RUNNING AWAY WITH CIRQUE DU SOLEIL – Geneviève Caron: a profile of a costumier

Geneviève is assistant to the head of wardrobe at Cirque du Soleil.

The circus has been in town for the past few weeks, bringing music, comedy, beauty, culture, and death-defying acrobatics.

Cirque Du Soleil’s latest offering, Totem, is a magnificently choreographed journey of evolution into mankind, and is another demonstration of the high quality production the company has offered since 1984.

Geneviève is assistant to the head of wardrobe at Cirque du Soleil.
Geneviève is assistant to the head of wardrobe at Cirque du Soleil.
As the production starts to wind down for us in Adelaide and head off to its next destination, we were left to wonder what it’s like to be on tour with such a fascinating organisation.

Geneviève Caron is Totem’s Assistant to the Head of Wardrobe and has been with Cirque du Soleil for many years.

She agreed to meet with The Upside News between her busy schedule to tell us what it’s like to travel with the world’s most famous circus.

Having had a love of theatre and production since she was a child, Geneviève didn’t quite end up where she thought she would, but now, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I wanted to be an actress, so I played in amateur theatre from when I was 14 until I was 21,” she says. “I was always making the costumes, and then one day, I kind of understood that I didn’t want to wait for the phone to ring for an acting job because I need a certain security and routine, but also a mix of non-routine.

“I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I was fascinated by hats! I wore a hat every day for ten years. I had a collection of about 700 hats. I took three years to travel and think about what I would like to do, and then I decided I wanted to be a hat maker. But I wanted to learn how to sew and be more versatile, so I studied fashion with a specialty in hats.”

Moving from her home in Quebec City to Montreal, where she worked in the hat industry, it didn’t take long before she had a call asking her to run away with the circus.

“I got my first call from Cirque Du Soleil in 1998. I refused three times! Whenever they called, I was busy. But then one time they called and I was free but I told them I only had one month. At that time I was so overwhelmed with work, they did my interview via phone; they asked me how much I wanted to make and then I got the job!” Geneviève laughs.

“It was really fun. Then I asked if they were going to keep me, because I wanted to be polite and cancel my other contract, and they said yes. Now I’ve been there sixteen and a half years.”

From hat maker to coordinator, and then to an international tour, Geneviève’s résumé is something of a dream come true for many creatives, but she has worked hard to achieve her current status.

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In hercostume domain: Geneviève mends, paints, sews and coordinates; among many other jobs at the show.
“My dream job was to make hats for a living, which I did with Cirque. I did a lot of learning and I was very fortunate to have this job. I made hats every day from 1998 to 2003. Then when we did Zumanity in Vegas, which is the sexy side of Cirque, they realised the assistant to the costume designer was really overwhelmed, so they cut her job in parts.

“They created a coordinator for all the fittings and all the makeup and harness appointments. Then they created another coordinator who was a head of wardrobe and was there for all the prototypes, during all the rehearsals and the tests. I did this job until I became a fitting coordinator and I did a total of eleven productions,” she says.

“I got to travel a lot and met a lot of wonderful designers in Vegas and Japan. Then I decided I wanted to go on tour, but it’s hard to go on tour, because when shows close, they redeploy those people, but finally I got to go on tour and I was so excited. I said, ‘I will never sew again!’ and now I’m sewing again,” she laughs.

After 16 years with the company, Geneviève Caron has seen many places, met many people and probably sewn a lot of sequins.

Being on tour for five and a half years, she has fallen in love with many places, but Adelaide is one place she has grown particularly fond of.

 Geneviève  in her workshop under the big top.
Geneviève in her workshop under the big top.
“I love Adelaide. I love it for many reasons. This is my first time here. Besides the dryness that is ruining my skin, I like the weather! I didn’t realise I was missing home that much until I came here. For me it’s more like autumn here, but when I arrived, we did a winery tour and we went to McLaren Vale and I thought, this feels like home! The leaves, the sun setting early, and the beautiful scenery is wonderful. People are very welcoming, easygoing and easy to talk with. I like the mix of alternative and bogan – that’s a new term I have learned!” she laughs.

“And I love the music scene here! I was told when I was in Melbourne that I’d be pleasantly surprised by the music scene. I see a show almost every night here! I love the Grace Emily. We had a Christmas party there recently, because three people on tour celebrate their birthday on what is the summer solstice for us. But because it’s the winter solstice, we decided to throw a Christmas party. We were all dressed up and the bar tenders were into it too! We sang Christmas carols with the accordion player and the recorder player from the show. There was also a guy playing ukulele and we were doing percussion with the eggs and chimes. It was great.”

Staying in each place for a maximum of three months, while exciting, can also take a toll on a person, and while Geneviève grieves each place she leaves, she values every moment she spends in each city.

“I go out a lot. I go to museums, bars, cafes; I like to meet new people. I don’t tend to hang out with people from the tour. It’s just the way I am. I’m a loner. I prefer strangers, because I think it nourishes me. To meet local people, I get a better feel of the city. Every time I have to leave a place, I cry. I can never get enough of every place,” she says.

A genuinely warm and positive person, who exudes a zest for life and a desire to find splendor in everything she sees and does, Geneviève is the perfect fit for a circus, which is artistically intimate, intricately beautiful and profoundly inspirational.

She loves her job and she loves Totem, but most of all, the French Canadian loves making people happy.

“The reason I am so proud to be with this company, and on tour is, well, sometimes I think, ‘Oh, it’s just my job,’ and then I realise the show brings people inspiration, and they forget their troubles. It’s magical and beautiful, and it’s really something wonderful. And to bring that to people, I’m very lucky to be a part of an organisation who does that. I’m happy to be a part of bringing inspiration, beauty and hope to people,” she says.

“After five years with Totem, I think the energy and joy is still there, you can really feel that. The artists are not too tired to do what they do. They are very professional. Most people in the show are over thirty three. We are a very mature cast and crew, so there’s not much drama and there’s a lot of harmony; we have a real unity and respect. Also, between artists and crew, there’s no ‘us and them’. We help each other.”

Working under Australian designer Kym Barrett for Totem, Geneviève Caron has travelled from Montreal to London, Amsterdam to America, then New Zealand, Australia and next, she’s off to Singapore.

While there is glitz, glamour and adventure, it can get lonely on the road.
While there is glitz, glamour and adventure, it can get lonely on the road.
While it sounds like the most exciting job in the world, she would recommend anyone wanting to run away with the circus do so with strength of heart and an understanding that it’s not easy.

“I would say do it. The average time people will stay on tour is about two years. So do it, but be prepared for when the hardship comes, and know how to handle it; because you can feel a lot of loneliness,” she says.

“They gave us a diagram before we left to go on tour. They said tour is like a love relationship. At the beginning is the honeymoon and everything is so amazing. Then all of a sudden, the love relationship has a lot of flaws and it’s not exciting anymore. Then you bounce back and reach some kind of plateau of comfort where it’s good and it works for you. If you can ride that wave, then you’re at a good place.”

Totem wraps up in Adelaide this weekend before heading to Perth, but you can still book your tickets to see this stunning show by visiting the website.

By Libby Parker

Photo by Libby Parker