Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of seeing longtime friend, actress Jeana Blackman, perform in Cirque du Soleil’s “KÀ” 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.
1. Me: When 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. Me: What 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. Me: What 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. Me: Once 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. Me: Before 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.
6. Me: Your 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. Me: One 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. Me: Due 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. Me: You’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. Me: What 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.