I Ran Away With Cirque Du Soleil When I Was 16 (2023)

Photo: via @emily_mccarthy95.

Every day Emily McCarthy wakes up at the same time. She might be in a new room in a new city, but it’s important she keeps to her regime. Next to her bed she has two family pictures, which she takes everywhere she goes, along with the two 23 kilo suitcases she’s allowed on tour. Shortly after, she heads to work, wherever that may be. A different theatre, a different country, a different audience – the only consistency in the life of a travelling acrobat is the people in whose hands you put your life and the routine you perform every day of the week, for 10 weeks at a time. Relentless working conditions aside, it’s a dream come true for the 21-year-old from Leeds who wanted to join the circus for as long as she can remember. “For me, it was always my dream and to achieve that at such a young age was phenomenal.” Emily, an aerial flyer in the Varekai Slippery Surface act, has been travelling with the show since she joined Cirque du Soleil at the age of 16. She was one of the last minors to be taken on by the company – their policy towards hiring young performers changed shortly after. She’s spent the four and a half years since she left high school on the road. Each week, the production travels to a new city. To date she’s performed in 130 cities, in 23 countries.

(Video) Crystal Trailer

Not really sure how we manage to do cannonball when I'm so god damn lanky!!! ??? @frozen89 is a beast!!! #acrobatics #cirquedusoleil #varekai #training #lanky #flyer #handtohand #flexible

A video posted by Emily McCarthy (@emily_mccarthy95) on

(Video) 16x9 | Getting into Cirque Du Soleil [Audition Documentary]

The Slippery Surface act requires Emily, her partner and 10 other acrobats to slide, throw and catch each other as they move around a specially designed floor – so they look like they’re skating in between hurtling through the air. She also does a lot of contortion. To stay in shape for this, a structured and thorough workout routine is everything. “I always start with cardio, so I go on the cross trainer or the bike” says Emily of her daily training. “We have gym equipment that travels with us on tour. Then I’ll do some stretching on my own. I do a lot of contortion in the show so it's really important for me to stretch every day. If you go a few days without stretching it will make it difficult the next time you do it. Then I do a light workout in the middle of the day, just some abs and arm conditioning – stuff to strengthen my shoulders because I do a lot of handstands. Then I train with my partner.”Varekai is just one of 20 performances that Cirque du Soleil has put on around the world in the last year and, despite a stormy period of controversy, the company has come a long way from its beginnings. Founded by Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix in 1984, the world’s largest performing arts company was at first just a small group of street artists performing in Canada. Now, they have close to 4,000 employees worldwide, including 1,300 artists. More than 160 million people have seen a Cirque du Soleil show since 1984 and, in 2015 alone, audience figures were just short of 15 million.Life for Cirque performers is mentally and physically extremely challenging, and accidents have tainted the theatre group's reputation. The most notorious took place on the night of the company's comeback in Las Vegas in 2013: a sell-out premiere of their Michael Jackson show One. A short distance up the road, French acrobat Sarah Guyard-Guillot was performing in at the MGM Grand when she fell and, tragically, died.

(Video) Why I ran away to join the circus | Terry Crane | Acrobatic Conundrum | TEDxRainier

Despite Cirque du Soleil’s famously rigorous safety measures, incidents like this continue to occur – towards the end of last year, the son of one of the group's founders died in an on-set accident in San Francisco, just days after an Australian performer fell and broke her vertebrae during a performance in Brisbane.But these accidents are the exception not the rule, and Emily is candid about the dangers her occupation poses. "The job that we do is extremely difficult" she says. "Sometimes we forget just how dangerous what we do is. And sometimes that’s dangerous. You can never forget about that."In a 2009 study by The American Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers examined five years of data for Cirque du Soleil and found that the company's injury rates were lower than those of college gymnasts. Considering the monumental scale of their productions, that’s quite remarkable. The more likely danger when you’re an acrobat is the chance of sustaining an injury due to such routine mishaps as not stretching enough. Hence the unforgiving exercise regime. "I actually do a lot of injury prevention" explains Emily. "For example, I use my shoulders so I work out a lot before and after. And we have a physio team that travel with us. I haven’t had any injuries and that’s because of the injury prevention program that Cirque have in place.""Everyone makes mistakes" she continues. "If you’re tired one day, or you trained a lot in the show it’s very easy to make mistakes. But you just have to be alert. It's quite easy to mess up the choreography, there’s a lot of synchronised choreography in the show."The level of organisation required in a production like Varekai is phenomenal. The entire cast must pull their weight, to the extent that everyone has lessons in how to do their own makeup. For some of the performers of Varekai, this can take up to an hour and a half every day.


Cirque is likely one of the most diverse workplaces in the world; Emily has been working with her partner, a Russian man named Sasha, for three years. Like most relationships, working that closely with someone day in, day out can be hard. "We don’t always get along," concedes Emily, "We’re from two completely different cultures. And working with someone so closely all the time. But I mean everyone here, Varekai is a family. You work so closely with these people all the time that it's normal to bicker."A constant professional, Emily doesn’t let emotions like this affect her performance. "If you have an argument in training, you don’t take that on stage. No matter if you’re sad or angry, no matter what my mood is, if I’m negative I’ll never take that on stage with me."

(Video) Cirque du Soleil - Running away with the Circus

Emily has that acute breed of determination and resilience rarely found in anyone other than athletes and people who use their bodies for a living. And the fact that she’s only ever wanted to join the circus has allowed her to channel her focus into her one passion. But what do you do for fun when your hobby is your job? "It’s a weird question for me," she reflects, "Because gymnastics has always been my hobby. But in my spare time when I’m not working, I’ll go explore the city. But apart from that I’m interested in drawing, I like singing – I’m not very good at them but I try. And binge-watching TV shows is up there. I love Game of Thrones."Her laser focus meant that, at school, it was hard for her friends to relate to what she was doing. "It was weird when I was in high school" she offers. "A sport like acrobatics requires so much training. My mum would pick me up and I’d train for four hours. And it was really hard for my friends to understand why I couldn’t hang out after school, why I couldn’t attend parties."It was on her last day of high school that Emily found out she’d been offered a place with Cirque. "I told them [her family] all along that I was going to join Cirque but I never knew when it was going to be. So when I got the letter when I was 16 they were like, ‘No you’re too young.’ And I was like, ‘Look, an opportunity like this doesn’t just come along. I may never get this chance ever again.' So of course they were upset – I’m the only girl – but they were very supportive."Emily’s controlled regime and the challenges of life on the road may not match up to the romantic notion of running away with the circus but, for a young acrobat who never wanted to do anything else, it’s a dream come true.



How hard is it to get into Cirque du Soleil? ›

The audition process is rigorous, as is the training period and rehearsals that go into every show. Audience expectations are high, so the workload that goes into creating a show that lives up to the Cirque du Soleil name night after night is also high.

How much do Cirque du Soleil performers get paid? ›

Most performers make between $30,000 and $100,000 per year. Other Cirque employees are paid per show or hourly – it all depends on the job. Employees are offered shared accommodations at the Cirque Studios or traveling accommodations while on tour.

What age is Cirque du Soleil appropriate for? ›

Five years old is the minimum age requirement for admittance to see the show at the LOVE Theater in the Mirage Hotel. What age is appropriate for Cirque du Soleil? Most Cirque du Soleil productions are suitable for children five years old or older.

How long does a Cirque du Soleil show last? ›

Approximate show running time is 2 hours 10 minutes, including a 25 minute interval.

How do you train like a Cirque performer? ›

HOW TO Work Out & Train Like a Cirque du Soleil Performer - YouTube

How long do Cirque du Soleil performers train? ›

On top of that, we offer our artists the following benefits: Generally, our artists are offered one- or two-year contracts at a very competitive salary. Artists can usually expect to train an average of 12 hours a week.

Who is the youngest Cirque du Soleil performer? ›

The only child of renowned rope-climbing Russian contortionists Nikolai Tchelnokov, 32, and Galina Karableva, 34, Anton made his artistic debut with the Moscow Circus at the ripe old age of 3 and the 7-year-old is now touring North America as the youngest performer with Cirque du Soleil, which opened a five-week Orange ...

What language do they speak in Cirque du Soleil? ›

In Alegria you will hear a mix of Spanish, Italian, English, French but most of the time you'll hear "Cirquish" - a made-up language by Cirque du Soleil! Words don't necessarily have to make sense to understand the emotion they are trying to convey. Sam Sar and 1,041 others like this.

Where do Cirque du Soleil performers live? ›

Where do you live when Cirque du Soleil moves from country to country? We live in good conditions. Sometimes it's inside the cities, other times it's outside of the cities, but we live in good hotels and apartments. Cirque tries to arrange the best stay for us.

Is Cirque du Soleil inappropriate? ›

Older kids can certainly go, not understand the storyline, and still enjoy the show. There's plenty of amazing and jaw-dropping stunts in every Cirque show. On the contrary, I think kids under the age of ten might have a harder time following the storyline.

Can you take pics at Cirque du Soleil? ›

Cirque du Soleil does not make video recordings or take photographs of our shows.

Is Mystere or O better? ›

O is our favorite cirque show, has the most "wow" moments, but I would only suggest O over Mystere if you pay for the better seats, the O theater is the only cirque show that I firmly believe seating matters. Mystere is the best value cirque show, and also has awesome acrobatics.

What do you wear to Cirque du Soleil? ›

Casual attire is appropriate for all Cirque shows. over a year ago. You are in Vegas and the attire varies from very casual to very, very dressy. Both are appropriate for this show.

Can I bring a baby to Cirque du Soleil? ›

Children under the age of two years old are admitted to Cirque du Soleil shows for free, however they must remain seated on the lap of a parent at all times. Tickets must be purchased (at children's prices) for all children above the age of two, whether they sit on their parent's lap or not.

Is KÀ appropriate for kids? ›

KA is appropriate for youngsters ages 5 and above.

How do I train for acrobatics? ›


How do you become an acrobat Cirque du Soleil? ›

Requirements and qualifications:
  1. Minimum ten years' experience in acrobatic gymnastics;
  2. Participation in national and/or international competitions;
  3. Very good physical fitness;
  4. Good static and dynamic acrobatic vocabulary;
  5. Great quality of movement;
  6. Precision in execution;
  7. Ability to work as part of a team;

What is the most expensive Cirque du Soleil show? ›

The Cirque du Soleil show called opened in 2005 at the MGM Grand, in Las Vegas, as the most expensive theatrical production in history.

How deep is the Cirque du Soleil pool? ›

The pool of "O" is 25 feet deep and holds 1.5 million gallons of water. Take home the official documentary of "O" by Cirque du Soleil, titled "Flow". It is available for purchase at any Cirque du Soleil store.

Which Cirque du Soleil show is the best? ›

Mystere has a reputation for being the best among the top Cirque shows. This Cirque du Soleil performance takes you into the depths of the imagination. It fills your world with vibrant colors, jaw-dropping acrobatics, and not-so-usual interpretations of circus acts.

What is the story behind Allegria? ›

ALEGRIA shares its timeless story once more. The classic power struggle of old meets new is reinterpreted for today's cultural pulse. Led by an intangible wind of change, an emerging movement strives to shake the established order, instilling hope and renewal to bring light to a world in perfect harmony.

What was the first Cirque du Soleil show? ›

The company's first production Le Grand Tour performed in Quebec for 13 weeks in summer 1984.

Does Cirque du Soleil use animals? ›

They Never Use Animals

Cirque du Soleil has never used animals in its shows, preferring to let their performers' talents shine. "We do not agree with the way they are trained and I'm not sure the place of an elephant or a tiger is to stand in a cage half of its life and perform all around the world.

What does O mean in Cirque du Soleil? ›

Cirque du Soleil has taken the Vegas strip by storm. The show is titled “O,” as a wordplay on the french word for water, “eau.” It features Cirque du Soleil's world renown acrobatics, dancing, and gymnastics, but with water.

Which Cirque du Soleil show has water? ›

O is a water-themed stage production by Cirque du Soleil, a Canadian circus and entertainment company. The show has been in permanent residence at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States, since October 1998.

What language is spoken in Mystere? ›

Cirquespeak is not new. It is a language actually used in other Cirque shows (by the baby character in “Mystere” and by the creatures in the wings at “Ka”), but not to the degree it is employed in “Zarkana.” Cirque's first rock opera, “Zarkana” supplants “Viva Elvis,” which closed in August.

How much do Cirque du Soleil clowns make? ›

While top performers at Cirque du Soleil can earn as much as $200,000, a typical clown may be pulling in as little as $15 an hour at children's parties.

Is Cirque du Soleil expensive? ›

Yes it was expensive (at least $80 per ticket) for a circus show…but what a circus show! If you are in Las Vegas take some time to see one of the many Cirque du Soleil shows it is well worth your time and money. You can save some money by finding budget hotels in Las Vegas.

How much do Cirque du Soleil performers make in Vegas? ›

Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group in Las Vegas, NV Area Salaries
Job TitleLocationSalary
Performer salaries - 1 salaries reportedLas Vegas, NV Area$58,673/yr
Applications Support Specialist salaries - 1 salaries reportedLas Vegas, NV Area$64,756/yr
18 more rows

What are the three most famous Cirque du Soleil shows? ›

The Best Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil Shows
  • Mystère at Treasure Island. Click here for tickets. ...
  • “O” by Cirque du Soleil at Bellagio. Click here for tickets. ...
  • Michael Jackson One at Mandalay Bay. Click here for tickets.

Which Cirque du Soleil show is adults only? ›

Cirque du Soleil - Zumanity - Definitely an Adults Only Show.

Where should I sit at Cirque du Soleil O? ›

I would suggest you pick any of the back 5 rows of Orchestra section 103 or the first 4 rows of Upper Orchestra section 203. The best seat numbers are between about 8 and 13 to be right in the centre of these sections. If I was to recommend the best seats in the house, they would be section 203, row Q seats 9 to 12.

What nationality is Cirque du Soleil? ›

Established in Montreal, the Canadian organization has brought wonder and delight to over 180 million spectators with productions presented in 450 cities in 60 countries. Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group currently employs 4,000 people, including 1,300 artists, who originate from nearly 50 countries.

How do you pronounce Cirque du Soleil? ›

How to Pronounce Cirque du Soleil? | French & English Pronunciation

Can you sell Cirque du Soleil tickets? ›

You can use Tixel to sell a Cirque du Soleil ticket or any other kind of ticket! Music, festivals, theatre, concerts, parties, exhibitions, sporting events, conferences, etc. Resell tickets from all major issuers including Cirque du Soleil, Ticketmaster, Ticketek, Eventbrite and many more. What Is Tixel?

What is the most popular Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas? ›

Mystere is Cirque du Soleil Las Vegas longest running show (and one of the best shows in Las Vegas), first performed on 25 December 1993. It's been voted Best Production Show by the Las Vegas Review Journal over 8 times so it's got age and quality behind it.

Which magic show in Vegas is best? ›

  • Magic and Sin City go together like rabbits and hats. ...
  • David Copperfield. ...
  • Criss Angel Mindfreak. ...
  • SHIN LIM. ...
  • Penn and Teller. ...
  • Mat Franco - Magic Reinvented Nightly. ...
  • Piff the Magic Dragon. ...
  • Nathan Burton Comedy Magic.

What is the storyline of Mystere? ›

Cirque du Soleil's Mystere is an astounding theatrical production featuring a story of two babies who discover a whole new world crammed with unique creatures and brilliant colors, bumping into a clown, acrobats, dancers and musicians on their way.

Can you wear jeans to a show in Vegas? ›

Jeans, slacks, blouses, skirts, dresses, button down shirts, jackets and of course suits are all satisfactory. Don't even think about wearing flip flops. Needless to say, these are just guidelines as most casinos do not have a dress code.

Should I dress up for Cirque du Soleil? ›

Re: Cirque du Soleil--dress up? It's no different than going to a movie. Wear whatever you are comfortable in, within reason.

Is the Cirque du Soleil tent heated? ›

It has several HVAC (heating and air conditioning) units which keep the tent at the optimum temperature for performers and the audience. To bring the Cirque du Soleil fantasy to life takes dozens of people.

Is it cold at Cirque du Soleil? ›

Dress Warmly For Crystal by Cirque du Soleil

As with any show on ice, expect the arena for Crystal to be colder than normal. You'll want to be prepared for the cooler indoor temperature and those pre-show snowball fights.

Is Mystere or O better for kids? ›

Cirque du Soleil is kid-friendly, but many of their shows would be better appreciated by older children, adolescents, and adults. Mystere is a good family-friendly show, as is “O” and Michael Jackson One.

Is O Cirque good for kids? ›

Most Cirque shows are fun for the entire family, but we've hand-picked 10 that are especially popular with kids: Luzia, Paramour, Toruk, Kurios, La Nouba, OVO, Kà, “O”, The Beatles LOVE, and Michael Jackson ONE.

Does it matter where you sit for Cirque du Soleil? ›

Categories 1 and 2 (Upper & Lower Orchestra) are the best seats in the theater as they offer a direct view of the stage. However, if you're willing to sit at a distance from the stage, the Balcony is also great for watching the show. To get the best unobstructed view, it's best not to go too low or too high.

Do seats matter at Cirque du Soleil? ›

Every part of the stage has something going on continually. all seats are pretty good. Of course the seats close to the stage are best, but it doesn't matter what section you choose.

Where is the best place to sit for a Cirque du Soleil show? ›

I would suggest you pick any of the back 5 rows of Orchestra section 103 or the first 4 rows of Upper Orchestra section 203. The best seat numbers are between about 8 and 13 to be right in the centre of these sections. If I was to recommend the best seats in the house, they would be section 203, row Q seats 9 to 12.

What are the best seats for Cirque du Soleil KÀ? ›

The first section (Sections 101-103) has the best views of the stage, as these are right in front of the stage. While the Ka Theatre is designed in such a way that there is no bad seat in the house, the first few rows of this section have the best views.

Is Mystere or O better? ›

O is our favorite cirque show, has the most "wow" moments, but I would only suggest O over Mystere if you pay for the better seats, the O theater is the only cirque show that I firmly believe seating matters. Mystere is the best value cirque show, and also has awesome acrobatics.

Do you get wet at O Cirque du Soleil? ›

Wet Seats at “O”

Since O is a water show, there are “wet seats”. This is not like Sea World, though. You aren't going to walk out of the theater completely soaked, but you could get splashed. The wet seats are the first three rows of all 5 lower orchestra sections – 101, 102, 103, 104, and 105.

What are the best seats for Drawn to Life? ›

There really aren't any bad seats in the theater, but we recommend sitting in the 200 sections so you can see everything happening on stage, in the aisles, and high above you in the air.

Which Cirque show is best? ›

Mystere has a reputation for being the best among the top Cirque shows. This Cirque du Soleil performance takes you into the depths of the imagination. It fills your world with vibrant colors, jaw-dropping acrobatics, and not-so-usual interpretations of circus acts.

How long is O show? ›

90 minutes without an intermission.

Can you drink at Cirque du Soleil? ›

For alcoholic options, Cirque du Soleil offers several hard seltzers, cocktails wine, champagne and beer. They partner with several wineries to pour a selection of wines. Cocktail options include vodka cocktails, vodka cocktail doubles and Moscow mule.


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