By Bekah Wright
You can run off to join the circus. Or you can use the circus to train for a career in performing arts. The former is an All-American childhood dream. The latter is the latest inventive approach to entertainment education from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television (TFT): a unique partnership with Cirque du Soleil.
|A trapeze performer in "O."
An alliance melded over conversations between the famed Montreal-based "Circus of the Sun," which made its U.S. premiere in Los Angeles in 1987, and TFT Dean Teri Schwartz, culminating in a series of initiatives beneficial to both parties. While Cirque has done joint programs with other higher-education institutions, it has never entered into a partnership with a university that is as deep or as wide as the TFT union.
The partnership began with a pilot project last year, when Cirque du Soleil granted an inaugural emerging artist scholarship to two TFT students. Other joint initiatives are set to grow organically over time. The next is a fellowship program in Las Vegas, home to eight Cirque du Soleil productions, which will kick off during 2013's summer quarter.
"Cirque du Soleil is a magnificent company, and we are very honored to be partnered with them," explained Schwartz. "This is a groundbreaking, one-of-a-kind relationship that is profoundly important for TFT and our students as it represents the fullest expression and manifestation of our new vision and strategic plan for re-imagining entertainment and performing arts education in the 21st century ... to create the kind of artists and scholars who can navigate a very dynamic, fluid, interdisciplinary entertainment and performing arts landscape."
Added Jordan Fiksenbaum, vice president of marketing and public relations for the resident show division of Cirque du Soleil, "We were like-minded in terms of what Teri was trying to do. We worked on different ways to utilize the relationship to create a conducive and collaborative environment that's prosperous for both sides."
Four fellowships are slated for the summer quarter; two focused on Cirque du Soleil's creative and technical side and two on producing, marketing and management. "The fellowships will allow students to be immersed in Cirque du Soleil's environment and definitely take them out of their comfort zones," said Fiksenbaum.
Overseeing the process will be TFT 's two department chairs. After a summer of hands-on training - in everything from reshaping costumes to promotional activities - Schwartz anticipates students coming away with both "real world knowledge and experience."
Other elements of the team-up in the works include master classes taught by Cirque du Soleil artists to TFT faculty and students. And Schwartz has other plans for further down the road as well.
"We have a long-term goal of creating an innovation lab for testing out new ideas around where live performance, digital technology, multimedia and filmed content can go for the future," the dean said. "A research lab that will produce the kinds of assets that can bubble up to the surface and be used in the live shows and amongst the work we're doing here at the school. ... What's so beautiful about this [partnership] is that it really has a long reach and touches every single aspect of our school ... and for our students to have a whole new world open to them where they can have brilliant, long careers, across a multitude of new platforms."
This originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of UCLA Magazine.