Want a job at the Circus?

“I’m the guinea pig,” senior Faith Gager responded when asked about landing her coveted internship for Cirque du Soleil taking place next semester. The senior theatre arts production major is the first Bradley student to land a 12-week paid internship for Cirque’s largest production in Las Vegas. But spend a few minutes talking to her, and you get the sense that she’s been preparing for this her whole life. 

The theatre has been a first love for Gager for as long as she can remember. She grew up performing in musicals, but when she entered high school, her flair for the drama onstage dwindled as she became more interested in what happens behind the scenes.

“I figured out pretty quickly that I was more excited about the costumes and the scenery than I ever was about going on stage and trying to be the lead,” she said.

Gager immersed herself in all the backstage trades — carpentry, scenic design, lighting, sound design and costume design — and became the de facto stage manager. So when she was looking at theatre programs at different colleges, what attracted her to Bradley were the opportunities to travel and experience new things.

“The one thing that I truly loved about Bradley's theatre department is that you could try anything. You could do whatever you want.” 

Last spring, she and 14 of her classmates (five theatre production majors, five mechanical engineering majors, and five interactive media majors) traveled to Las Vegas for a one-week excursion course to study with Cirque du Soleil. Chad Lowell, associate professor of theatre arts, forged the collaboration with Cirque du Soleil in 2012, and has since done four trips.

According to Lowell, Bradley is the only undergraduate university that partners with Cirque du Soleil. He said while Gager may be the first Bradley student to intern with Cirque, the goal was to keep sending students who would eventually become employees as the partnership grows.    

Students had unprecedented access to the performers and stage crew. Not only did they attend all of Cirque’s Vegas productions, each student shadowed a crew member backstage during one of the performances. 

“They made it very special and specific to each individual student,” Gager explained. 

Learning the Trades

There were also two work days where students were paired by specialty. In Gager’s case, she and senior theatre arts major Claire Hicks worked in the costume shop learning techniques and materials specifically for Cirque performers. With so much movement and action, the costumes need to perform and fit perfectly. If they don’t, it can impact the performance and potentially cause an injury. Costume design for Cirque is as much about safety as it is about storytelling and beauty.

Gager said, “We learned different painting techniques for fabric and we were able to test out the sewing machines they use for the shoes, which is insanely fun since they’re the craziest sewing machines we've ever seen!” The best part of the experience for her was just talking with the Cirque staff and asking questions.  

“It was really great to have those connections,” she added. “I felt like half my trip was spent talking to people about their life and how they got there. They were so interesting, and they wanted us to be there, and that made me so happy.”

In fact, Gager’s future supervisor encouraged her to apply for her upcoming wardrobe technician internship. 

“She was always going out of her way to explain things to me, and she was really encouraging, so I’m thrilled that I’ll be working with her.” 

For six weeks, Gager will work the night shift during performances, and the other six weeks she’ll be on the day shift repairing costumes and prepping for the show. She is both nervous and excited about the possibilities.  

But, before she goes back to Las Vegas, she’s going to London for J-term to study abroad. She stressed the importance of taking advantage of these opportunities at Bradley.

“The other college theatre programs I considered didn’t offer these experiences. Going to Cirque du Soleil last semester completely changed my life for the better.”

Emily Potts