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It’s not every day that one has the opportunity to perform for scouters from the largest theatrical company in the world. Cirque du Soleil, the world-renowned entertainers from Canada, visited Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain, on April 12, 2016, to give students of the contemporary performance (production concentration) graduate program a taste of what it’s like to audition for one of their shows.
The day started with one-on-one meetings, led by Cirque du Soleil’s Séverine Parent and Charles St-Onge, in which students had the chance to discuss aspects of the organization and their operational and performance requirements. “My role is to discover and recruit talent from all over the world to fill our data bank of artists with potential singers able to replace an existing role or to be presented as part of a new creation,” says Parent.
This session was followed by a vocal workshop organized in two groups of seven and five students, respectively, where the concepts addressed included technique and common problems and mistakes made by vocalists. Cirque du Soleil conducts this type of session with their own vocalists as they believe there’s always room for improvement, no matter how experienced a performer might be.
“This was very useful as Séverine has tremendous experience from the classical singing world and has been a vocal coach for several years at Cirque,” says student Bharath Ranganathan. He and fellow student Veronica Largiu volunteered to take part in an hour-and-a-half mock-up audition, which took place in the afternoon and was open to the entire campus to attend. “The setup for the audition was thorough, just as a typical Cirque du Soleil audition takes place, with cameras for recording and microphones and a backing track played on headphones,” says Ranganathan. He remembers the experience being a “challenging and stimulating” one in which nerves had to be cooled down in a new, unusual setting.
As Cirque du Soleil requires candidates to audition with a set piece from one of their different shows, Ranganathan picked a song called “Quidam” from their eponymous show. This choice resulted in several challenges as “the audition pieces are particularly difficult because they require a high level of versatility in timbre and range.” In addition, a peculiarity of Cirque du Soleil’s shows is that words belong to a made-up language, something that can be tricky when trying to look for meaning or convey emotion through lyrics.
According to Parent, there are a few tips on what the scouting team looks for in performers, but the most important takeaway is to never try to impress. “We look for performers with a great level at their instrument and with a great personality so they can work in a team as well as understand that the show is the star, not its individual members.” She also praised the campus’s facilities and said she wished that every learning facility had “the same kind of environment, with all the tools to support the pedagogy.”
As Ranganathan reflected on the whole experience, he says it helped him understand different aspects of being a vocalist. “Cirque du Soleil is looking for exceptional talents, essentially, even if they need to be groomed for a certain show. Therefore, from a musician, a high calibre of musicianship and even virtuosity will be appreciated. For instrumentalists, it is a big advantage if one is skilled adequately in multiple instruments as it would prove more valuable to the show.”
Bringing professionals to the campus is a key aspect of complementing students’ learning. “Alumni love these real-life experiences they had while studying at Berklee, where they got a thorough insight on how the process works, what companies look for in an audition, and secret tips and tricks to be better prepared,” says Stine Glismand, manager of the International Career Center.
This is something Ranganathan agrees with. “The fact that the college puts in so much effort to bring professionals from different realms of the music industry makes it possible for students to be exposed to the various possibilities that will be out there upon their graduation,” he says. It also challenges the misconception that music majors are unemployable because it shows that there are plenty of avenues for very interesting work. “These sessions with industry professionals definitely help bridge the gap between feeling safe in the academic environment and facing the real world.”