Cirque Us: Doug Stewart On Creating Your Own Career
By Anna Robb
Doug Stewart, the founder of Cirque Us, took some time to answer questions for us at TheatreArtLife on how he got into this genre of entertainment and the drive behind creating a circus collective.
1. Doug, tell us about Cirque Us and the reason behind you starting this company.
When I was 18 I went on tour with Circus Smirkus and it was such a life changing experience. It was my first time performing in a circus and I absolutely fell in love with all aspects of touring life. I loved performing day after day, I loved seeing new places and meeting new people, and I loved the sense of magic that can only be created while on tour. After an amazing summer with Smirkus, I was absolutely hooked and knew that I wanted to tour again as soon as possible. After Smirkus, I spent a year at the New England Center for Circus Arts further developing my circus skills and auditioning for higher education circus programs. Unfortunately, I was not accepted into higher level programs and found myself going to college to study Theater and Business.
After not getting into circus schools, I felt that my circus career was over before it started. I didn’t feel that my skill set was advanced enough to get me the circus jobs I wanted. So I decided I would create the job I wanted. Another motivator for starting my own company was being able to choose who I got to work with! It’s so rare in this industry to have the opportunity to work with all of your friends. Cirque Us gave me the chance to not only continue my performance career, but to share it with my best friends.
Cirque Us strives to create a new genre of circus combining the heart of traditional circus with elements of contemporary circus. Our mission is to bring high-level, affordable circus shows to different communities, while spreading the values of teamwork, the importance of play, and remembering to never take ourselves too seriously. For the past three years, Cirque Us has created thematic circus shows that have toured New England and New York. Our artists come from across the country and have a collective resume that includes, Circus Smirkus, Circus Spire, The Midnight Circus, Aida Cruises, Circa, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey, The New England Center for Circus Arts, Ecole de Cirque de Quebec and the National Circus School. Cirque Us has performed in 10 states and was featured at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival in 2017.
2. Most people don’t think about coaching or starting a company until well into their circus career. Why did you want to start Cirque Us so early on in your career?
While studying theater in college we had 6 fundamental rules we needed to follow. The first one was, “Go before you are ready”. That has become one of my mottos I follow with Cirque Us. I felt that I could wait until I graduated before starting a company and “play it safe”, or that I could be a bit more “risky” and learn as we went! I also knew that it would take a few years for Cirque Us to get off the ground and that we wouldn’t become successful overnight. I wanted to start as early as possible in hopes that Cirque Us could become my full time job by the time I graduated college. I knew that starting a company would take many years to grow it into a successful company so I wanted to start as soon as possible!
3. How did you get into circus? What was the path that brought you into this genre of entertainment?
I got into circus by accident. When I was 10 I was taking an acrobatics class at a gymnastics academy. I only took that class because my friend was taking it and I had no desire to try it beforehand. The class I was in had a more advanced class and show team. After a few months of taking the class I joined the performance team, and a few members of the team were performers in Circus Smirkus. We took a group trip to see one of the Smirkus shows and from that moment I was hooked. A few summers later I found myself at Circus Smirkus camp and the rest was history.
4. What are your performing goals? What is you favourite discipline that you can perform?
I consider myself extremely fortunate because I have achieved many of my performance goals already. As a teenager my biggest dream was to run away with the circus, which I was able to do with Smirkus. When I was in college I was extremely lucky to have the opportunity to work and perform with Chicago’s Midnight Circus. When I went to college there was always a feeling that I had given up the chance at a circus career and that I would never become a professional performer. In my final semester of college I auditioned and got offered a job for Aida Cruises, which I am currently working for. My goals of becoming a professional aerialist and getting to perform around the world had come true! It was such an exciting and fulfilling feeling to achieve that goal. At the moment, I’m not so sure what my next goals are. I hope to spend the next few years traveling and performing with as many companies as possible and get to see as much of the world as I can.
My favorite circus act to perform is aerial rope, but I enjoy performing all aerials. When I perform, I want to make the audience feel the joy I feel while performing. I love that circus is a combination of breath-holding, death-defying moments, mixed with the magic of accomplishing the impossible. While performing, I want to share the love of what I’m doing, the love of my art form and the love of live performance with the audience. I hope that each audience member can get “lost” in the performance. When creating full length shows, I want the audience to leave feeling inspired. Cirque Us shows have underlying tones of community and connections. My wish is that each audience member leaves having felt that connection.
5. Describe for me what you think the difference is between a performer and an artist?
Personally, I don’t think there is much of a difference. I think performing is an art form so therefore, all performers are artists, yet not every artist is a performer. To elaborate, I think there are many, many different styles and types of performance. Some have lots of artistic research, character choices, unique and expressive movement styles, while others just rely on the simplicity of human interaction, but at the end of the day I think they are one and the same!
6. How do you foresee the circus genre evolving over the next 20 years?
This is a really great question and I’m honestly not entirely sure where it’s going! A big trend in the circus world is more and more contemporary and modern circus shows and less traditional circuses. More companies, like us, are performing in theaters as opposed to tents. I’ve found that shows are becoming smaller and smaller as it is easier to travel with less people. Personally, in our digital world, I hope that in 20 years there is still lots of live entertainment and lots of circus. I hope that the traditional circus continues to be present in American culture.
7. Where would you like Cirque Us to be in 10 years?
There are so many dreams for Cirque Us! First, would be the continued growth our of summer tour! Right now we tour for 1 – 2 months to various venues across New England. I would love to expand that tour by adding more cities, more performers and more shows! I think our East Coast summer tours will be the core of Cirque Us! I would also love to see us do a few national and international theatrical tours! One thing that I am very excited about is that we are offering our first ever circus camps this summer! Cirque Us has teamed up with a few other organizations to create the Upper Valley Circus Camp. We are thrilled to be involved with this project and hopefully, we will be offering a variety of different camps all summer long! However, my biggest goal for Cirque Us is to have our own tent that we can perform and have camps in. There is something so special and magical about working with a tent that adds an extra element that theaters don’t have.
8. What has been your favourite circus show that you have seen or been a part of? Please tell us why.
My favorite show to be a part of was Cirque Us’s first production, One Man’s Trash. This show was completely derived from the ensemble and the creation process was a pure collaboration between all cast members. This made the show creation extremely fun and extremely challenging as there was no one to make the final decision on anything. This also led to the show having a unique voice that really came from the heart of the ensemble. All of the characters were based on ourselves and the theme of the show just allowed for us to play a lot on stage with each other and the audience.
It was also such a fun show to be in because it was our chance to introduce our company to the world. People had heard about us but had no idea what to expect until they saw the show. The feedback we got from audiences was amazing. One Man’s Trash is also so special to me because I got to perform with my best friends and it was the closest I have ever been with a cast.
9. Tell us what you like to do in your down time?
Most of my down time is spent either working on Cirque Us or brainstorming our next adventure. I also really enjoy traveling. I’m currently working as a circus artist with Aida Cruises. At the moment, I either spend my down time at the beach or finding waterfalls and cliffs to swim in. I also love going to see all types of shows from theater and circus to live music and comedy!
10. What is the next production for Cirque Us? Who is involved and where is it going to go?
Right now, we are in the early stages of the creation process for our 2019 summer tour! Our 2019 Summer Tour will travel to 6 states and 10 towns over a 4 week period performing roughly 25 shows. We have an amazing team led by Creative Director, Jesse Dryden. Our cast is made up of 5 circus artists from across the country. Our cast includes, Nina Gershy, Rena Dimes, David Chervony, Joy Powers and Sorrell Nielsen. It’s still too early for me to give away too many details, but this show is going to be unlike any previous production of Cirque Us and we can’t wait to share it with our audiences! If you find yourself in New England this summer, make sure to come catch a show!
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