I was never planning on going to Japan with Soleil. But then, I got a phone call.
Thom, can you make it to the Tokyo premiere?
Maybe. When is it?
In about 48 hours.
I’m a backup for the Scientist act in the Cirque du Soleil show Totem. That means that I know the act, and that when the main juggler in the show gets called out for medical- or other reasons, I’m the first guy they call to fill in. Something had come up, and they wanted me to fill in last-minute.
The Tokyo premiere is one of the biggest events in the life of any Cirque du Soleil show. Japan is the longest, most intense leg of any tour plan – ten-show weeks for 18 months straight, in a 3,200 seat circus tent. Tokyo is the longest city of any tour plan, too – a six month stay in the only city in the world that can sustain such a long run. They wanted me to fly in and get on stage after over a year off.
Okay, I said, Let’s do it.
I flew to Taipei from Vermont to get my work visa processed, then caught a flight to Tokyo the next morning. I walked to the tent, and went straight into a staging to reacquaint myself with the cone. Muscle memory is an incredible thing – though I hadn’t touched the apparatus or the props since I’d left the show in New Zealand, the hundreds of shows and runthroughs I’d done in 2014 were still apparently percolating in my body, and the number came back in just a few minutes.
Okay. You’re in the show tonight, the Artistic Director said.
Okay. I’m taking a nap, I replied.
The show was the most stressful experience I’ve had in recent memory. Not only had it been a long time since I’d touched the material I was to present, all of the heads from Fuji (the presenter of the entire run in Japan,) as well as the heads from Soleil were in the audience… including Soleil’s founder and CEO, Guy LaLiberte. Easy to get in your head when you know you’re being watched.
The show itself was like sleepwalking – tired from the jetlag, processing what was going on intellectually (wait, handbalancing is on… what does that mean for my cue? Oh yeah!), and letting my body take over at certain parts (That cue in the music… That means it’s time to do something… woah, my body already did it!) The juggling number required immense concentration. It all went off without a hitch, though, and when I walked backstage after presenting the act, I was greeted by a round of applause from all of my fellow artists. One technician later told me You know, when they said they’d called you to have you come fill in, we couldn’t believe it. And yet, here you are! That’s the fastest integration that has ever happened in the history of the company. No exaggeration.
..no idea how much truth there is to that claim, but it sure feels nice to rise up to a big challenge.
When Guy came up to me after the show, he said Nice juggling. I don’t recognize you. How long have you been with the company? I replied About twelve hours, sir. He didn’t know what to make of that.