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A Moment With: Alvin Tam

By Anna Robb

How did you get started in your career?

When I was 18, I really had an interest in learning French, so I started looking for schools in any French-speaking part of the world. I lived in Edmonton, Canada at the time, so naturally I researched schools in Quebec. I had a curiosity in theatre and performing and accidentally found out about the National Circus School in Montreal. I made a call, they gave me a deadline to send in an audition tape (which I did in French and English) and 4 months later I received a letter that announced my acceptance into their basic training program. I rejoiced when I read the letter and said, “Yay, I’m going to learn French!”

What is the best role/job/gig have you done and why?

The two best roles I ever had were playing acrobatic characters in the hit European musical, Notre Dame de Paris. It was my introduction into parkour (free running) and loved the experience of doing acrobatic stunts with nothing more than everyday objects and a good pair of sneakers. The best part was working with one of the most amazing casts and crew ever and experiencing the deepest level of bonding amongst artists and technicians I’ve ever had.

The other best experience was doing the creation and performance of KA by Cirque du Soleil. I started with that show at the very beginning, when it was all on blueprints. I was one of the first artists hired to come do “R&D”, which meant that we were asked to test new equipment concepts and see if we could break them! It was amazing to be part of a $165 million production from ground zero and then perform in it for 3 years. We were a very tight cast, being put to the test daily doing things that no one had every tried before.

What was the worst task you were given when you were starting out?

The worst thing I had to do on my first professional gig was to wear the same costume everyday without getting it washed. We were doing a “cirque-style” show on the coast over the summer and everyone stunk. The production didn’t wash the fancier costumes daily, so it was just a good dose of Febreeze. I couldn’t shake the smell… it was awful.

What do you think you are best at?

As a professional circus artist compared to some of my world-class comrades, I have a very average acrobatic skill set. However the reason I believe that I’ve had a very consistent and successful performance career is that I’m very good at learning how to learn. I’m able to adapt and acquire the skills and mindset to take on just about any performance or production task, so I’ve never found myself bored or cornered into a specialty. I’m also very good at assembling, organizing and directing teams of artists and crew, so my directorial creativity has taken helm in the past 10 years and allowed me to branch out into filmmaking and other artistic ventures. Ironically, my film production company now creates commercials and video content for Cirque du Soleil.

What do other people think you are best at?

I think other people would say that I’m very good at directing other people and assembling on-time, on-budget, professional projects, whether it’s in film, stage or anything else. It’s more of a business and organizational skill, which I think artists should pay more attention to. It’s a transferrable skill that pays for itself over and over and over again.

What advice would you give your 18-year old self? 

The advice I’d give my 18-year old self is the same message my inner voice gave me when I was 18, which was “go big or go home”. It was a time in my life that taking big risks, traveling and discovering things that were outside the box were crucial experiences to have at that age. Not succumbing to the ordinary solutions was key – and having the desire and courage to take a risk – and fly – was the single most important step for me at 18. I would encourage anyone who is not sure of their path to choose the hardest, riskiest path they can imagine, and just go for it. You may or may not end up where you envision, but the journey is truly more meaningful than the destination.

What is your job now?

I’m currently a filmmaker who works on corporate and personal video projects. My main client is Cirque du Soleil.

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