Life in the Cirque du Soleil. 10 Questions with Actress Jeana Blackman

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of seeing longtime friend, actress Jeana Blackman, perform in Cirque du Soleil’s” at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.  The production was stunning and Jeana was at the top of her craft.  Afterward, I wanted to learn more about the production and what the experience has been like for Jeana.  So, I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to start a segment that will be recurring here on Super Eclectica – “10 Questions with…”

So, here we go…  Ten questions with Cirque performer Jeana Blackman.

Jeana Blackman Headshot

1.  MeWhen did you first decide that you wanted to be a performer?
Jeana:  I don’t remember making a conscious decision to be a performer; however I was apparently just eleven years old when I told my parents that I wanted to be an actor.  By that point, I’d already been performing in school plays, church productions, community theaters and the like since I was a toddler.  Guess it was just meant to be!

2.  MeWhat attracted you to working with Cirque du Soleil?
Jeana:  That it was a job. [Smiles]  Seriously though, I’d actually never thought about performing with Cirque du Soleil.  I saw “Nouvelle Experience” when I was fifteen and made a point thereafter to see the subsequent touring shows but I didn’t even know that the company hired actors.  Once I was approached, it was intoxicating to think that I could be onstage with such amazing diverse talent.

3.  MeWhat was the audition process like for Cirque du Soleil and for the roll of The Nursemaid in “KA”?
Jeana:  Cirque du Soleil first contacted me about a role in a different show and the callback process was challenging.  It was three hours of intense physical improv with various characterizations.  I’d never done anything like that but I had trained in different aspects of performing all of my life.  I think that I did well because I didn’t put pressure on myself to be something that I wasn’t.  I’m a strong physical comedic actress but I’ve never trained as a clown.  If I had let that bother me, I don’t think I would’ve made it into the database.  As for the nanny role, I was asked to submit a video (that’s still on YouTube I believe) and then I was flown to Las Vegas for another marathon improv audition. Two weeks later, I was jumping into airbags. It was a whirlwind.

4.  MeOnce you were cast and started rehearsals for “KÀ,” was there anything that surprised you about the show or its rehearsal process?
Jeana:  I think the biggest surprise is how you develop your character. In Los Angeles, show runs are short and you rehearse with the entire cast. Once the show opens, rehearsals stop. KÀ is an ongoing process with people from creation [in 2004] working with people who joined the cast a month ago. There are constant trainings and it is expected that your character will develop as you do shows. Opening night is just the beginning.

5.  MeBefore you joined Cirque, you were a working actress in Los Angeles.  What was it like making the transition to Las Vegas?  Did you experience culture shock?
Jeana:  It wasn’t just moving to Las Vegas that gave me a culture shock, it was the fact that I was joining the circus – an entirely different genre of entertainment.  Many of my co-workers were born into circus families or started learning their craft at a very young age.  Certain specialists are idolized in this world while typical Los Angeles celebrities draw a blank look.  And there is nothing like watching a world event like the Olympics or the World Cup with a company of international performers and technicians.

Jeana Blackman in Costume

6.  MeYour costume and makeup for the roll of The Nursemaid are quite intricate.  How long does it take for you to get in and out of it all?
Jeana:  It takes about an hour to do my make-up and pin curl my hair for the wig. Getting dressed and actually getting on stage takes at least an additional fifteen minutes. After shows, I can get my make-up off and be out of costume in about ten minutes.

7.  MeOne question that is actually three questions with a sub-question… How much does your costume weigh, is it hot inside of it, and does it restrict your movement?
Jeana:  My costume weighs about twenty pounds and it is definitely hot – especially when it’s humid.  When it’s dry, the costume becomes a static electricity machine.  The costume doesn’t restrict movement as much as it defines it.  My character is old and heaver, and the costume helps me achieve that effect.

Me(Sub-question) Have any fans of the show ever recognized you out of costume?
Jeana:  Nope. Never.

8.  MeDue to production needs, you and another performer share the roll of The Nursemaid for each performance.  What are the challenges of the two of you trying to match your performances so that we all think we are seeing just one performer?
Jeana:  A lot of matching the other nanny is about making sure that we both see the character the same way, and that’s where the third eye of our artistic director is a huge help.  Neither of us are the original Nanny.  We have some freedom to create but it’s also important that we have respect for the original creation.

9.  MeYou’ve been performing in “KA” for nearly 5 years.  How do you keep it fresh?
Jeana:  There are several things that help keep the show fresh for me.  One important one is that I do half of the nanny role for two weeks then switch to the other half.  Plus – between house troupes switching acts from night to night and back-ups going in to stay fresh – the people I work with in any given scene rotate quite a bit.  That certainly keeps me on my toes.  But perhaps the biggest help is that I love my job.  It sounds corny but I love what I do and if I’m getting bored, I know it’s time to go.

10.  MeWhat is your favorite thing about doing the show?
Jeana:  Right now, my favorite thing is seeing the faces of the kids who see the show.  The look of awe is just incredible.  And if they see you waving just to them at the end of the show, the expressions are priceless.  Ask me the same question tomorrow and you might get a different answer.

(It goes to 11)  Me:  Bonus Question… What is one thing about “KA” or Cirque du Soleil that it might surprise us to learn?
Jeana:  The show runs a little over ninety minutes but it is so technically intricate that the first dress rehearsal/run-through took over eight hours.

To Share or Not to Share? That is Not the Question.

There is a debate raging in the parenting blogosphere and on the socials.  It seems that the whole parenting world was turned on its ear when one mother posted that she doesn’t make her son share.  It went viral, and now parents all over the interwebs are coming down on one side of the other of the sharing battle.

Here’s the problem with the “to share or not to share” debate:  It’s a logical fallacy.

Stay with me.

The argument seems to go that if another child asks your child to share a toy then your child has the choice to either sacrifice the toy for the sake of being kind or keep the toy for the sake of… well… getting to keep the toy.

This either/or decision is at the core of the logical fallacy.  In this case, parents are creating for their children what is known as a false dilemma.  They are choosing to teach their child one of two possibilities, as if only two possibilities exist.  Though – like so many things in real life – sharing is not an either/or scenario.

Here’s what my wife and I teach our almost 4-year-old twins about sharing, and I’m certain that it will put an end to the sharing debate once and for all (insert winking smiley emoticon here).

We teach our children that when another child asks them to share they are being presented with an opportunity.  Sure, they can choose to either share the toy or not share the toy (their choice), but we also teach them two other options.  They might invite the other child to play with them (when playing with blocks they might say, “Help me build a castle!”) or they could suggest a similar toy that the other child might like (“I have the red car; you can play with that blue one”).

Additionally, we teach that there is more to choosing not to share… It is not a permanent decision that can’t be undone.  If they want the other child to wait until they are done, then a good way to help develop a friendship with the other child would be to offer the toy to that child when they are done playing with it.  The other kid is usually surprised and thrilled by this, and it often resolves the child’s initial feelings of being let down about not getting to play with it right away.

How are they doing at developing these sharing skills?  They’re catching on.  It works really well at home where they both know the rules and are learning to abide by them.  The oft-heard refrain is, “Are you done playing with that, yet?”  Away from home, I’ve seen my daughter have terrific luck with inviting other kids to play with her.  My son tends to choose not to share, gets upset that the other kid asked, and then guards the toy with his life, but he’s a smart little guy and he’ll get better at it.

Why do we teach our kids such an intricate set of skills to handle sharing?  Because this is the way that real life works.  The world is not black and white.  It is filled with shades of gray, issues can be resolved amicably, and hurt feelings can be smoothed over.

And isn’t that the goal?  As parents, don’t we really want to teach our children autonomy? Don’t we want to raise them so that they will be able to manage themselves in the world, make responsible decisions and then be happy with the decisions that they make?

Of course, I’m no expert.  So, chime in.  What sharing techniques work for your kids?

Weighing in on Weight

And now for something completely different.  I was considering calling today’s post “Super Eclectica:  A Retrospective” and doing a whole thing about what fun I’ve had joining the blogosphere this week.  I was going to take a look back and say things like, “Hey remember that time when I posted about 12 Things You Say to Your Preschooler and What Your Preschooler Hears.  Yeah, those were good times.”  But I’m not going to do that.  Instead, I decided to introduce another topic that I’ll be covering from time to time on Super Eclectica – lest you think that this blog was not going to be super eclectic.  So, here it goes… “Weighing in on Weight.”

The moment is forever burned into my brain.  It was blunt.  It was harsh.  It was irrelevant.

During the second semester of my freshman year of college, I took an introduction to Communications class.  Being an Intro class, it was a too-large class of 150 to 200 students held in one of the campus’ biggest lecture halls.  PowerPoint presentations abounded.  The professor was high energy, charismatic, and maybe a little bit full of himself.

He was introducing us to how marketers shape their message in order to appeal to consumers’ egos.  He argued that marketing leaves little room for honesty because – he asserted – people can’t handle the truth.  He said, “Take weight loss for example!  You can’t just be honest with people about why they are overweight.  You see, the fact of the matter is that if you are overweight it’s because of one thing – you just eat too much.  That’s it!  You just eat too damn much!

There was an audible gasp.  Two students got up and walked out.  Others looked like they wanted to punch him in the throat.

He was right, of course.  That marketing approach would never work.

Though the reason that it wouldn’t work is not because it is honest, it’s because it is wrong.

Many factors contribute to our weight.  Yes, how much we eat is part of the equation, but so are heredity, how well we eat, exercise (or lack-there-of), and about a-billion-and-a-half psychological factors from self-esteem to the chemical reaction that happens in our brains when we eat something that tastes really. freaking. awesome.

I’ll be discussing weight gain and loss in the coming weeks, among a plethora of other topics.  It’s an important issue.  I’ve had my own weight problems over the years as have many of my friends and family members.  I seem to see something about people’s weight concerns every day on Facebook.  And it seems we can’t turn on the news without being reminded of the fact that it’s a problem in the US and becoming so in other parts of the world.

We’ll explore the factors that make us gain weight and the healthiest ways to take it off.  I’ll do my best to be honest, and in doing so, you can rest assured that I won’t tell you that weight gain or loss is just anything.

So, stay tuned!  Let’s explore everything.

The Birth of a Stay-At-Home Dad

I’m the featured guest blogger on the popular “Pile of Babies” blog today! A piece I wrote called “15 Things I’ve Learned From Becoming a Stay-At-Home Dad” about the education I received during my first few months as a stay-at-home dad is being showcased by the delightfully witty Meredith Bland, on her blog. I enjoyed writing the post a great deal and look forward to writing about my parenting adventures more here. If you have arrived at “Super Eclectica” from the link on “Pile of Babies” then you might also enjoy a post from earlier this week on my blog entitled, “12 Things You Say to Your Preschooler and What Your Preschooler Hears.”  Sure it’s another list, but it doubles as an English to Preschooler dictionary.

Whether you are a new or returning visitor to “Super Eclectica,” thanks so much for stopping by.  Keep checking back for posts on a variety of topics, including my new endeavor to turn my passion for writing into my full time career.

Writing with Both Feet

Here’s something you might not know about me – especially if you don’t know me.  I’ve been itching to be a full time writer for about seven years.  I’ve been writing for my whole-entire adult life, about 20 years to be less vague.  Stuff I’ve written include spec television scripts, short films, one-act plays, standup comedy, sketch comedy, and even educational content for an online university.  I’ve enjoyed it all, but there wasn’t enough paid work to necessitate quitting my day job.  Of course, a large part of the reason that there wasn’t much paid work was due to the fact that I never really pursued paid work.  I mostly just wrote whatever the heck I wanted to write for pleasure or to enter into competitions and festivals.

Then, last year, my wife who had been a kick-ass stay-at-home Mom to our twins for three years received an offer to return to her marketing and PR career.  It was a dream job for her and she was stoked about doing it.  So, we made the decision to trade places.  She would return to the workforce and I would get the opportunity to do something that I never thought in a million billion trillion years I’d ever have the chance to do – be a stay-at-home Dad to our three-year-olds.  I’m pleased to report that the three of us are still alive and doing well, and my wife is rockin’ her new job.

Cut to this fall:  The twins start preschool (we were going to start them last year, but I was selfish and decided that I wanted a year with them before I had to give them up for part of the day).  I still want them all to myself, of course, but they are turning four soon, we want them to have a year of preschool before they start kindergarten, and so this is happening.  The upside is that it means I’ll have time carved into my schedule when I can write with regularity, plus whatever amount of sleep I’m willing to give up to write (which is when I write, now).

So, here’s the plan… I’m going to make a real go of it!  Presently, I’m putting the finishing touches on a children’s book and have two more in the works.  I have tentative plans to write an hour-long drama spec.  Oh yeah, and I started a blog (it’s called “Super Eclectica” and it’s really great – you should totally check it out.  I wrote this one piece about how I’m launching my writing career.  It’s poignant and powerful.  Real Rocky Balboa, root for the underdog kind of stuff).  I’ll also be applying for freelance writing gigs.

So, I’m jumping in with both feet.  I’ll write until my fingers are nubs and then tape Lego Duplos to the nubs and keep on writing until I make it.  When the time comes that we planned for me to rejoin the workforce I will have to not-to, because I will be writing full time and earning enough money for my wife and me to reach our financial goals.

Can I do it?  Stay tuned and find out!

12 Things You Say to Your Preschooler and What Your Preschooler Hears

Preschoolers have inquisitive minds, joyous spirits and they’re generally one heck of a lot of fun to have around, but what you say and what they hear are never the same thing.  Here are a dozen things you say and the preschooler translations.

1.  You Say:  “This is a new food. Try it.”
Preschooler Hears:  “This is disgusting. Eat it.”

2.  You Say:  “Listen to me.”
Preschooler Hears:  “The next thing to come out of my mouth is going to bore you to death. Hey look, a butterfly!”

3.  You Say:  “Mommy/Daddy has to go to work.  Enjoy your first day of preschool!”
Preschooler Hears:  “Farewell, my friend. I’m leaving and I don’t know when or if I will be back again. We had some good times though, didn’t we?”

4.  You Say:  “I need to make an important phone call, so please be quiet and play by yourself for just a few minutes.”
Preschooler Hears:  “You and I just don’t talk enough anymore. How’ve you been? Say, is there anything I can do for you? Are you hungry? Perhaps I could fix you a light snack.”

5.  You Say:  “Quiet down.”
Preschooler Hears:  “I’m really old and don’t hear so well. Please scream into my good ear.”

6.  You Say:  “Don’t you dare do that.”
Preschooler Hears:  “This might be your last chance to do that. Hurry!”

7.  You Say:  “Why did you do that?”
Preschooler Hears:  “Look innocent and slightly confused, and keep your mouth shut.”

8.  You Say:  “This won’t hurt.”
Preschooler Hears:  “This is going to hurt. A lot.”

9.  You Say:  “This might hurt a little.”
Preschooler Hears:  “You are about to experience pain like you have never known. Run!”

10.  You Say:  “Daddy/Mommy is in the bathroom.”
Preschooler Hears:  “You need to go potty. Right now. Don’t you feel that pressure on your bladder wall? Please ask me to move. If I ask you to wait, just go anywhere.”
(Alternate Translation: See #4, above.)

11.  You Say:  “Bath time!”
Preschooler Hears:  “I want to be soaked from head to toe.”

12.  You Say:  “Bedtime!”
Preschooler Hears:  “Let the games begin!”

My First Father’s Day

Looking back, I wish that I would have kept a journal (or written a blog!) beginning when my kids were born.  They’re nearly four now and believe me they are still cranking out new material every day.  Many of those early thoughts on fatherhood are lost to the ether, but I did have the opportunity to speak at my church about fatherhood, on my first Father’s Day.  Here’s the text from that speech, given June 19, 2011.  Re-reading it, I was surprised how much emotion it brought back about our journey to parenthood and those first months of daddydom.  Without further adieu…

It’s my first Father’s Day!  Would it be wrong of me to stand up here and do a happy dance?  My wife, D [she has a full name, but I’ll just refer to her as D], gave birth to two beautiful babies, Nate and Emily [those aren’t my kids’ real names, but they’re nice aliases aren’t they?], in August of 2010.  I say that I want to do a happy dance, because the birth of our twins meant both a beginning and an ending for D and me.

Logically, it meant the beginning of a grand new adventure with these two incredible beings who – as one friend so magically put it – chose us to be their parents.  But for us, it also meant the end of a nearly decade-long journey toward parenthood:  A journey that meant three surgeries for D, countless rounds of fertility drugs and IUIs, and a failed IVF attempt; all of which resulted in the sum total of two miscarriages.  Finally, in late 2009 we had a successful IVF cycle.  Two embryos were implanted in D’s uterus, both decided to stick around, and 38 weeks and three days later TA-DA!  Perfection!

A quick shout out to any of you out there who might be going through something similar to what we went through – I empathize with the fact that at some point all of the encouraging well-meaning words from the people who love you start to sound trite, hollow, and sometimes bizarrely callous.  But know this – it’s worth it.  Because it makes you appreciate your babies that much more.  It taps you on the shoulder on those too exhausted nights once the babies come when you can’t remember the last time you slept for more than one hour at a time and more than three hours in any 24-hour period and says, “Isn’t this awesome!”

…And your children – like mine – will NEVER be able to say that you didn’t want really them.

So, one might imagine that my path to becoming a father (I still love saying that, “father”) has probably affected my feelings about fatherhood greatly.  And one would be right.  I LOOOOOOOVE it.  I honestly, without a doubt, cannot think of anything else I would rather be doing with my life.

And I think it has had a profound impact on the kind of father that I am, because I am a radically different person than I was when we started trying to have kids eight years ago.  When I look back, I see a kid who was still trying to figure out who he was and where he was going in life.  I probably worked too much and cared too little.  With each passing year I felt a need to pull myself more closely in line with the kind of parent that I wanted to be.  I slowed down, got a respectable job with reasonable hours and good benefits, opened myself to living with mindful compassion, and reflected a lot on the kinds of parenting choices I’d like to make, rather than just going from the gut.

Oh yeah, and I joined a church.  This church; full of amazing people who have all been so supportive both in word and deed to D and me while we have muscled through the first year of twindom.  The meals, visits, coupons and words of encouragement have been invaluable.

I sometimes receive nice compliments from people who think that I’m a more hands on father than dads in general.  I appreciate that, because I do try to be “all-in” as a dad for a couple of reasons:

The first is by choice.  In the years that we were working to become parents I got to see a lot of my friends become dads, and as soon as some of their babies began to cry they’d pull the, “Oh, time to go back to Mom!” maneuver.  It seemed clever enough at the time, but cut to two years later and I would see the pained look on their faces when that child would tear herself from his arms and run to Mommy when she got a boo-boo or got upset.  Now, when one of my babies cries and my wife asks if I need her to take him or her I say, “No, I want them to know that Daddy can make it better too.”

The second reason I’m probably more hands on is by necessity.  Because, well, TWINS!  For example, D and I roomed in with our kids in the hospital – and the day they were born the nurse helped us into our room, called me over to the bassinet that our daughter was in and asked me if I’d ever changed a newborn’s diaper.  I said, “no.”  She changed Emily’s diaper and explained what she was doing as she went.  Then she turned to me, handed me a diaper for Nate, said “good luck!” and left.  While D was recovering from her C-section I proceeded to change 10 to 12 diapers per child, per day for the next 5 days – that’s between 100 and 120 diapers – and that was before we even took them home from the hospital.  Since that time I’m sure it easily totals into the thousands.

Ultimately, every guy has to be his own kind of father.  For me, this is what feels right.  In all honesty, it’s not completely for my kids that I do it.  It’s also for me – it was a long journey here and I don’t want to miss a thing.

The Blog About All of It

Geez.  I’ve spent far too long – years – thinking about blog ideas and bouncing them off of people to see what popped.  Once, I was going to write a blog about mammals… all mammals all the time (it was going to be called either “Matt’s Mammals” or “MammalMania,” I couldn’t decide).  Then it was going to be a blog about better living through science (that one was going to be called “Factual Advantage” – get it?).  For a while, it was going to be a blog about making the leap into writing as a career (called “Writing with Both Feet”).  Most recently, it was going to be a blog that promotes public enthusiasm for “humanned” space travel & space outposts (entitled either “Let’s Go Boldly!” or “Peeps in Space” – the second name applying to both people and sugar-coated marshmallow chicks in space, of course). 

Last fall, I became a stay-at-home Dad.  Since then, several folks have suggested that I blog about that.  The idea appealed to me, but I saw a couple of drawbacks.  First, there are a veritable ton of Dad blogs already saturating the interwebs.  Second, I wasn’t sure that I had all that much new stuff to say about it other than it’s lots of fun, I feel lucky to have the chance to do it, and I am tired all. the. time.

Recently, I had a couple of folks that are fans of my ramblings tell me, “I really enjoy your writing.  Honestly, you would write about anything and I’d read it.”  Eureka!  I finally had the theme for my blog… all of it.

So, here’s my blog about all of it.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I hope to enjoy writing it.


(Be daring and leave a comment; it’ll make me feel like I’m not blogging into the virtual void.)