Our Guest Today: Shana Carroll
Shana Carroll is the co-founding artistic director of The 7 Fingers. She also wrote, directed and choreographed Passagers, Cuisine & Confessions, Séquence 8, Traces, Psy, Loft, La Vie, Le Murmure du Coquelicot, and FeriAmuse. Among other 7 Fingers collaborations and special projects, she created the show within the Queen of the Night experience at the Diamond Horseshoe in New York City, designed the first segment of the Sochi Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony, and directed and choreographed Duel Reality, an immersive circus show based on Romeo and Juliet for Richard Branson’s new Virgin Voyages cruise line
Shana has also frequently collaborated with Cirque du Soleil, most recently as director of their first show on ice Crystal, and previously as acrobatic designer and choreographer of Paramour (Broadway) and Iris (Los Angeles), and as director-choreographer of their performance at the 2012 Academy Awards.
Shana is well known for her acrobatic and circus choreography. She choreographed four gold medal winning numbers at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain in Paris. She has received Best Choreography nominations at the Drama Desk Awards (Traces) and the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards (Circumstance).
Originally from Berkeley, California, Shana began her career as a trapeze artist with San Francisco’s Pickle Family Circus and went on to a 20-year career in the air with Cirque du Soleil and many others before co-founding The 7 Fingers.
Watch Our Interview
And Shayna, you’ve been so instrumental, your co founder at Seven Fingers. For people who don’t know, it’s a world class circus production company based in Montreal. I recently, as in a few years ago, visited the place and it’s just astonishing new renovation. But, Shayna, you also directed a ton of shows from Cirque du Soleil, which is a brand a lot of people are familiar with. So welcome to the show.
Thank you so much. It’s such a pleasure to be here with you.
Oh, my goodness. Shane, where are you currently? I can never figure that out.
Well, right now I’m in Montreal. We have started training for the new show in San Francisco, but I’ll be joining them in a bit because I also have passengers. The show that you saw in Boston is going back on the road and that’s rehearsing at the same time. So we’re trying to multitask between well, particularly between Egypt. We have lots of projects in common right now. So it was sort of I mean, that was actually there was a moment in the midst of this crazy year in the pandemic when suddenly everything was kind of greenlit at the same time. So we went from just being in complete status to suddenly, like, everyone’s just chomping at the bit. And now we have three shows that open like the same week, and so we’re running around at the same time. There’s still uncertainty in that. So it’s just a very strange time in that way from it’s like being crazy busy and also not knowing there’s a lot of uncertainty. But I’m happy to be working and I’m so happy to be my god in a studio with real bodies moving in front of me and not just zooming and emailing and all of those things and getting live art out there again.
So that’s great. It’s great. Great for humanity.
I mean, I just feel like our interaction has always been in person, as crazy as it sounds. Still living the pandemic. But I visited you during several shows. I remember the ice show, the first and the second ice show for Cirque du Soleil. It was groundbreaking. And most recently in passenger. And I cried during that show for people who had the opportunity to go see it, which we’re going to find out which location. Maybe you can give us some insights. But for me, as an immigrant, as a female immigrant coming here when I was 17 with a luggage on my own, driving in the airport, the beginning of the scene, I just couldn’t help it.
I just getting scary hearing you say that.
Yeah, I was just like, unexpectedly emotional. There’s so much I want to explore during the conversation and I feel like it’s such a missed experience for people who have not heard of Seven Fingers, who have not seen one of your shows, because it’s very different than Cirque du Soleil, which I love, too. It’s very dramatic makeup, whereas Seven Fingers is I feel like you on and off stage and all your actors acrobats. I feel like they’re my friends and I feel like I want to hug them. They’re very relatable. I hope people are able to do all those things with jeans and tshirts and I have no idea how, but it’s incredible. So, Shayna, do you mind maybe sharing a bit about yeah, actually let’s talk about Passenger. Like where is that show traveling to and where can people expect to see.
Passenger and Dear San Francisco passengers? Or it’s also called Passage, so it depends what country you’re in. It’s actually starting let’s see, it’s going to be in Germany for just, I think just a few shows, mid September. Then it does a UK tour from midSeptember to mid October. It’s a bunch of different cities. I don’t have it right on me right now, but you can check our website or whatever. But if you’d like, I don’t know if that’s something I can send you after if you want to actually plug it. But it’s going to be doing that UK tour and then from mid November to around beginning of February and rest of Europe, France, Spain, Switzerland, and then normally it does a US tour next, more or less next summer. So we’re hoping we’re going to be particularly on the west coast of the US. So. Yeah, so Southern California. Northern California up to Oregon, even. So those are still we’re still like doing the whole tetris of dates there. And of course. It’s a really weird time even. I mean. It’s a weird time for companies as well. Like I was mentioning. But also for theaters because there’s uncertainty there in terms.
Obviously. But also all these theaters have had a year’s worth of delayed dates and trying to figure out to what extent try to honor cancel dates from last year or dates that were already programmed for this year. And different theaters have different policies about it. So we’re all kind of doing this puzzle together. But anyway, Passengers will be next year in the United States, which I’m super happy about, and also in my hometown in the Bay Area, like your San Francisco. So it makes me really happy because I rarely get to sort of bring my work to my hometown. So that makes me happy.
I mean, I have to follow up. I know Dear San Francisco is going to be opening there and I saw based on the dates, the same performers are going to be there for quite a while through end of the year from what I saw. So I was like, part of my heart, it’s like, oh, you guys are not coming back to Boston anytime soon, so I’ll have to find a way.
To think about streaming not with your San Francisco, because we might still come to Boston. But sorry, I don’t want to just say that we won’t be back to Boston, but I mean to cut you off, continue what you were.
Oh, no, please cut me off. This is like a common chat with friends, but dear San Francisco is most likely going to stay in San Francisco for a little while. And when is it going to become like a touring show, you think?
I think that one. The hope is that it stays there. I mean, we’re taking place. So there was a show called Beach Blanket Balon that lasted over 40 years. I mean, it’s like one of the longest running permanent shows ever and Permanent Exit. It’s kind of a contradiction saying it’s permanent. Anyway, it’s one of the longest running live shows and it was really a staple of San Francisco. It was a show that the locals really felt attached to and that really felt it really represented the city. And they would bring when they had visiting relatives, they’d bring them to see Beach Blanket Babylon and then tourists would come. So it really did kind of tread that line perfectly between visitors and locals. And they chose to close for a variety of reasons. And we were saddened by it, actually, because we also loved the show. That theater opened up and actually be even more sad, as if that theater didn’t come back to life not only for the arts in general, but for the neighborhood, North Beach, which was an incredibly threatening neighborhood, which still is, but not quite as much. So we’re hoping to also kind of inject a bit of sort of new life there.
And the fact the show closed, of course, because that was a big thing for the neighborhood restaurants. People would have dinner at North Beach before seeing the show. So we’re hoping to kind of like, regenerate that movement in the neighborhood. So, yes, our goal is to kind of stay there in that. It’s this little jewel box theater. And the show is really designed for the city we want it to be.
Oh, my goodness, I’m so excited. I do have friends for my friends who live in San Francisco. You guys are in it for a treat. Please go check it out. I did include links for the tickets at the top of the description, no matter where you’re watching this LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, and if you’re here, please say hi. And I’m going to do something for the first time, which is for me as a live stream host, I’m going to introduce a source. So for everybody kind of just check out the show and watch it with Shayna and myself. But it’s not the live show, obviously. It is a promo. So let’s see how this one goes. This is a new feature, so I’m kind of excited. So let’s see. Oh, my God, I hope it works. Let’s see.
Those were just workshops. Just to be clear, that’s not an excerpt from the show. Those were workshops that we did. And at the end of the workshop week which was mostly to explore themes and acrobatic material and groups starting to gel. But we wanted to do presentations for the neighborhood, actually. So we had an open doors moment where we did these little presentations of a few acts. But it was a wonderful little I see. Yeah. Like dipping our toes in the water. But that’s not really what the show looks like nor the space because we’ve already kind of renovated this incentive.
Oh, my goodness. So, what is, I guess, the preview or the feeling of the design of the show and maybe with the venue based on that space, I feel like it’s very intimate. Could you give us kind of a preview and feeling of dear San Francisco?
Yeah. So the first premise I mean, so Gypsy and I were we co wrote it and grading it. And we both come from the Bay Area. I’m actually from Berkeley, which is across the bay from San Francisco. Kind of has its own strong identity. But definitely, first of all, I spent years living in San Francisco and it all does feel like it’s the same. It’s the same culture and area. But we both left when we were I mean, I left when I was 2020 to go to Montreal and then lived in Europe, toured in Europe, toured in Asia and Australia and was basically never really went back to work there. I would come home, obviously, to visit my family and every now and then to teach at Circus Center which still is ongoing in San Francisco. Anyway, Gypsies, while she left, I think, at 18 for Europe. So we spent our whole lives and careers in other countries and then we would come home and there was this thing that would always happen when we come home and everyone, our friends and family would all talk about how San Francisco it’s not like it used to be.
And it’s lost its soul and it’s lost its spirit. And there was always this kind of, like, ongoing, like, sort of lament about what happened to San Francisco. And we would come home and think, well, you know, it’s actually it’s kind of still there and the soul of it is still there. And, of course, there’s things that have changed and evolved. So we felt with this opportunity to write a love letter to San Francisco hence the name, to San Francisco. So we felt like what we wanted to do was, first of all, help rekindle this spirit of the city. Remind people that it’s still there and that sometimes it’s dormant or sometimes it has a different mask on but that spirit is still there and kind of marry a bit what we consider sort of the old San Francisco and San Francisco. There’s a lot the whole tech boom and that’s really transformed the city a bunch. But there is, you know, I mean, it’s still part of the lore of the city, which has always been kind of boom and bust and earthquake brushed the dust off another boom. It started with the gold rush.
So there’s something not that different with sort of the tech rush and the gold rush. And, you know, now with the pandemic, there’s this sense of it’s always kind of this Phoenix rising. So that kind of became a bit of a throughline of the show. Not only that cycle of San Francisco and we’re seeing the zoom and bust in the Phoenix rising, but also, like I said, the love letter to the city. So we really approached it that way. And even the very first moment we see sort of an educational film, like we’re in a history class, like a film from the 50s or something about the history of San Francisco and the earthquake and which quickly starts the film starts to burn, and also the fires of California, which is a whole other part of the metaphors we’re using in the show. And then someone in front of this movie starts to recite a love poem that we believe or maybe for a lover, for someone in the audience, and eventually starts to understand it’s actually a love poem for the city and sort of the heartbreak involved. And so that becomes kind of a through line.
And then from there, it’s a bit I call it like Picasso. It’s sort of cubist in the sense that Gypsy and I really just put on a bunch of three by five file cards. Like all these themes we really wanted to explore and sure, things that we felt were key to the San Francisco experience in history and whether it’s even culturally and beat poetry or the movies, epic San Francisco movies, or really politically and, you know, the first gay marriages. I mean, so there were things that we really we just kind of put them all in the file cards and then kind of had to zoom out and figure out how to connect the dots in a way that created this composite San Francisco experience. And there’s an arc. There’s a dramatic arc. There’s not like a story. Like, it’s not like someone arrives in San Francisco with their suitcase, but there’s a bit like mini stories and mini vignettes throughout that we can connect to. But when we zoom out, like I said, it’s sort of a dramatic arc that represents that arc of the city, the burning and the rebirth. Yeah. So I guess that’s sort of we wanted also this timelessness because so much of it has to do with the eras that San Francisco has been pivotal in.
And, of course, there’s the whole, like, flower power part that we have to pay homage to, but we don’t want to do it in the, like, really typical Austin Powers or whatever. But there’s that error, like I said, the beat poetry, and we’re just trying to make it instead of it being a chronological timeline. Like, time is always kind of like this four dimensional way, just kind of folding onto itself. So at any given moment, we feel we can move from one era to another, but also be simultaneously in two eras at once and just be representing these different eras. It sounds a little bit like a wybez when I say it like that, but I think it creates a more visceral experience of living what the city is about.
I’m hearing it. It sounds very cool. And I feel like I need to create something like, Dear Beijing, because.
Native to Beijing, China, and to live through the coming to the US. Going back and finding every time, even every year these days, it’s unrecognizable. And to me, that is magical. It feels I don’t know, Shannon. I don’t know how often you travel back to San Francisco for people we’re watching don’t know don’t know you as well. I mean, you speak fluent French. You’ve left San Francisco many years ago. When you go back, what shocks you and what feels familiar versus completely foreign? We’re different.
Yeah. Okay. So to be completely honest, I think what shocks me is actually the homelessness. That’s really it’s gotten to a point now where there are certain parts of the Bay Area, the tent cities, that it looks like a completely different country. And that is a much more complex subject. I’m giving you my honest answer. I think in terms of what shocks me, there’s always a bit of that in San Francisco. It’s always been a very I’d say a place that was very humane, and I’d say kind to the homeless and to other underserved communities and things. And the way that I was proud of it was a place that was kind of welcoming for people who are less fortunate. So it’s not all bad, but it’s something so to such an extreme. And I think the tech boom actually had its hand in pushing some people out of certain neighborhoods and making things more expensive in the gender. And it’s really, like I said, it’s a complex conversation, which we’re trying to figure out. We are also addressing that in our show in a way that we’re obviously we’re trying to find something that’s also, like I’m saying, sort of healing the broken parts.
So that would be my first answer. But then it’s funny on the flip side of it, what I’m always surprised how similar it all feels. And I think that’s sort of where what I was first saying about how the soul is still there, I mean, I always get that same wind when I come back home. There’s simple things just like the quality of light or the air, which really is unique to the city and to Northern California. There’s something about the light that is so hard to explain when you’re not from there, and it affects a certain vibe that everyone has, whether they’ve just moved there. They’ve grown up there. And so the city does kind of start to what do I mean? It creates the spirit that the people have. It’s like the city itself kind of works its way into the Hamptons. So I feel that that’s still there. And that always hits me how much I expect it to be really different and how it feels like, okay, this is the city I grew up in. Yeah. And then there’s things that are just like, everywhere that anytime you go travel and you’re like, oh, my God, this is now full of, I don’t know, Starbucks or whatever.
I mean, that’s maybe more from more than a few years ago where it went Starbucks. But there is that sense of I’m sure you get that going back to Beijing where there’s certain corners that are unrecognizable and they start to look like every other city in the world, which has its own shame to it. But that’s also something that’s not unique to that particular city. It’s sort of more of a global movement of how, on the one hand, we’re so much more interconnected and globally good. But it also means that each city is losing its identity a bit because it’s starting to become a bit more homogenous with everything else. So that’s I don’t know. I mean, it’s a bigger conversation about.
It’S really important because I think this is essential to you as a creator. When you say Starbucks, I laughed because 20 years ago, at the bottom of the Great Wall in Beijing, it’s literally the entry point UCA Starbucks. And it is so iconic, and people blogged about it constantly.
No, it’s true. So one of the reasons actually, for instance, you were talking about my show Passengers, which one of the reasons I chose to do a show about travel was I really spent my adult life until the age of 40 just constantly traveling because of my work. And one thing that I always felt this guilt was that I had cynicism for the fact whether I was in Singapore or Tokyo or Portland or Sydney or whatever, it’s like I could find my Starbucks and in a way, I kind of would roll my eyes at it. But actually, as a traveler, it was really convenient because I knew if I arrived in Singapore, I’d know right away where to get a Starbucks, which was whether it was much harder to find that bay that you have to be in the know to know it’s good and whatever. So it’s funny because we all have kind of our hand in that as well. Even when we talk about gentrification. In San Francisco, for instance, the Mission District, which a lot of people were sort of pushed out by the tech boom and were evicted and stuff because of gentrification.
But then you realize that I am someone that might cause gentrification when I move into a neighborhood that I’m that person that likes the Shishi Cafe and the Juice Bar or whatever it is. So you kind of, in a way, take part in something that you can also have the contrary opinion to. And it’s a much more complex little circle and some of it is kind of beyond it’s just evolution and it’s beyond our individual control. But like, I’m getting a little bit away from talking about the creative process, but it was sort of I mean, that was a big challenge. We want to speak lovingly about the city and just like, a human being that you love has their flaws and you have to sort of like, acknowledge their flaws and it’s part of the package. And it’s a bit like the vices are in excess of your virtues in a way. Often the flaws are incredibly linked to the strength and you have to just understand it’s like this very fragile little push and pull between those two aspects. But, yeah, that was sort of having to embrace the city for its flaws as well, understanding how linked they are to its beauty.
Yeah. I’m so glad you’re doing this because we’re also going live on our personal Facebook channels and for people who have not really won’t probably get a chance to see the show live if they don’t live in San Francisco and traveling isn’t an option to them at the moment, then it’s so helpful to hear you speak to this. And whenever I go to see a Sevenfigure show, I feel like it’s a reflection of life in its most honest, transparent way possible. It’s a reflection of what we’re living in. And that’s why I think even these days on HBO, you try to find HBO has been known for this, but also Netflix, Hulu, everybody’s trying to tell the more authentic, the imperfect everyday life, like you said, the flaws of people and the reality we’re hid with. Because I used to travel San Francisco regularly and in recent years, it really shocked me as a traveler to see really, the homelessness almost as a pandemic, almost on its own. And it is how helpless people are. And sometimes for us as travelers, frankly, I have to conduct research to make sure if I’m hanging out with my mom, I have to be careful where I am.
And I hate to admit that, but it’s also true. Shane I want to maybe talk about the creative process because one thing, as a lot of creators, like, for instance, on my YouTube channel who are watching this one thing, I must admit that it’s so easy to talk about. It’s like, oh, this is such a great show. Creative process is this beautiful thing.
It’s like seamless and perfect.
But even for us to produce a 510 minutes YouTube video to make it engaging and all that, it could take hours, days, weeks of work. And one of the situations that really the challenge that jumps out is how to actually script something, but actually make it sound cohesive, look natural on camera, what kind of music to choose every time when it comes to music. And I just like I just crumble because the music sounds so good. That doesn’t sound good, doesn’t work for the show. Yeah. Could you tell us a bit about, like, how do you piece these things together?
Sure. It’s interesting because I feel like when I’m asked that question, there is a range depending on what type of show it is. And as you mentioned, I’ve done, for instance, circuit space show, where everything really has to have a level of being prewritten, much more extremely like Crystal, the ice show you mentioned, because there’s video content and set building that has to happen just months before we are even in the room with the performers. So I really had to basically write something that was as fleshed out and complete as I could. And I feel like, luckily not luckily. I mean, that’s why I do circus. But having been doing circus now for over 30 years, my imagination functions in the language of circus. So that’s what will I don’t know if I give the example of paramore, like, I knew I had to create dramatically this example of a love triangle and then had the idea of the handed trap with the porter on. Anyway, with the love triangle acrobatically, like, what language acrobatically is best to tell that story. So I feel like that’s something that I can do. I can preconceive circus acts as I’m writing the show and flesh it out.
However, what I most love to do is to create in the zoom and like, with a blank page, because I feel like as much as you can have a good idea on paper, it’s really seeing it live and working with real bodies that can really tell you what speaks and what doesn’t because that is our form. So sometimes something that sounds really good on paper, you start doing it and you’re like, actually, this this isn’t quite right. And vice versa. So when I do a seven finger show, I have that liberty, partly because it’s my own company, I get to do it. But also just our timeline. I don’t need to worry about them spending I don’t know how much money, circuit on video content and set construction and roadcases, all the stuff they need to do even before we start creation because we’re just a smaller size and we’re more lightweight. I always joke about there’s an expression about how, I don’t know, a kayak, you could just turn left or right really fast. Whereas, like, if you’re on a big cruise ship, it takes days and all the money just to turn left.
I forget what the exact quote is, but I always say, well, we’re a kayak. That’s the advantage. If we’re in rehearsal and we suddenly decide that, hey, let’s change the schedule and do this number instead, it’s like, we can just do it like that. We don’t have a team of hundreds of people that are like, oh, no, we can’t make that change because the domino effect, there’s too many people involved in stuff. So basically, I really enjoy creating in the room. And so when I’m doing a seven finger show, I sort of would prefer to do like a script that’s very I mean, just imagine like a very skeletal drawing sketch of something that you know you’re going to be able to really color in and get with live bodies. So I feel like that’s the best way to describe it because I do want that the meat and the flesh comes from an exchange with my performers, partly because of what I said about when you see it, it’s when it’s much more clear what you’re saying. But also I like for them to speak through the work, and I think that Circus is so individuated and that you have an artist that has one particular way of moving that is very true to them, but if you give them choreography 5678 that you’ve choreographed beforehand, sometimes it really they’re not trained as dancers in that way.
So I really want to use their language, their personalities, obviously their skills, because that’s another part of it in the acrobatic research, which is how I mean, really, it’s how you get into new territory by doing new research every time and not just deciding beforehand, okay, we’re going to do this trick. And that trick is inevitably you’re going to do things. You know, I’ve often said it’s like two halves of a shell. Like, I kind of have a framework that comes from my own ideas and my own conviction and the themes I want to talk about. And then it’s like I kind of meet the second half of the shell with the cast I’m working with and the work we do in the room. So there’s that. I mean, I think there’s also, to be fair, there’s a bit of, like what I call witchcraft.
I love it.
There is that sense that when you’re in a creative mode, you just have your tentacles out all the time. So I remember when we were creating our first show, Lost, and I was like, sitting in my bathtub and immediately I’m like, oh, this could be a number. And I’m like, playing with the water and what can you do in a bathtub? And then one time there’s a number that I did for a Circus school show where my son was two years old and we were playing with those markers that are like erasable markers. And then on my playlist, this song came on. It’s like a melody garlic song called The Rain. So suddenly I had this image of someone being written on and the rain washing it away, but it was just like it’s that notion of these sort of accidental things happen, but because. You’re sort of thinking in this creative mindset, you’re like there to, like, pull them out of the air, if that makes sense. And everything is kind of steering towards your one vision. I feel like this is getting very vague, but I think that’s sort of the best way to describe it is that you’re kind of, like, really in tune to both.
I don’t know, I think the world needs right now and what your performers are giving you and your own ideas and listen to a podcast or whatever. And everything is kind of like sort of funneling into this one vision. And then I think from there it’s almost like a process of subtraction because you’re going to get so many stimulants and then you have to just have this tunnel vision towards the story you’re telling and the theme you’re telling. And it’s like the North Star. And then you have to figure out what fat gets trimmed along the way with all of these bubbling of ideas that make sense. Okay.
How long was the creative process for Deer San Francisco? From the beginning till the end. Like, you probably had a very strict project plan, and this show actually not.
Even in technically in rehearsal yet. So we actually start training now. And then we only have about a month of rehearsal before the opening. So it’s a very fast project for all sorts of reasons of restrictions and timelines and things. But we did have a longer and kind of like I was saying with Crystal, we really tried to develop a very concrete script, an idea of what acts that were going to be and even design them in advance. And then we did two workshops where we could try the ideas so we’re really able to hit the ground running when we go into rehearsals. And the script writing gosh, I feel like it’s been the last year that we’ve been starting to develop it. And then really, the script writing really kicked into gear. I’d say the beginning of this year. So a few months ago. And like I said, with the workshops and stuff, that helps feed it, where we have an idea and we try with the artist and then we get more information, we can change the idea. So that’s always really important as well.
And it’s challenging for people who are watching this. It’s not trivial. You started brainstorming last year and the preproduction beginning of this year, and that’s before the vaccine in the US. Or worldwide. What was it like to collaborate with Gypsy internally as Seven Fingers, as well as evaluating and maybe inviting other artists and acrobat to join you? What was that process like?
Well, so it’s definitely a challenge and limiting. And I’d say that obviously we were able to finally do workshops, but for me, they have been late in the game because of the restrictions. For instance, I did workshops for a different project during COVID when the regulations were more strict and it was so fun to work. However, it wasn’t really an accurate I couldn’t really work fully. So in the end, I almost regretted doing the workshops because I felt like I got false information out of it because we were adapting so much the regulations of the mass and distancing and so on the one hand, it was fun, on the other hand, it was like, well, maybe that was a waste of time because it just gave us information. So anyway, so for dear San Francisco, I didn’t miss having the bodies right away to try things with. Not just the bodies, the space, the equipment, all of that stuff. Other collaborators. But luckily, so Gypsy and I, we have like, shared houses and so we were in a bubble together through the pandemic that saved it because we could be creative by brainstorming the same room, like I said, have the file cards.
And once we got the zoom situation with other collaborators and producers and things, it was definitely better than nothing and it kept the ball rolling. And I was so glad we did it. But realized so much gets lost and not just even the fact that it’s a 2D thing and there’s all sorts of subtleties of body language and communication that you’re not realizing when you’re in a room with someone you’re picking up on. And so long to realize. Like. How much miscommunication. How harder it was to get ideas to come through. How our patience was different because we would get zoomed out at a certain point and zoomed out.
That’s the real thing.
It was really challenging. But like I said, luckily Tips and I have been together the whole time, so I feel like we were really able to keep moving forward without that. I think it would have been a lot harder with your San Francisco and with other shows that I’m working on as well. I put more emphasis on the writing, the literal writing, which sometimes I would do for myself, but I kind of keep it to myself and then get in the room and just sort of tell people little things they needed to know for, like, whatever improv we’re doing. But because it was sort of one of the only ways we could communicate, I was really taking more time to flush everything out in script form, and that was actually useful. And it was a fun exercise for me to realize, like, okay, I’m so used to being able to just kind of keep it in my head, but realizing it was actually a really pertinent step to have to describe it in more detail and communicate it through text to my team and that would feed them more. And so I learned through that that it was actually maybe something I should continue doing even when we’re not.
What tools were you using for scripting? Like Google Docs? Or do you use something very specific for scripting?
No, I just use the word. I mean, I’m really not we have stage managers and things who are, like, putting things on the Google Docs and on The Drop. I mean, I don’t know, there’s so many points and I just use a simple Word document and then send it to whoever needs to. There is one thing I know. I’m guessing it’s Google Doc where you can correct collaborate. So I did that on it not the same school on a different project. We were doing that, but I didn’t even quite understand how it was working. But I thought that was cool because you could actually watch someone correcting the text while you’re smoking. So that was pretty great. But I’m just now kind of learning about those tools.
So cool. So cool. And then so I’m so glad I know that. We’re here for an hour. If you have any questions for the show, for Shayna, please let us know. I did leave a link. There are people already asking about the tickets. It’s club fugazi and dear San Francisco There are links in the description. I share it as a comment as well. Super excited. The China I realized that this is not that this is news to me, but it is also very international cast. I saw people from Montreal, from possibly the US, but I saw two acrobats from China, and I definitely I feel like I love the fact that I can see their faces. I’m going to let them take over for a second. They’re international here and one from Australia. What is it like to work with people who are international, whose, let’s say, primary first language isn’t English, and to be able to communicate on Zoom or else what was that like this time?
Well, with this cast, actually, most of those people have already worked with us in the past. In fact, it was very easy. That’s one of the reasons we chose them is that we really have had we sort of have our own, in some ways our own genre of circus. And so the more people have worked with seven fingers, the more they’re already kind of part of our language. So it’s great, especially creating a new show with a short time frame. It’s just so great to be able to have artists that are already in our universe in that way, and that we don’t even have so much that just goes without like when I said we didn’t have workshops at the same time, I knew that, oh, well, Song, this will be perfect for him. And he can do this text because this is his sense of humor and this is his voice. And this music works because it’s someone I’ve worked with already for oh my gosh, song. I first met him in Iris in 2011.
So ten years I’ve been working with Song. So even though, I mean, yes, he’s a Chinese acrobat and when I first met him, he didn’t speak any English and mingson, so I worked with him on Iris. And in fact, one reason he really stood out was a funny story, but they had a translator. It was an Akarian troupe and the translator sometimes wasn’t catching what I meant. And Song had like a little bit of English and was always really trying. So I’d often just go to him instead of the translator, which is horrible because he understood acrobatics and artistic and he was really driven and passionate. So he had more of a desire to understand what I was saying than even the translator. So I ended up often sort of like I mean, it was like, maybe not very correct because I should have been going through the translator, but it was easier to speak with Song. And then when I realized that the whole troop was basically going to go back to China and Song wrote me and said, would you have a place and Seven Fingers? And really just wanted to sort of change his whole trajectory.
And he did Traces with us. He did queer confessions. Oh my God, he did like five shows with us, actually. So I mean, that’s an interesting in answer to your question, like yes, on other shows, I’ve had the experience of working with people who had just never done a show with either a Western show, like, depending what country they were from. My first husband was a Chinese acrobat. I’m not sure if I mentioned that. Well, I didn’t know when I was at the Pickle Family Circus, which is where I started, which is also based in San Francisco. Master, who is now the coach, who’s been the icon in San Francisco and he was first brought in 1990 when I was a performer and he brought two of his star performers from the Ninjing Acrobatic Troupe with him and Huang Zen. We fell in love and so we were first together. He didn’t speak any English at all. I feel like I have a long history of trying to communicate with people both artistically and humanly. And on many Syrgic shows. I was dance Captain Assault in Monto. So when we’d have new performers come, I’d have to teach them their tracks and whether they were Russian or Polish or Chinese, like often that language is a huge barrier and you kind of figure out how to essentialize what you’re saying and working through movement and examples.
So it doesn’t intimidate me too much in that sense. But in the specific example of Dear San Francisco, actually, for the most part it’s people that we’ve worked with a great deal. There’s Junioru, who we haven’t worked with, but she first started in Julyan. And what was that? Oh gosh, that was 2000. Oh gosh. She started very young at Cirque du Soleil and has herself already working great deal in the United States and is now going to film school at UCLA her English is great, first of all, and is also just really there’s an interesting thing, I think it’s true for a lot of what do I mean? Just displaced. That’s not the right word. But for instance, circus performers, when you’re from a certain country, you’ve toured other countries, you live in this country and in the end you have this kind of like hybrid culture that is sort of on the one hand, you have many homes. On the other hand, you don’t have just one home. And it can be often very complicated because you go here and you feel like you’re missing what you had there and you go here. So I know there’s it’s sort of a sadness that a lot of circus performers who travel a lot because they connect to so many places.
But also a beauty and it’s a wonderful thing about working with those people is I believe it creates an incredible personal. Incredible open mindedness because anyone who’s lived in a multiple of cultures. You just naturally have. I think. A greater empathy because a better understanding that there are more than one truth and reality is different in different places. So I think circus people often naturally have that from the fact that they travel so much and work internationally and have so many cross nationalities in a troop. That’s a great thing. But I know it’s a hard thing and I know that daji, I think I don’t know if I’m anywhere DAXI was also another Chinese performer, worked with us. And he’s currently in China. But I know he talks a lot about the fact it’s like, in some senses, like he feels at home in Montreal, but then he misses China and he goes to China and he feels like there’s this whole part of his identity that he can’t live there. And he sort of goes back and forth, not really sure which one is more a home for him. So that’s a hard thing.
We should do a show just about that.
Yeah, what a great comment about there’s more than one truth and more than one reality that can exist in the world, in our lives, and certainly in the creative world, period. And I think it is so essential, I think, for creators, especially someone now, and you’re in a leadership position, you’re sourcing these talent, you’re working with them one on one. It’s so important for you to have an open mind. And it’s so fascinating to me because I realize I have the privilege to speak with so many people on the show who are kind of similar to the way that you think, and therefore they’re able to create something so unique and that brings people together. I think for people to see people with different color, different backgrounds on stage gives them another sense of themselves, too, in a way that we are truly connected. So, speaking with Shane, I did ask for your permission to also acknowledge the fact that the past year and a half, nearly two years, have been very difficult for creators, I feel like for my network of artists, musicians and, you know, artists and acrobats and life has not been especially at the beginning, it’s just there’s so many unknowns.
And I realize at the very beginning, my heart just went out to, you know, your company, Cirque du Soleil, went through a really rough time. And because, for obvious reasons that this is the bread and butter of your business, you have to be traveling, you have to be in this live environment. So are there lessons learned, reflections, people you feel thankful for? We can talk about it.
Yeah, well, we definitely feel thankful too. And this sounds cheesy, but the government of Quebec, I just want to say, like, really, they really acknowledge quickly that the arts were in peril and helped us a great deal just to, you know, to stay afloat. So I felt very fortunate to be here in Quebec. In Montreal. And we had a particular grant from the city or from the province to keep the building open for free training for artists. Because there is a great concern that circus artists. They can’t not train without you know. It’s one thing to wait around for the pandemic to be over. But if in the meantime you’re completely out of shape. You’ll never be able to do your job again. So it became a priority to really make sure that people at least could go into a studio. And so very quickly, we had figured out in our spaces how to have the distancing, how to have all of the safe sanitary measures and with a grant that helped us keep the building open, and that was incredible for the community here. And also just, I’d say selfishly to be able to go to work and see people training, even if I wasn’t creating a show with them or for them, you just felt like the circulation was still going.
So I’m incredibly grateful for that and everyone in our company who you really realize I was joking about how it’s not like survival of the fittest. It’s survival of the most passionate. That it really kind of shows who really has their heart in it and is really passionate about it and can continue chugging away even when you didn’t really necessarily see a light at the end of the tunnel and you didn’t necessarily have all of the positive stuff that you usually get with this line of work where you have a premiere and it’s a celebration. There’s an audience. And there’s like. This really beautiful exchange. And to be only on that on the one end of that, without the without the audience on the other side of it, it’s not as rewarding at all. So it’s a lot of kind of faith and hope and vision and hanging in there. And so I think that was incredibly hard. But I also think there were some people who really brought that passion and continued to lead us through those times and finding other creative ways to stay creative. But I will say that I think there was such a focus on people continuing to train, as I mentioned, or even for us, staying creative and writing shows, which we wrote a ton of shows.
But I think what was underestimated was, like I said about we do live shows because we want someone to receive them. And it’s not just whether you think of it on a very, like, oh, audience is copying, but really ultimately, and again, this might sound cheesy, ultimately what we do is it’s to heal. That’s one of the function of art in our society is it’s one of the tools of healing. And I think that on some level, that’s why we do what we do is so that we can impart that to someone else. So to not have a recipient is an incredibly empty experience. So I think that was really the hardest thing, and it wasn’t so much and we were working and people were training and we were being creative, but to feel like it just went into a void, as opposed to having that sort of circle of someone receiving it and being transformed and that transforming us. And it was almost like the circulation stopped during. So that was hard. But I don’t know. We’re also finding ways to hopefully now one of my shows is already performing on the cruise ship on virgin voyages in the UK.
So there’s something out there that’s performing with an audience. So hopefully we’re going to continue in that direction. But that was a huge first step to feel like, okay, there’s a show.
Amazing. It warms my heart to hear that. It’s a very healing experience. Exactly how I feel. I go see the show and I already feel better after buying the ticket, just go see him. But then the during and after and I was recorded reflection videos on my YouTube channel. It’s incredible. So, Shannon, to respect your time, I know you have a very busy schedule. Is there anything that you want to kind of close on? I haven’t asked. What are your thoughts?
Yeah, no, I mean, I’m sort of thinking back at my answer about how I create shows, and I was talking about all the tentacles and the witchcraft and stuff and like, maybe we should take another moment. I could explain in better detail the actual but maybe that’s not the time now. But I mean, that part of it that is a very real thing, like just in terms of on a creative level, like just kind of always having your ears and senses open. But there is an actual dramaturgy process, dramaturgical process in terms of writing shows. And I guess just I think what’s important is that the theme and the story and that metaphorical and emotional content is really the base. And we do all of the acrobatic ideas and the movement research and choreographic ideas kind of stem from that core. And so that’s why it’s always connected to the emotion, and it’s not what I think there’s a bit of a trend in circus that the numbers exist, and then we kind of try to superimpose on top of it emotion or theme or story. So I guess one of the things I would just mention is that really our source point.
It’s our driving point. So the emotional content. And then when I was talking about feeling your North Star, as you create and as you choreographed, you get an instant sense of how to navigate it. So it’s always saying what you want it to say, even if it’s through movement or through words or through some results, I guess, to make it less about the witchcraft and all of that.
Yeah. It’s so beautiful. What I’m feeling is sometimes feel like there’s so much hatred in the world and people only trying to protect themselves. And I get it. I feel like in a way that I’m privileged to grow up and feeling safe for most days and feeling comfortable. But what I have since in some of the fingers and your creation, your work, not just externally towards the audience, but also how you and Gypsy take care of your own people acrobats. And I have these young people, people still in school, 2022 years old, said, oh, you know, I’m from somewhere in South Africa. I remember I interviewed her and she said, well, Shana will actually invite me to her house, so we celebrate Thanksgiving together and Christmas, and she feels just right at home. So I think what I’m feeling is just love. And love is very, very healing. And love in a very dynamic way from your creation. It’s not just necessary between a man and a woman, but it’s just everybody is included, right, the audience. And there’s so much love, and I think that’s exactly how people are going to feel. From dear San Francisco.
So if you’re watching this, make sure you check it out, especially if you live close by. Man, I’m so jealous of you. So please go check it out. Yeah, this is wonderful. And Shane, if you don’t mind, I think before we end, if you don’t mind, stay on. I really would like to just play the last 60 seconds of seven fingers and so and then once the promo ends, and then I’ll end the livestream.
Great. Okay, that works. Awesome. Oh, wow.
Thank you. Hello.
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Dear San Francisco will be live in Club Fugazi starting in September 2021, get your tickets