Want to work for Cirque du Soleil? Part 2

Tuba player Justin Lerma told us in the first part of his interview how to get a job in the circus world, and what the rehearsal process is like. Here he takes a look back and shares with us the pluses and minuses of the gig, and what made him stop.

What didn't you know about the job before you joined in?
I didn't know it was gonna be so much work. I was so young when I started this and I didn't expect the long hours. I felt like I was the weak link because I was so young. It forced me to be better than I was. It forced me to have to work very hard. The environment is bad at times. A lot is expected from you as a musician, and it's even worse for actors and performers. They were times when it was so much. I remember we were contracted to do 2 shows a night, 3 shows on Friday and Saturday. We worked every day, there was no day off. They added a fourth show, not in our contract, and some people wanted money for it. They brought their contract in, and I remember the head guy saying: "this is so unprofessional." The older guys fought back, but things were not good.

"We worked every day, 
there was no day off"

In fact, after I went back to Texas where I'm from, I was short on money so I decided to go back to a Sea World job, and they were not offering contracts to anybody. They wanted to pay people hourly, and the schedule would adjust accordingly to what they needed. So if July 4th (huge day for the park) came, our day started later and they would just adjust the times to fit what they needed, and we'd be there until the day was done. So if they had a show at 10, one at noon, and then one at 8, you would have to stay in the park in between shows, but they wouldn't pay you.

If you were contracted, they gave you apartments, but at this point, they got local people only. The level went down. They did what they needed to do. It's weird because people know that that happened. That particular show started off really good in 2005, it won 2nd place in this amusement park contest. It went on until 2008 and then they started to notice that musicians were rebelling and they got rid of them.

"You have a lot of free time 
to work on your instrument"

Actually, if you talk about theme parks, they're all getting rid of their musicians. Disney World got rid of a lot of musicians. The funny thing is that two of their tuba players were Mike Roylance who is now principal for Boston, and Chris Olka who is the principal in Seattle.

What are the pluses and minuses of working for Cirque du Soleil as a musician?
Obviously money is good. For two months of work, I made $6,000, and I was the lowest paid guy at that point. The performers are making a substantial amount of money. The shows that are in Vegas are paid quite well. People do this for years and years, and they go from show to show. Minuses: being on the road, you're tired, you're worn out, you're with the same people every day, you see them every day. It's a difficult lifestyle. It gives you an opportunity to kind of experiment on your own. Yes you have to do a job, but once the ball gets rolling and you're doing your job, not a lot of rehearsal time is needed, but you have a lot of free time to work on your instrument and own your skills.

"It's very much a man's world"

Who would benefit most from working for them?
I had a great time and I learned a ton, doing this was the point where I made the decision to become some kind of freakish tuba player, but it's just like a Broadway show. You play the same stuff over and over and over again, and you're able to inject a little bit of yourself, but there's something that they want. At the end of the day, it needs to be what they want, even if you get to add some stuff in. I can't imagine younger musicians being happy with doing that. I don't think anybody that's in college should do this. I was an idiot. The musicians were all older, at least 30 or so. There were some female vocalists and a few violin players, but it is very much a man's world.

"Circus shows can be harmful
to your playing" 

What made you stop?
It was time to get real. I never had aspiration to be an amusement park, circus, touring musician. Shows, circus shows like Blast, I feel can be harmful to your playing. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in an orchestra, or in a premiere band job. If you are constantly playing pop tunes, and you're not putting in the time on excerpts, wind ensemble, orchestra, you're gonna lose that kind of playing, and I was loosing it. I was always having to come back and start over from the beginning, change my sound, do this and do that. If I had kept on doing that, I wouldn't have been able to make it to the finals of auditions like I did. The tuba instructor at the Navy School of Music used to study with Mike Roylance and he said: you know, it wasn't until those jobs were taken away from them that they were able to make it to the other jobs. It's detrimental. So I knew it was time to go.

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