Sommer Panage

iOS Engineer | Accessibility Specialist | Manager


Auditioning for Le Rêve in Las Vegas

circus

On April 20, 2015 I auditioned for Le Rêve in Las Vegas as a generalist. Spoiler: I got cut.

Blue fog rises up from the bottom of the stage below, which is completely surrounded by seats. Above, the top of the space is covered by bollowing red and orange fabrics, from the center of which a light shines down into the darkness
The foggy, mysterious setting before Le Rêve begins.

The internet tends to be a place where we showcase our successes. The photos that make us look good, not the ones where one eye is half-closed and our gut is sticking out. We share our new jobs, our exciting life events and major landmark decisions. I was excited to post when I decided to pursue circus full-time. I love sharing the videos when I nail a new aerial trick. However, that’s not the whole story. I am a new performer trying to break into a tough business at an older age than most. Most of this isn’t beautiful drops and successful shows. In reality, there is is a lot of rejection. A lot. Even for friends I know touring the world or in big Vegas shows, they have countless stories of first round cuts or getting told they’d get the part if only they were smaller/taller/skinnier/more muscular. So, I wanted to share a bit of the other side of the coin. Here we go!


Walking over from my hotel, I’m already sweating. It’s 9:30 A.M. and 90 degrees in Las Vegas. I arrive at a nondescript, brown gymnastics center called, I kid you not, Brown’s Gymnastics. As I open the door, the woman at the front desk immediately says, “Down the hall, to the left.”

A nondescript white and tan building with the lettering “Brown’s Gymnastics” at the top.
Brown’s Gymnastics

Down said hall, two men in black Le Rêve shirts give me a form to fill out. Things you’d never see in a standard job application — age, height, and weight — greet me. Already, as I write “29” on the age line, I feel my hopes sink a little. I’m certainly one of the oldest females in the room. Turning over the form, I realize I’ve forgotten my resume, not that it’s particularly full, since I only began calling myself a full-time performer 2 months ago. I fill out a box with my “skills and achievements,” sigh, and turn in the paper.

Wandering into the gymnasium, I am instantly transported back to the gymnastics classes I took as a child. I’m surrounded by foam pits, balance beams, and uneven parallel bars. Happy memories! This time, however, instead of chubby-cheeked little girls in My Little Pony leotards, the gym is filled with adults, mostly in their early 20s, with beautiful bodies clad in a wide array of sportswear on top of which is pinned a number for the judges. I am 585.

Luckily, I soon spot my “crew,” so to speak — a few other circus performers from the gym where I train who ventured down to this audition also. It’s the first time here for all of us. We gather, make small talk and warm up, all while doing a pretty solid job of pretending not to be nervous. We already know the tasks we’ll be asked to do, since Le Rêve posts a video (that’s sadly no longer available) explaining each one. Somehow this doesn’t make it feel any easier.

There are at least 100 people in the gym at this point, when a man in his later 40s speaks up to get our attention. He thanks us for coming and explains what is going to happen. First, we will be split into four groups (two male groups, two female groups). Then, each group will rotate through the fitness tests. We will each also have a full body photo as well as a headshot taken. After this, they will make their first round of cuts. Those who get to stay will be asked to do some dance choreography and, perhaps, some acrobatics as well. Then there will be more cuts. The people remaining will be put in the casting pool. This doesn’t mean you’re going to get cast. It simply means that you might get called back in to show them even more of your skills and abilities as well as to take their swimming test. Then, maybe, after that, you might get cast. Maybe.

The four group leaders introduce themselves and each starts calling names to split us up. Somehow, already, I feel myself worrying, “what if they don’t call my name…what if my application was so bad, they’ve already cut me.” Of course, they do call my name, and I am grouped, thankfully, with a hand-balancer friend of mine from New York who also happened to come out for the audition. Unlike the other group leaders, ours is actually a cast member in the show. She’s also the girl in the fitness demo videos. I am in awe of her amazingly strong legs. Damn!

My group heads over to some uneven parallel bars. “Oh no,” I think. We are doing the hardest test first. Pull-up, pull-overs. Basically, you do a pull up. Then, at the top, you pike you legs up, Up, UP, until they go over the bar. You drive them back toward the ground until you are balanced atop the bar on your hips. You then roll back down the way you came. That’s one. We are told to do 8, which is surprisingly comforting, as the video had said 10. A few girls get up and try, but no dice. The rest of crowd cheers them on, and I immediately feel better with the support of the group buoying everyone up. Finally, a tan, blond woman gets up there with bigger biceps than most men with whom I train and pounds out 8 of these like she does this before her morning coffee. Her toes are pointed; her knees, perfectly straight the whole time. Everyone cheers.

Finally, it’s my turn. I’m feeling good. I practiced these every day for the last few weeks. I was doing 3 sets of 8 each training day. I go to jump up to the bar and the group leader gives me an assist, but I’m nervous and time my jump wrong and miss. Utterly embarrassed, I tell her I’ll just climb up. Once I’m hanging from the bar, I check in. Straight legs. Pointed toes. Ok. It’s go time. I pull up. When my chin reaches the bar, I pike and feel myself roll around the bar, but as I’m rolling, I feel something else happen. I’m bouncing…off the bar. I suddenly realize what is going on. I’d trained these every day on a trapeze — a solid steel bar hanging from two ropes that could freely move. Now, I’m doing the same maneuver on a pliable wooden bar — the same kind that make that beautiful “thuduh-wang” sound when a gymnast dismounts in the Olympics. I have not been on a bar like this since I was 8, and it immediately shows. I barely recover, kick my legs a bit, and manage to poise myself on top of the bar on my hips. I smile and try to make light of it, and go in for the next 7. Though they improve, my form suffers terribly as I try to learn, on the spot, how to fight the bars bounce and negotiate with its lack of movement. Finally, I dismount, offer a faint smile and walk back to my place. I tell my friend how I’d never done these on a static bar before, but then, I immediately feel like one of those people who makes excuses for failing rather than learning and moving on, so I shut my mouth. I can see she understands.

The next tests go by far more smoothly. We all line up side by side on a platform and reach our hands past our toes toward the ground with straight knees. Basic flexibility? Check. No one fails at this. Next, we put our feet up on that platform and our hands on the ground and hold 4 planks: front, back and each side. No trouble for anyone either. After that, we complete a long jump. Regardless of height, each woman must long jump 6 feet. A few people have to make multiple attempts, but, in the end, we all get it. Squat-thrusts follow. In this exercise you squat to the ground, jump to a plank, jump back to a squat and then jump up and repeat for 45 seconds. Up next: push-ups. The minimum is 14 but most stop around 20. At some point during all this fun, I look over at one of the male groups to see how another friend of mine is doing when I realize that none of them are wearing shirts anymore. (Later I found out that this was indeed part of the process, as the men in the show are expected to have cut bodies, no exceptions.) I chuckle to myself imagining this happening at a job interview. “Fantastic work on that merge sort, sir. Now, if you would just remove your shirt.”

Snapping back to reality, it is finally time for the rope climb. Each of us must sit on the ground and climb at least 10 feet up a rope, never using our legs, instead holding them in a pike or straddle. Some girls aren’t able to do this, so they opt to climb the rope using their feet. I notice one girl, stunningly thin, strong and beautiful take her turn. She holds a perfect straddle as she ascends the entire rope — a good 24 feet at least — with ease. Something in me shifts as I realize the stark difference between her and myself. As I take my turn, confidence waning, I make it to 10 feet and keep going, but, as I look down, I realize the group leader is not even watching. “I’ve already been crossed off the list,” I say to myself. I come back down the rope, wondering where I messed it all up and already knowing the answer.

As each group finishes up, we all take a break for food and water. Every sort of protein bar on the planet emerges from the backpacks littered around the outskirts of the gym. I reconvene with my friends and we hash and rehash our war stories. Soon, one of the group leaders pipes up and tells us to keep ourselves and our numbers visible so it is easier for them to make their decisions. After about 15 minutes, it’s time. The woman speaking now says how hard these decisions are. It feels both obligatory and true. She also says that many people who technically passed all the tests will still be cut. I think of myself among these people. She explains that they are looking for “very specific body types.” She also mentions that they virtually never take females over 5'7". One of my friends immediately lets out an audible sigh. She’s 6'0". “I wish I would have known that before I flew out here,” she whispers. The judge begins rattling off numbers. One of my friends, who has since put his shirt back on, is called. We quietly cheer for him. I keep listening, “584,”…“586,” and many more until, “and that’s all. Thank you everyone for coming.”

A group of six fit young 20-somethings stand in their hotel parking lot smiling at the camera in the hot Vegas sun. Many have their arms extended, all have big wide smiles or funny faces. One woman has climbed onto one of the male acrobat’s backs and smiles from there.
The amazing Bay Area audition crew

It’s an odd feeling: I’m not surprised, but I am still disappointed. I mentally go over the myriad of things I could have done better. I run through countless comparisons between myself and the girls that made the cut. Virtually all of them were small tumblers along with a couple willowy aerialists thrown in. In circus I am considered medium sized and certainly not willowy. Also, I’m not a tumbler. I wonder if I’d performed that first test perfectly, would the outcome have been any different? I honestly can’t be sure.

My friends and I, all cut but one, decide to head back to the hotel and lounge at the pool. We soak up some sun, talk about what we learned and what we want to work on, and treat ourselves to some well-earned tacos and froyo. No day can be too terrible if it ends with froyo.


Like any failure, this experience provided me with valuable lessons — lessons about myself as well as the circus industry. I will probably go back and try again, seeking to be even less attached to the outcome than I was this first time. I’d love to prove to myself that I can pass those tests once more but, this time, with far more grace and ease.

I think the biggest thing I got from this was the failure itself. In order to continue as a performer, I need to handle both success and failure with poise and grace, not being attached to the outcome but rather investing in the process itself. By preparing for and attending this audition I became physically stronger, fortified friendships and learned about my new industry. And, I got rejected. And that’s just fine.