Our Guest Today: Shana Carroll
After interviewing a number of acrobats from Cirque, my listeners requested to learn more about people behind the scenes. Therefore I started researching directors, creators, storytellers from various shows. Shana jumped out at me, not only because she’s been an integral part of many major Cirque shows, but also her daring nature in taking on new projects that have never been done before.
She was an Artistic Director for Paramour in New York City. Paramour was the first-ever Cirque du Soleil and Broadway collaboration. There were plenty of very positive but also negative reviews about the show. I absolutely loved it and watched it for four times with families and friendly. Not to mention that my two friends, Andi and Kevin Atherton, were headliners in Paramour.
Most recently, Shana was asked to create the first-ever, on-ice experience for Cirque called CRYSTAL.
How does it work? Will it work? Shana didn’t know the answers. In fact, nobody knew.
In recent years, Cirque du Soleil received criticism for having “too much of the same thing”. Some viewers openly complained on social media that many of the acts in the shows are repetitive. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
Though I find this conclusion highly inaccurate, I could see why some people, especially those who go to more than one show, might feel this way. After all, acrobatic acts have a limited number of traditional and modern acts, and it takes years if not a lifetime to perfect the training.
Today, special effects have brainwashed many people to believe that anything is possible (snap your fingers and expect to be blown away completely). Hence it takes even more for circus acts to impress people – children and adults!
Creating a Cirque show on the ice was no easy endeavor. Shana spoke with me in great details about the creative process and how she navigated rounds of approvals to get the idea across without any actors or actresses in her meetings. “That was the hardest part.” She told me. Shana needed to convey an idea that is entirely based on acts, movements, and music through her own words.
The creative elements of Crystal were finally approved and that was when the rubber meets the road. Shana had to make the show work. She tells us how world-class skaters work with Cirque acrobats; how different acts transition through the stage (full-size ice arenas); how everyone comes together once a month during a workshop to refine their acts.
Before our conversation, I saw Shana’s career choice as new and exciting. Many would probably agree. However, meeting her helped me realize the tremendous amount of risks and vulnerability very few of us could endure.
If I could pick a quote that best represent Shana Carroll, it has to be Seth Godin’s
“Seek emotional labor. Dance with fear.”
Please leave a comment and connect with Shana and me directly on the blog.
Have you taken on risks lately in you personal and professional life? Please share your stories with us.
- [06:00] How were you introduced to this new show, Crystal?
- [09:00] What is it like to manage a big team on and off stage?
- [13:00] What was it like for you to push your ideas forward in this particular show/company?
- [17:00] Were you nervous when you watch your artists perform the tricks?
- [19:00] This show is very tricky because of the skating aspect. How do artists manage to work with the transitions between the scenes?
[22:00] You have plenty of experience that helps you in your role today. Is it possible to become director of creation without that experience or with a different background?
- [26:00] What is the inspiration behind Crystal? Is it related to your personal journey?
- [32:00] How do you deal with praises and criticisms? How do you interpret and respond to the audience’s feedback?
- [37:00] What was your role, and what did you learn from Paramour and Iris?
- [45:00] What advice would you give to young people starting in a circus or performing arts school, for their career and future?
[10:00] The director of creating is the one who, ideally sees the writing on the wall. When you are actually creating and writing, you are invested, and like with every artist, there’s a vulnerable side, and you want to bring your own creativity on the line. It’s hard to be objective, so it’s great because the director of creation has that step removed and it can notice if people are off-track a little.
[26:00] In circus it is so individualized. If someone is out, it’s a completely new act. Or maybe they are not ready to do replace that act at all, and that changes the show. Every moment is so specialized for the person doing it…
[28:00] We’ve seen so many pixar movies, like Inside Out, that are as enjoyable for everyone, kids and adults. There’s so much quality to it. We felt there wasn’t an equivalent in a live show that was as enjoyable for the family.
[40:00] I do think we created both something amazing and something flawed. And actually going back to the reviews, one of the things that bothered me was that I believed we deserved a review that said ‘here are the flaws, but here are the amazing things you won’t see in any other broadway stage’, and unfortunately, people were to cinical to give us that…
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Fei Wu 0:01
Hey, hello, how are you? This is a show for everyone else. Instead of going after top one person on the world, we dedicate this podcast to celebrate the lives of the unsung heroes and self made artists.
Shana Carroll 0:34
When you’re a director when you’re actually creating it and writing it, you know, you’re you’re invested in it. Like any artists, there’s a vulnerable side to it because it’s your own creativity on the line. And as we know, it’s like harder to be objective when it’s your own creativity on line. So it’s great because objective creation has that one step removed, and yet cares just as much but is the one who will be able to you know, notice if you go off track a little and bring you back in
circus, it’s so individuated that if someone is out, you know, to completely do act, or maybe they’re not ready to replace that act at all and that seems to show and then not every moment is so specialized for the person doing it
I felt like we’ve seen so many you know, Pixar movies like inside out or name or whatever that are just I mean, they’re, they’re as enjoyable for kids and grownups and just so such quality and smart and is so we didn’t really feel like there was an equivalent of a live show that was really enjoyable for everyone in the family.
Fei Wu 1:47
Hi, everybody, this is your host Fei Wu. And you’re listening to a brand new episode of the Feisworld podcast Welcome. Today on the show. I have Shana Carroll, who is a founding director at the seven fingers from Montreal, Quebec. She was a trapeze artist before becoming also an acrobatic designer and choreographer at Cirque du Soleil. She’s been an integral part of many circus shows, including Iris, Paramore, was and still is the first Cirque and Broadway collaboration. And most recently, she helped create the first ever on ice experience from Cirque called Cristo. When interviewing her, I noticed the phrases used very often are first ever, never done before. So perhaps on the surface, they represent new and exciting but deep down, you might be wondering the risks involved in such a career choice. You’re not wrong. When I worked full time at an agency, my supervisor had to warn me about my choices of picking up projects that the agency simply had never done before. What if you fail, he asked me. There’s no comparison of the two examples. If I failed, I would be criticized possibly let go from the job. But if Shana fails, even 10% You know, we’ll be all over the internet and social media among the circus creators and fans. So we dive deep in these questions. I am thrilled to have Shane as trust and also confidence in sharing this episode with you, from inception of Christo to its creation process, approval milestones and selling to the executive team as Cirque du Solei. To a workshop she runs monthly to refine details of the show. I enjoyed every bit of it, and I really hope you do too. You may not be an artist or show goer, but I bet you can learn something from these incredible artists and their artistry. Since I’ve started speaking with these performing artists, they have truly changed my life in inspired me for the work I do. From team management as a project manager to creative process and storytelling. I would love to hear from you as well. So please, if you can leave a comment or feedback, your own reflections on face world.com underneath Sheena’s episode, I would greatly appreciate that. I personally review and respond to them all and our new commenting system discuss makes it very easy to have meaningful conversations. Without further ado, please welcome Shana Carol to the face world podcast. Shane, I’m so so glad to be connecting with you and just witnessing everything firsthand. I want to I wonder, you know, how were you introduced to this new show? Christo? I’m so eager to know.
Shana Carroll 4:48
I mean, first of all, thank you for saying all that, but very it’s very nice to hear that. It’s important to me, of course because I’ve been working working with people is one of the main reasons I do this and there’s six Out of sight. But of course, the human side is really what kind of drives me. So it’s nice to know that that kind of is, yes, there’s good echoes and everything. So the year almost a year and a half ago last summer with myself and said, My husband would co director Chris. So we were brought in to Cirque du Soleil, and were approached about this job to direct their first eye show. What was interesting was that we had, it had been years, we were sort of thinking, neither of us will subscales, a good skater, you know, in a minimal way, but I don’t skate at all at all. And like not, I’m from California, and like, completely new to the iceberg. But if there’s a company called attend to leave here in Montreal, and they do, there’s like five of them, and that sort of like contemporary dance, on ice, and really kind of modern, and they do very minimalist shows, and I saw them a few years ago, and that really just opened my mind up in terms of what, you know how it’s a form that’s kind of begging to be reinvented and sort of reminded me of circus, you know, in the 80s, when there was traditional circus, which of course, has it has strong points. And there’s really beautiful things about traditional circus, but, you know, it hadn’t been reinvented and modernized for a long time. And surfaces a was part of breathing new life into it. And there were other companies as well. And I sort of felt like that was sort of begging to happen for for ice shows and the ice world. And it was something that we’ve been thinking about for a while I even mentioned to one of the directors that’s here, Geico, you guys should do and I showed, you know, because years ago, and knowing like what they did with Oh, with water and thinking, how is your spin on that would be amazing. So it’s something that really we’ve been thinking about. So when they came and asked us about this, you know, we were just incredibly excited. It was there were people who, you know, their reactions, the opposite, we say I should they’re like, Oh, God, and I showed and they get really very cynical about it just sort of, because their mind is really in sort of, sort of compartmentalize it as it is now. Anyway, so we’re excited about it. And also, it’s just I mean, anytime, as a creator, you have a whole new playground, and a whole new element that just, you know, you get to figure out how to approach it, how to create new material, apparatus, new disciplines, to actually really, we stopped, we were incredibly fortunate to have this new playground and to collaborate with these new kinds of athletes and artists and everything. So that’s how it happened. That was like a year and a half ago, chef was in Russia shortly after that doing a show there called Princess of circus. So the first few stages of creation, you’re just the writing of the show, and all that I was sort of on my own for that. So I kind of wrote the show, and storyboards and, you know, met with the design team. Early on, then he joined a little bit later, but was definitely there through, you know, all the rehearsals and everything like that. So
Fei Wu 7:43
you pique my interest, as you mentioned, a bunch of things that are I find really interesting. And behind the scenes. And by the way, you know, I find a lot of these episodes with circus actors and aerialists have become really popular. But you know, one of the highly demanded episode is actually with directors and people who are working with these artists and the creators of the show. When you mentioned, you know, storyboarding and such, could you give me an idea of what that Inception looks like at the beginning? You know, you’re storyboarding, and there seems to be a design team. And you know, who’s managing the team? And what’s, what’s everybody’s role in, in that in the beginning stage?
Shana Carroll 8:27
Right? Okay, so we have a tip to someone called a director of creation, which I think is kind of similar to on a Broadway show the producer, or I think, you know, often the producers and you know, invested money, I’m actually not sure how it works, you know, completely on Broadway show, but the director of creation is there to sort of manage the creative team. And so really, it’s great in terms of, you know, I mean, he’ll be there to sort of organize everything and say, Okay, you’re gonna meet with, you know, have you met with the costume designer on Friday at three, and then we’re going to make this video guy. So I mean, there’s that just sort of kind of driving the machine the whole time, and sort of asking the important questions at the right time and helping the brainstorming process and really just, you know, kind of making sure the train rolls and we had a guy named Steph and those are the crew was amazing. Right adore and that really makes a huge difference. And also the director of creation is the one who ideally, you know, you know, sees the writing on the wall because it’s not what’s great is you know, when you’re a director when you’re actually creating it and writing it, you know, you’re you’re invested and it’s like any artists there’s a vulnerable side to it because it’s your own creativity on the line. And as we know, it’s like harder to be objective when it’s your own creativity on line so it’s great because objective creation has that one step removed and yet you know, cares just as much but is the one who will be able to, you know, notice if you go off track a little and bring you back in or sort of way so he was there for that and then we you know, we had a team of Fuji designers in costume design, set design, video design, props, design, lighting design. Get choreography, skating design, sound design so early on, you know, you’re meeting it first, it’s one on ones until you actually, you know, several months into it, get everyone on the table and try to have these creative meetings all together. So everyone can bounce off of each other and, you know, share the same information at the same time. But first, it’s one on one. So, you know, I start out by writing the show, really like with a pen and a paper, I sit down and write, you know, a very preliminary script. For me, because I’m someone who comes from circus instantly I try to like to have the show I try to have, I know certain disciplines that I want the story to take us to. And then I also am taking what happened that story and thinking in terms of circuit, what would best represent that dramatic moment. So there’s a little kind of zigging and zagging as I write the storyline of where my story kind of allows me to go into circus and where the, you know, the, the circus is used to an industry. So I write the story and then keep, you know, sort of rewriting it, and then there’s a whole period where I have to, I have to essentially pitch it, you know, I have to pitch it to our bosses, I have to pitch it to the designers and I kind of keep telling the story over and over and over again, as you do you get little pieces of feedback, or you just self edit as you kind of keep telling the story, and it starts to solidify. And then from there, you know, the set designer will, you know, take images that I spoke of and kind of propose something and then that will be an exchange and even even have comments about the story that might open up my eyes and have me adapt something here or there.
I’ve also worked in a very different set of creative fields, in this case, you know, more marketing advertising. But generally speaking, I sort of have an idea of what the creative process is like, across different industries, you know, sometimes it can be very frustrating. And when you push through that just say, feedback review, and finally approval. So I wonder, you know, what was it like for you to kind of push through that, given I just learned that you’re, you’re an American, you know, you grew up in California, and I assume a lot of these approvers and folks could be from the Montreal? I mean, do they have? What was it like, you know, kind of that is their difficulty and pushing through some ideas?
Well, I’ve been in my shelf was 1991. And now speak French. So I do feel like culturally, I kind of straddled both, both countries. So I don’t really feel that. And actually, I started in searhc in 94, officially, but even before that my first husband was was on tour, and I would join anyway to pull other things. So basically, since 1992, I’ve been pretty much you know, in that world. So I in fact, I’ve been in other projects like on Paramore, and, and Iris where the creative team was less familiar with Cedric and was in the circus in general. And I felt like I often had to be sort of a translator and a moderator because I did kind of last in both worlds. And also, because before distributed theater, so even when it comes to like when we worked on Paramore, like having an understanding of theatre and circus, which is not that common. So in my case, I didn’t feel what I found more frustrating was that there I mean, I’ll just say this, frankly, there’s a lot of turnover, it’s your, you know, the there’s been, you know, D sold the company, etc. And there’s people who are, you know, excellent. People who, you know, are sort of new to their jobs. And there’s a certain quality of I mean, like, they talked about the seven yeas, who can like chase the grape and know what the wine is going to taste like. And I often felt like I was pitching, and the people I was pitching to, to necessarily see the show I was trying to describe, and it’s very hard, and it’s hard to do anyway, because it’s, it’s a live show, you know, no matter how much you could say it into words, there’s no way you can convey what it’s going to feel like, which of course, is what matters when you want to show. And so you know, for instance, and I think you know, a little bit the story of crystal, but there was a concern that it was too dark because the girl falls to the ice and, and I talked about the shadow cells and all these things that when they’re on paper, sound kind of heavy and dark. Of course, the feeling of crystal is not dark. I mean, in some ways, it’s one of the lighter shows because there’s something very joyful and colorful and that and that was a feeling that was hard to get across. That’s why we tried to storyboard and get an illustrator to draw and then and then as you have that we have it up on the wall in the room. You can really talk through the show and see oh, here we’re going from this world of blues and frozen in it and then as we go down and expose color and we have you know so you can kind of get more of a feeling that way but even then you don’t get a feeling so I felt like that was it was hard for me. It was like really trying to capture that and it wasn’t until we started doing workshops, which we were also likely to do we did like one workshop a month from November to April or something which was good because we had obviously with the ice there were certain things we had to test with no idea like the Rams had to invent ramps, we had to try it and see whether we had this idea. But will it actually work to, you know, bend the synthetic ice and put it on the ramp? It doesn’t work to go from the ice to the ramp, and will they trip on the edge? And wow, you know the distances. I mean, there was things. So it could have been that we got the workshop and said, Okay, scrap, so So we had these workshops, which was great. But then also because we had the workshops, it became easier to start to talk about the show, because there was a direct image. So that really, you know, things kind of accelerated after that.
Fei Wu 15:31
You brought up some really cool ideas, because you’ve been in it for so long, I think to me, so as an outsider, I never even thought about bending ice. And I mentioned I was I was a hockey player in high school and a little bit in college. So I was so drawn to the show, I think more so than say somebody who has no skating experience, almost, you know, that sense of freedom that you and your your crew really have taken to a whole new level. I mean, I never knew that anybody could do those things on ice, and especially with hockey skates. That’s not even how it was designed to perform some of these, you know, acts and those workshops sounds really interesting. I wonder How nervous were you when you watch these folks sort of perform these tricks? I mean, were they wearing the helmets? And some folks weren’t even doing that? I mean, what did people get injured? And what are the risks? Yeah, exactly. Was pretty high.
Shana Carroll 16:29
Yeah, exactly. Well, I get I mean, during the show, still, I mean, there’s numbers that I have to, you know, put down whatever I’m holding, and clasp my hands together and breathe. I mean, I’m, it’s like, and you get into mom mode a little I mean, because that’s what people always joke with me, they say, How come you’re so fearful you are to these artists? It’s like, Yeah, but when I when I put myself at the knee, or 20 feet, you know, you just grab your courage, and yes, your adrenaline kicks in. But when you put someone else’s, like, you know, I mean, it’s really like your I see them all like my little baby. So it’s difficult for me to watch the show, I’ll be honest, and especially in the early stages of rehearsal, when things are not yet as mastered and things like that, during the workshop, you know, the first time we try the wraps, we match everywhere, you know, all the pattern you can get, I mean, the workshop period tends to be a safer period, because we have that capacity to kind of, you know, make it as safe as possible. And it’s sort of fun, it really is like playing around, we get to try all these ideas. And, and the stakes aren’t high yet. You know, it’s like I call it like when you throw cost on the wall and see, see what sticks. Like you’re still in the pocket throwing sage. So that’s fun. But there were even little things like we were doing something acrobatic, and we had a mat on the ice. And then someone went to, you know, step to catch the person and the person that would which, obviously now we know, but the first time we did it, we didn’t think about the fact that that was going to slide and became more dangerous than not having that. And lucky. Luckily, nothing happened. But then we you know, had to put on, you know, the type of sort of cramp on type covering under the bottom of the mat. And, you know, little things like that we’ve learned sometimes the hard
Fei Wu 18:08
way. And one of the other challenge I noticed just having seen so many Cirque du Soleil shows is the electricity, the inconsistency of the platform itself, that people are wearing skates, some people aren’t. And the Ice Arena, which is the ideal space yet it’s so vast, I mean, just looks like such a big stage. I wonder, you know, how you could manage how people are working on transitioning between scenes to, you know, people are skating, they’re going at lightning speed. And these killer skaters are as if people have to run on stage with these like anti slippery boots. I mean that Yeah, it’s crazy. I thought
Shana Carroll 18:46
that what was fun was and we would keep forgetting how fast people who go and skate. So it’s, oh God, we have to strike the tree. And it’s, you know, ADC downstage. And of course, in a second the guy was there and only That’s right. And so, I mean, it really was a plus, obviously, and, you know, even just in terms of, you know, transitions, you know, we have these world class skaters. And so it’s, it’s such a great bag of goodies to keep, you know, grabbing from, you know, with with circus elements, even great acrobats. If you’re creating an act, you have to train it for a great deal of time you like the poles actually needed, you know, the whole three months of training, if not more to be able to do the act, skaters come with their skills. So if last minute, you know, we’re like, oh, the the chair teardown is taking too long, Scott come and do some actual, you know, I mean, it really you can do it at the drop of a hat. So, you know, we don’t often have that same freedom with acrobatics where we get an idea, but then we’d have to go and Okay, let’s train this bonking trick for a little bit and see if we can do it. So that was really fun. And, you know, and I think actually, the mix between the crampons and the scathing, I mean, that was really, I mean, I think it was really stimulating for everyone. I mean, the skaters love watching people like run on the ice and shoes. They thought that was really just such a trip. I mean, Kurt Browning was always the was one of his favorite moments in the show. And it gave us so much flexibility. And often I mean, I acrobats got fairly good on skates
Fei Wu 20:34
you know what’s really unique? I don’t know, it may be just me the way the way I see your position is that you are such an experienced Acrobat yourself and then you’ve performed, you know, in various circus acts and I’ve watched them on YouTube and is incredibly impressive. And I wonder, in the cases of you and being in your role, is that possible for someone without your experience to become a director? And I guess it’s a two part question versus someone you know, you have lived through it yourself? I mean, I feel like that gives you certainly more than a leg up like how do you interpret that experience?
Shana Carroll 21:13
Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely possible for people to direct service without doing services. Like most directors, that’s the case. Personally, obviously, I can speak for myself, I, for me, it’s really what helps me and it helps me to be in the skin of the performance, I think that’s the main thing and no, in terms of safety and taking care of them. And, you know, I mean, there’s all sorts of elements that I think a lot of other directors, you know, don’t really realize like the first time you, you do have to do your act in a new costume or in the lights and how access is a real danger issue, you know that what it literally means to have, you know, your, your, your legs sliding when someone’s trying to catch you. And then I think in terms of writing a show, like I was saying, the more your imagination goes towards your, your medium, really, I mean, the element you’re using in this case, which is acrobatics, and my imagination naturally goes there, because that’s the world I’ve been in. However, like I’ll give this example I didn’t come from skating and my imagination didn’t necessarily, I didn’t immediately know everything that could happen with skating. But in some ways, I liked that. Because it also is easier to break a mold when you’re not, if you haven’t, like dug that groove really be that it’s hard to like climb out of the walls of it, you know, like you come in with fresh eyes. I mean, I had experts around me and I could do what if we try this, and it’s something that you know, they wouldn’t have thought of necessarily. So I actually crystal kind of experienced both and even joked about it with the skater toe. I used to be frustrated when I was a trapeze artist, when someone when I had a director, a choreographer who didn’t know anything about circus. And yeah, and it’s tricky. I mean, that’s what there was times with the skating where I couldn’t tell because often, people are resistant to change. And they’re purists and even if they want it to be renewed, they get very mean, like I’ve worked with traditional circuits, people who, you know, they want to, you know, move their hands in a certain way. And you try to break that habit. And it’s really hard. So I couldn’t tell sometimes it’s the skaters, if it was that, and kind of the sort of purist thing, and they were resisting change, or if, in fact, they were trying to, you know, bring knowledge that I didn’t have. And so it was really the sort of funny tightrope to walk and like, how much do you push to change it? And how much do you need to like, okay, now I need to listen to the experts.
Fei Wu 23:26
Isn’t that interesting? I can’t even imagine I when I watched the show. And just every time I get to be backstage, I learned so much more about these artists about director like yourself. And you know, when things go wrong, just purely how much work that has gone into an act or performance like this. I remember seeing the show for the second time. And, you know, you had mentioned that there were things technical stuff you have to work through. And you know, right before the show, and I think of that, in comparison to some of the things I do day in and day out, just seems really put things in perspective, right?
Shana Carroll 24:03
Yeah, I’m also I’ve done it, I wonder an audience, normal audience member, I’m not sure they realize, you know, how, how much there’s a variable in a circus show. And, you know, we go to the theater, and yes, there can be an understudy, but the understudy will play the same role and do the same things and sing the same songs, and maybe they’re not as good or as famous, but in circus, it’s so individuated, that if someone is out, you know, nice, it’s a completely new Act, or maybe they’re not ready to replace that act at all. And that changes the show, and then there’s not like, every moment is so specialized for the person doing it. So there really is this element of, you know, unpredictability. And, you know, I, on the other hand, that’s, that’s the trade off that, you know, we get to see shows that have this level of athleticism and artistry at the same time.
Fei Wu 24:48
Yeah. If you didn’t tell me I don’t think I was able to identify. I mean, I still couldn’t to be honest. First of all, I wasn’t as close the second time but everybody was so Sharp. And I think what’s really amazing about the show is that you could see easily see people’s faces, but in a way that it’s kind of interchangeable, that they’re in a role. And unlike, you know, Broadway, every time I remember going to New York, if they announced today’s so and so will be played by and everybody aside that they’re disappointed, but I don’t think that’s the case with a circus as much, I’d never get a chance to really think about or really ask the inspiration of the story. And is it related to your your childhood? I mean, is it related to anything that you you’ve been touched by personally or?
Shana Carroll 25:39
Yeah, I mean, there’s, there’s a lot of inspirations, I would say. So first of all, one thing, when I came into it, I made a decision. I feel like the pitfall and a huge show like this, whether it’s huge for the subsidy or prison arena, is that you kind of it’s hard to think of it as an able to tell an intimate personal story. And I think that that’s the pitfall and when I worked on Paramore, and there was all sorts of great things about Paramore, but I remember the story, I felt like it was just catered to what people thought it should be, and no one was attached to it. And if there’s not one person behind who it’s like, it’s their story, they want to tell that story, like someone who really believes in it, then I don’t think it’s going to work as a story. So my goal coming into is I want it to care about the story. And I want for it in some way for it to be. Well, my story was not literally biographically my story. So there were elements of that, I mean, definitely the sort of notion of the aspects of creativity and how you kind of have to go to these dark depths to sort of find meaning in the show. It’s like the shadow self, like a Newtonian sense, to find the sort of this this power. And yet, you have to kind of bring it back up to the light and not leave it back down in that darkness, I feel like that is the struggle of being an artist and a very difficult balance to find to be able to access this depth and not like get drawn down by it. So there was that. Also, I mean, I have a daughter, I have a nine year old daughter. And it was important to me that it was a story that she felt not only could connect to but to a certain level and powered by. And I also noticed that she, and I’ll say it’s not just because I have a daughter, but because I’ve been to a lot of my shows, and quite often it’s moms and daughters, there’s something that’s a little bit more family oriented than a normal Cirque show and even more female oriented. So that was also a choice. I just felt like I wanted to not alienate that audience as well. And I felt like, you know, we’ve seen so many, you know, Pixar movies, like inside out, or Nemo or whatever, that are just I mean, they’re, they’re as enjoyable for kids and grownups and just so such quality and smart and so we didn’t really feel like there was an equivalent of a live show that was really as enjoyable for everyone in the family. And then which, you know, which they do deal with, you know, through deeper and more serious subject matter, you know, in something like inside out and things like that. And I noticed that that Sachi, my daughter, I mean, that might be her, but she, you know, I would take her to, you know, say other six shows, and she really wanted to know, you know, why, you know, who’s doing that, oh, they’re, they’re birds, a wire, you know, she, she really wanted to care, and she wanted there to be a story and a meeting. And we would would disconnect when there wasn’t because in a way, she’s too young to really understand, you know, the training behind this and how impossible it is. And, you know, she’s seen so many things that are impossible that she doesn’t understand that, you know, what makes it different. So I wanted that idea of steaks, was one of the first things that came to me was, you know, knowledge, I will, you know, this whole thing, okay, creativity and, but that we needed to, you know, the idea of her falling through the ice in the beginning, and that something has happened to this character. And I think that’s why often, you know, Disney movies, you know, a parent dies in the game or something, you know, to go on a quest, you need the high stakes, you need something to be going towards or away from so then, you know, as we got, you know, we had that basic storyline, I, I actually myself went through breast cancer treatment two and a half years ago. So this element of like fighting for your life became really also another scene that I found important. And so in the in the end when she’s, you know, we there’s a whole text about fight for air, and she’s trying to break through the ice. That was sort of another aspect that I kind of wanted to integrate that really there was something defiant about it and an active and it wasn’t that she was just fried or anything like that, that it really became a question of choice and termination and everything. So I’m choosing like, so there’s a lot of like I said, there’s a lot of different variations. And even at the end, we do this pinwheel like after she comes out of the pinwheel is really classic ice skating from, you know, the 30s or whatever it is where they all join hands and they spend in a wheel and I said I wanted to do this. It’s sort of an homage to all With ice shows, and every all of the skaters are like, Oh, no, we’re doing a real like I just was suggesting. But also what I wanted was that when she came out of the ICC and the symbolism of this community coming around her and just sort of, once again, in terms of themes, that means something to me that really discover our power and our creativity, and we break through the ice, and the end is also that community, and that tribe that kind of keeps us afloat. And so I wanted to capture that. So that’s actually for me, that’s always the moment that gets me I get kind of teary, even though it’s just a attackee, little pinwheel. No,
Fei Wu 30:35
it’s good to know, I was gonna say, What is your favorite part, and, you know, to see everyone coming together. And it’s such a powerful thing, and even if people don’t get exactly what you’re describing, but that’s why it’s, it’s really powerful. And I think that the sense of community is powerful. And you and I heard you say that you’re also fighting for breast cancer. And one of my close friends is going through that. And she’s a writer, and she posted something very simple on Facebook yesterday, and I just, I just noticed, somehow, like she has been transformed by the experience her writing, her word choices are so powerful, even though it was so simple. And I feel like these experiences really transform and really elevate us, especially when it comes to our creative endeavors. So with that said, I think that one of the things I know, it’s always tough to face and with you creating and devoting so much of your life, your energy, and not to mention the crew members, with everything we do with myself, podcasts, designing a website, whatever they may be, I mean, so you know, with with something that you created a really, they’re always going to be praises and criticism, and because it’s part of Cirque du Soleil. And there’s people have this, you know, pre existing or pre consumption of other shows they have seen in the past. And so how are you dealing with a prison praises and criticism like, how are you interpreting or responding to the audience feedback.
Shana Carroll 32:10
So it’s funny, I had a crags when I was younger, we never read reviews. And she had a phrase she said, she said, the good ones go to her head, and the bad ones go to her stomach. And it’s funny, because I actually felt like with Chris, I didn’t read, there was one review that like, you know, our PR person, so you should really read this one. And so I read it, but in general, I was trying to avoid them. Just because it really is. I mean, I know that about myself. Now. I mean, it’s like you just had a baby. I mean, it’s like imagine, you could just give your your your blood and your life. And, you know, and not only that, like I said, your creativity on the line, but the fact that you take care of these people, and you’re, you know, you’re invested with all of these things, humans, these individuals. And so, yeah, it was saying it’s like you, you give birth to have a baby and everyone’s genuine going, Oh, I think it’s guys are a little small or feels a little like that. So I just sort of I kind of stayed away a little bit for me, what matters is that I get I, there’s certain people that I know, I really respect and trust and really care about their feedback and feedback I got from those people really made me very, very, very happy. And so I feel like in the end like that, sort of overall, like if I just if I don’t focus on any, like, little silly cynical comment, like the the overall feeling of bonds that I get, I feel very pleased with the work. So I tried to just kind of not if I felt like there was a real concern, because for me, or criticism is important is when it resonates, you know, it’s happened to me where it’s like, someone will give a certain comment, and it’ll really, something’s really bothering me. And I realized, because somewhere, I kind of know that the weakness of the show, and it’s something I should have worked on. So that’s, you know, one I kind of okay, I should, it’s difficult, but I should listen to this, especially if it’s a repeat thing. In the in the case of Christo, I’m kind of trying to just insulate myself a little more Seb reads them. I think What’s hard is, I did start to read one. And what bothered me was that it was really what it was cynical about was sort of analyzing what they were presuming to be serious intentions and kind of like, Oh, they’re trying to be commercial and get a bigger audience. And I felt like the first one has nothing to do with the show. And secondly, of course, it’s a commercial Corporation, like, you know, I mean, it’s not it’s no secret. I mean, they have shows in Vegas, you know, they didn’t go and put shows in a casino to not make money. You know, it’s a secret to they’re trying to make money with what they’re doing. The point is the artistic endeavors inside it. I mean, the people creating the show, including myself, it was nothing but an artistic endeavor. You know, no one was there around the table saying, Oh, if you do this this way, or this way, or this way, it’s going to be a bigger hit and make more money. I mean, that’s what’s interesting is actually they did give us free rein. I mean, we had to do all those pitches and convinced them and they were worried but I mean, they really did let us do the show we wanted to do and all of the choices I made. You know it could your cup of tea or not, but it was done out of, you know, just the pure love of the project. And in telling that story and having, you know, featuring those artists and making sure that they’re, they were seen and appreciated and all of that. So,
Fei Wu 35:15
and I think another thing I learned from just learning from Seth Godin, who’s a very clean, you know, acclaimed author is that do not ever read one or two star reviews, they’re completely meaningless. Nobody, no author or creator has ever read a one star review and said, I was so inspired by it. And, you know, there’s no action plan. Nothing, I don’t think there was ever one. You know, I don’t think those reviews exist for Christo. But I can see that once you open up the gate, anything could come through, you know, without people respecting the act, or then it’s not really worth marinating. It’s not worth really analyzing at all.
What I find really interesting about your career path is now you mentioned Paramore, and Iris and I just want to scratch some of the the other questions, perhaps is Paramore for those listeners who have not seen it before is that it’s also in completely brand new first ever Cirque circus and Broadway collaboration. And I can’t wait to hear your involvement. Also sort of non involvement, just your takeaways from Paramore, and perhaps IRAs as well. You’re yet another doing it for the very first time. Like it’s never been done before. That should be the name of this podcast. This episode.
Shana Carroll 37:02
Wow. I mean, there’s a lot to say about those.
We’ll start with Paramore. Maybe.
Yeah. So Paramore, I mean, I have a lot of fun on Paramore. And I really enjoyed, you know, the the acts I created, I really you know, it’s kind of put all my energy into sort of just creating the decks. It was what was funny with Paramore was that we had, you know, sort of shirk was involved. They had their Broadway division, which is all you know, Broadway people. And then the creative team other than myself, which we were the same creative team from Iris, they were all from the cafe’s world from the French, choreographer, French, and though they had done iris, and some of them had many of the costume designer than others tip shows, you know, most of them were had done, had done because they had done this French, this French dance company. So they had a little bit of experience with Sears, but no experience with Broadway. And it did bring an incredible amount of creativity. And I say, and I would just use the example, like I was saying about, you know, me with the skating, I mean, I think the fact they could say and then didn’t know, Broadway, you know, did sometimes break the mold and take it in directions that a normal Broadway director wouldn’t take it in, there was a level of creativity, that I think, you know, in the box thinking wouldn’t have taken taken it there. However, he also didn’t necessarily know what it took to, you know, make a play and, and tell a story. And so I think that was the biggest sort of issue as we move forward in rehearsals was balancing, how much we’re doing something for creativity sake, and the idea and the choreography and the individual moment, or how much you were going to sacrifice that to try to tell the story. And what was funny too, is it like I should have mentioned, the story wasn’t that strong the story that people cared about telling. So that’s what was hard to just sort of say, Okay, we’re going to, you know, we’re going to not do this beautiful choreography here, so that we can focus on our characters when there wasn’t so much. So much meat there in the story at that moment, it was just hard to navigate through in terms of those things. Because of course, if we didn’t, you know, if we didn’t treat it just like a play, then we sacrifice everything and kind of made that show unique and beautiful in terms of its, well, the acrobatics, but also you know, all this sort of abstract imagery and you know, things that makes you look strong and make takeaways work strong. But that took away from the story. So it was really like, like pulling the blanket on one side and the other side, in the bed. So that was my experience with her more and I was sort of I do think to a certain extent, we created something amazing with it. I also think we created something flawed. And actually going back to the to the reviews, like one of the things that bothered me was that I believe we deserved a review that said, okay, here are the flaws, but here are the really amazing things that you won’t see on any other Broadway stage. And unfortunately, people were too cynical to give us that. I mean, that was sort of where I felt like that was we were shortchanged because it was heroic and because it was, you know, so big budget and all of that, that they didn’t see the actual, you know, the work that went into it and, and maybe this comes from the fact that circus we don’t have our own critics, you know, we don’t have people who are connoisseurs who, who, you know, like an opera critic the way they would critique critique club, right? It’s not someone who’s walking into an opera and not ever having heard opera before. I mean, sometimes I feel that circus that there, you know, we have a theater critic or a dance critic, and they really don’t know how to read it.
Fei Wu 40:23
I’m so glad to be able to hear that from you. I know that because I feel like I have so many friends in the show. For me, the the experience as a viewer is different. Not only that, there are many reasons why I went back because I think it was incredibly enjoyable. And just the color the singing, and to me, one thing is to be honest, I’m not crazy about Broadway myself. And maybe it’s just my own interpretation, comprehension. And and also, maybe it’s not something I am very familiar with. Because I grew up I was raised and I grew up in China and Beijing and Broadway is is brand new and completely super Americanized the concept. And for me, I feel like really circus act, whether it’s Cirque du Solei, or southern fingers, you guys can bring so much more liveliness, and just so much life out of that act that I feel oftentimes are. You know, to me, it was single dimensional. There’s so many more dimensions. It’s like looking into a kaleidoscope. I even brought multiple clients back. So I brought my mom one time we went by ourselves, I brought more clients to see it, everybody loved it. I don’t even I never read any of those reviews. I did hear some of those from, you know, Africans, I just found completely unfair to have such expectations.
Shana Carroll 41:46
And I think a bit of that is I don’t think they were very happy when we were there. And you know, when I talked about curious, I was curious for skate I mean the purists for Broadway. I mean, it is like, it’s sacrilege to not you know, to not respect the form and, and Broadway people, I mean, they, they take it very, very seriously. And so there again, it was one of the situations they okay, it’s just because it’s what’s best for the moment, or is this just because this is what you always do on Broadway, and then we need in your being a purist. So there again, it was hard to know when we could like break the mold. And when we’d have to like, Okay, now we have to respect it. So I think it was Yeah, I think it was hard. But it’s true, though, like not just critics. I mean, Broadway theater goers had similar reactions where they had a hard time watching it because they felt like it was taking away from the story. And there was a certain experience they were they were supposed to have.
Fei Wu 42:33
I mean, it brings so many different thoughts to my mind and really learnings through this podcast and talking to many people who are creators themselves. How do we analyze or understand how good we are? And Bear Alexander, one of the gentleman also based in New York actually is a musician and runs a music competition said, one of the things he constantly reiterate in front of his students are, you can’t just believe that you’re only as good as other people say you are. And I find that to be so true. In the work that you do. First of all, those reviewers for Broadway shows are probably 100 years old. And you know, I can imagine them, you know, with their cigars and their $10,000 suit, and maybe I’m wrong completely. But, you know, there’s a certain crowd that’s attracted to that. And yet, I know that Cirque du Soleil is trying to reinvent itself. And the end of the day, I most of my friends have only seen one show ever, and they do remember very fondly. But what they don’t know is they’re only there’s so many acts, and then you know the Russian credo, you can name them, probably I don’t know how many exactly, but there’s a set amount of things and human beings are able to do so. You know, I’m just very thrilled to have this conversation with you. Because you’re, you’re really challenging the status quo. You’re trying new things and not be afraid of these potential hesitations of these possible negative reviews. It’s really profound. You know, a lot of the folks listening to the show are career changers.
Shana Carroll 44:19
I don’t think anybody could go from computer programmer to Cirque du Soleil artists.
Fei Wu 44:24
I also noticed more and more people interested in circus art are listening to this because we have invited so many people to join us on face world. What is your guess? Word of advice to young performers who are probably attending school right now or learning this on the side to pursue a career like what are some of the things that they should know but often not talked about in school or even just among the crowds that they’re in?
Shana Carroll 44:49
Number one, which I always say is, you know, to not be an asshole, and it’s just I think that the thing that gets really it’s really understated is how much being a nice person is It’s true, like across the board and other in other lines of work, but I mean, I am very loyal with my artists like I like if I like working with someone, I will continue to hire them and continue to like working with them. And for me, there’s nothing more valuable than having a little gem of a person on a team and someone that, you know, first of all, for the work too, in terms of sci fi, and all sorts of things, having someone who’s a team player, and you know, willing to jump in front of, to catch someone in the air, all of that, I mean, it does take a certain mentality, but also just, you know, being being nice to work with. And so I mean, I really think that I’ve, there’s a few people that I just find, you know, I’m burned on that I had bad experiences working with and won’t hire them again, no matter how talented they are. So that’s like, my main piece of advice is really, I mean, be a nice person, for me kind of goes both ways in terms of not only can you not listen to the the white noise and I get a criticism, but you also don’t can’t believe your own hype too much. And just I always kind of told myself stay in the middle, like I kind of almost visualize it, just stay kind of in the middle, stay grounded, because you can kind of get pulled in either direction, and then you you take your eye off the ball. And if I just I know for myself, if I just focus on the work, and I love the work, I will always love the work. I love being creative. If I look at it. That’s the other thing is I feel like creativity is I think Jhansi said that it’s indistinguishable from play. So if I know if I’m if I’m playing, then I feel like I’ll be doing good work. And so if I start getting into if I if I, if I let my brain go into who’s liking it, who’s not liking it, then I take my
Fei Wu 46:39
I think again, like you said, so many of what you talked about apply across so many different disciplines industries. It’s absolutely true. And that’s my number one thing is, don’t be an asshole be a nice person, be kind because that really that’s what at the end of the day is what matters and what people will remember about you. There’s so much so much more I feel like we could talk about I you know, Shane, I would love to love love to stay in touch with you and I’m absolutely eager and supportive of your endeavors and sorry, Shana. Have a great rest of your day.
Shana Carroll 47:18
Fei Wu 47:29
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Transcribed by https://otter.ai