought it was just an amazing company and way beyond me. I learned about the audition process for Cirque du Soleil when working with Cirque de la Mer.

I made an audition tape of all of my skills both from Cirque de la Mer and gymnastics and I sent it in to Cirque du Soleil and I didn’t hear anything for about a year. I had moved to Alaska because my sister lived there and I was coaching gymnastics and still training every day at the gym in hopes that I’d get a call from Cirque du Soleil.

One day I was ice fishing in Alaska and got a call from Cirque du Soleil saying “Can you be in Montreal next week to be part of the creation for a brand new show?” I’m like, “Oh my gosh! Yes, of course!”

I was so excited and then the day before my flight a volcano erupted in Alaska so it grounded all the planes because of the ash in the air. No planes could come in or out so I was stuck in Alaska and I had to call Cirque and tell them that I was going to miss my flight and that I was really sorry. About two days later I was able to fly.

Are other Cirque performer’s backgrounds similar to yours?

Everyone has very different backgrounds, though many artists have a background in gymnastics. Some came from a circus background and they came from a circus family and started performing when they were five years old, traveling around the world.

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Can you tell me about training for your first Cirque du Soleil show?

My first show was Viva Elvis in 2009. We’re all put up in the Cirque du Soleil residence. It was such a culture shock going to Montreal and then joining a circus. It was so much fun living in the residence. We’re all living together and training together.

Cirque du Soleil headquarters is such a magical place. When you walk in, it’s such an eclectic, fun, creative group of people. There’s so much artwork around the building and they’ll re-do the artwork every year. There are people riding down the halls on unicycles and people have Mohawks and are walking down the hall juggling.

The training process was nine months until we opened and I was in Viva Elvis until 2012. Then I joined the show at the MGM Grand.

What are some of your most exciting memories in your first show

I remember when I first joined the show , I was learning an act that’s called “Climb” and the stage actually moves around and can go vertical. In this act, it spins around in circles and there are metal pegs popping out. It finishes with the stage completely vertical. Then an acrobat hangs on by one hand on a peg and does a 60-foot high fall onto an air bag. When I first saw the show I was like “That’s amazing. I don’t think I could ever do that.”

Then I joined the show and they were training me for it and it was so far-fetched for me to learn that, but it was gradual steps to get there. I eventually ended up doing it in show and I was the second woman ever to do that trick in the show. That was a real accomplishment for me.

Stacey Magiera in TORUK (Photo: Thierry Ballange)

Stacy Magiera performing on the Chinese poles in “TORUK”(Photo: Thierry Ballange)

Can you tell me about the training for Toruk, in which you’re currently performing?

For the show Toruk, it was about a four month process which is very short for a Cirque du Soleil show. Our days were super long in training.  We had a soft opening in November. We were in Montreal for one month and then in Shreveport, Louisiana for the rest of the time.

How is this show different than other Cirque du Soleil productions in which you’ve performed?

Every Cirque du Soleil show is different from each other, but our show is very different, in that it is story based. The whole show inspired by the world created in the film Avatar. The story’s told through acrobatics and projections and life-sized puppets. The projections make it seem like you’re in a 3-D world and that you’re in the world of Pandora. It takes you through different lands of desert, mountains, waterfalls and forests. You really feel like you’re in the movie.

Our show is a prequel to the movie, so it takes place thousands of years before the movie. In the movie it was about the sixth Na’vi that ever rode the Toruk, which is the giant, dragon-like creature. Our show is about the very first Na’vi to ride the Toruk.

What kinds of costumes do you wear in the show?

I have three costumes so it’s a quick change into all of those roles and different characters. There are five different clans in the show and I’m in three of them. I’m the chief of the Anurai clan and we do a balancing act on a spinning skeleton structure. I’m part of the Tipani clan which is a warrior clan that lives in the forest. It’s high-intensity. We’re climbing up and down poles. It’s a Chinese poles/articulated pole act and we’re fighting off viper wolves. I’m also part of the Omaticaya clan which is from the movie Avatar and I do an aerial act.

How long does it take you to get ready for the show?

It takes about an hour to do my makeup and then another half hour to put all the pieces of your costume on. It’s a full head-to-toe leotard/bodysuit. Then there are different accessories that go on top of that. Part of our original training was makeup classes. So we all learned how to do our own makeup. There’s a wardrobe team that takes care of all of our costume pieces and repairs them if need be. They’re in charge of the makeup if we run out of it. But we all know how to do our own makeup.

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Our first glimpse of the chief of clan invokes instant intrigue. (Photo: Youssef Shoufan Costume: Kym Barrett © 2015 Cirque du Soleil)

What’s it like wearing so much makeup all the time?

They give us MAC face products to help with skincare. There are so many layers of creams we put on. Then you powder it to waterproof it. Then you put all different color powders on top of that. Then you’re putting on eyeliner, then fake lashes and then glow-in-the-dark dots, so it’s a lot of layers. We’ll use oil to break up all the creams and then facewash, a cleanser and then moisturizer every single day.

What are your favorite things about being a Cirque du Soleil artist?

It’s such a great company to work for. They really take care of us. Even though it has expanded into a much bigger company, I think there are 18 shows out right now, they really care about each person and about how you’re feeling. They’ll ask for your input about the show or if you have any ideas. They love to try them out. You don’t feel like you’re just a number, you feel like you’re part of the company.

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Over the years Cirque du Soleil has developed a three-layer make-up technique that enables artists to preserve their make-up during an entire performance despite perspiration. The artists put on their own make-up before each performance. (Photo: Youssef Shoufan Costume: Kym Barrett © 2015 Cirque du Soleil)

Do you feel like you are a part of the creative process when developing new shows like Toruk?

You’re thrown into a room with an apparatus that’s never been used before. All of the tricks in the show we created from scratch. They just said ‘See what you can come up with.’ We just train every single day and try different tricks and you see something someone else would do and then dare someone to do an even harder trick or you would tie a sequence into that. You just dare each other to do harder tricks until a choreographer comes in and pieces it together. It’s cool to be part of the original group of people because now any who comes in is learning tricks that I helped create. The show is always evolving. We have trainings every week to try and up the acrobatic level and still come up with new tricks.

What things are on your Chicago bucket list since you’re only in town for a short time?

I’d really like to go to Portillo’s and get a hot dog. I’d also like to go to Millennium Park. It’s interesting working with a cast of people from all over the world and from different cultures. Most of them have not been to Chicago before, so it’ll be cool to show them around and we might do a boat tour or go on a trolley and see the city.

 

 

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