I applied to ECQ again with a version of this act, and a few months later, got my next rejection in the mail… And you know what? It wasn’t quite as hard the second time. Was it discouraging? Absolutely. Learning more about their acceptance policies – that they found I was a solid juggler, but lacked the dance background they desired (not to mention that I was 25 years old… a dinosaur in their eyes) – softened the blow and encouraged me to keep training hard.
Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I started performing at a themepark. After that, I got a call to join a USO tour in South Korea. The adage that “work begets work” turned out to be true, and I started securing more contracts and working all over after that.
The next year, I was the opening act for ECQ’s juggling festival’s gala show. A few years later, I closed the same festival’s welcome show with a different routine.
Could I have learned a ton in their program? Absolutely. Can you get the same foundations by training on your own? Absolutely.
If I hadn’t applied to ECQ for the first time, I might have just given up on a career in circus entirely. That first rejection helped shape my belief that you should always let the other guy say “no” to you – that you should apply for jobs, festivals, and opportunities even if you don’t think you have a great shot – that you should let the folks in control deny your application, rather than letting your pessimism or humility deny you the opportunity before your work gets seen. Taking rejection in stride builds character (or, at least, I hope it does!) and helps you look at the application process more critically: “Was my application really the best it could have been? What could I have done better? What should I have done differently? Was this just the right application at the wrong time?”
In the case of Canadian circus schools, they often have a quota – certain numbers of Quebequois and Canadians must be accepted in order for them to secure state funding. The other slots are open for applicants from the rest of the world. If they’ve already taken applicants from these areas in your discipline, you’re out of luck – regardless of your merits as a circus performer.
In the world of grant writing, similar unseen forces are often at play. Some institutions reject first-time applicants outright, as well. Those rejections shouldn’t be seen as the end of your attempts at securing funding or a residency or whatever you’re after – those letters of rejection can be interpreted as a kind of handshake. A way to know that they’ve read your proposal, and that you should just go ahead and give it another shot the next year – with an even stronger application that shows you’ve been doing the work without their help. Even the gate-keepers love a go-getter.
So, in a way, I’m grateful that I was denied the opportunity to enter the circus school in Quebec City.
The fire those rejections kindled has motivated me to continue working on my craft – work that’s allowed me to perform all over the world, both with my own productions as well as with companies like Cirque du Soleil. It brought me to Vermont, where I met my wife; given me a bootstraps attitude towards training; and has allowed me to build a life on my own terms.
If you’re looking to attend circus school – absolutely audition. Shake hands and meet peers with the same aspirations as you have… Just don’t be fooled into thinking their program is the only way to achieve the career you want. The only thing that matters is the hours you spend training, the feedback you seek out, and the drive you have to pursue mastery.
I’ll leave you with the latest video of my ball juggling act, performed at the Periplo International Circus Festival in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Does it show some kind of growth from that first audition attempt at ECQ? Here’s hoping.