Shana Carroll: Director of Crystal - the First Show on Ice from Cirque du Soleil

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Shana Carroll is a Founding Director at the 7 Fingers from Montreal, Quebec. She was a trapeze artist before becoming an acrobatic designer and choreographer at Cirque du Soleil.

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. 

Show Notes

  • [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?
     

Favorite Quotes

[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...