Kyle Driggs and Allie, photo by Lilly Voltaggio
Paramour is a story of a simple love triangle, but the activity around the story makes the show a spectacle. Not only are the music and dancing beautiful, but like any circus show, there is activity on every inch of the stage and from the ceiling to the floor! I had the same feeling I have at any circus production — wishing I had multiple sets of eyes so I could see everything at once and not miss one performer. Also, having tall people in front of me became a special challenge at Paramour because every inch of stage that’s obscured means missed action!
The show includes so many circus skills including juggling, acro, unicycle, mime, CYR wheel, pole, lyra, trapeze, clowning, contortion, Spanish web, and straps. The aerialists hanging from the chandeliers made me want to go home and find something in my house to hang from. During a dream sequence, a zombie came down from the ceiling over my head! The show also incorporated flying drones decorated like lampshades that “danced” around the actors as they were singing.
Paramour is set to close April 16, 2017, one year from its opening date, due to planned renovations in the Lyric Theater where it is playing. You have just a short time left to see it! I hope it will reopen in some form down the road so I can go see it again!
Thankfully, an AYCO board member helped me arrange an interview with one of the performers, juggler Kyle Driggs. Kyle was very generous with his time and not only answered all of my interview questions about Paramour and his career, but offered advice for me to share!
Kyle began juggling as a teen and was supported by the Philadelphia Juggler’s Club. He was also involved with AYCO member school, Philadelphia School of Circus Arts. By the time he was a high school freshman, he knew juggling was his future. He attributes his successful start in circus arts to the unwavering support of his parents.
In high school, Kyle mostly juggled juggling balls and clubs. In his senior year, he became interested in using rings because of the 1950s technique of rolling them around the body and over the back, coined by the Bramson Family. So when it was time for Kyle to audition for École Nationale de Cirque (ENC), the National Circus School in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, he auditioned with rings. For three years at ENC Kyle developed his skill base and routines. Kyle also minored in dance at ENC, which was evident in his beautiful Paramour acts.
Kyle took my family and me on a backstage tour and showed us small dressing rooms, halls lined with tons of costumes, and a wig room complete with wig drying machines, telling us, “The wigs are constantly washed and styled. They are all human hair.” He took us below the stage where eight musicians play multiple instruments each. Violinist (and mandolin player) Paul “Woody” Woodiel described how when fellow musician Seth Stachowski is unable to perform, his position must be covered by two replacements because he plays five instruments!
The costume room at Paramour taken by Allie
The wig room at Paramour, taken by Allie
Violinist (and mandolin player) Paul “Woody” Woodiel, taken by Allie
Paramour schedule, taken by Allie
Kyle described working on Paramour as intense. After four months of rehearsals, the show opened with eight or nine performances per week. Usually Kyle has one day off per week and only had two weeks of vacation during the whole year.
At the end of our tour, Kyle led us to the stage and enthusiastically described his career path. Of course we wanted to know how Kyle started juggling with umbrellas — his signature object! The story is just how you might imagine: he was playing out in the rain one day with an umbrella, and he discovered he liked the “feeling it had”. Kyle describes himself as an object manipulator who looks to work with objects “with charisma and feeling”. He says that the story he is telling and the feeling he is portraying is more important than technique. Kyle described the many emails he receives from aspiring jugglers asking him what kind of umbrella he uses. He typically answers that he feels it’s a personal choice and that he had to break hundreds of umbrellas before he found what worked for him.
Kyle Driggs answering questions from Allie, photo by Lilly Voltaggio
Kyle left me with a few interesting thoughts about ENC (Ecole Nationale de Cirque, in Canada). He described the audition phases which include physical tests (acrobatics, physical conditioning, and flexibility) and artistic tests (dance and acting). Kyle recommends making sure the physical tests are “easy for you” before you audition. I expressed my personal concern about attending a college with French-based communication when I have only studied Spanish in high school. He eased my fears, telling me that the instructors don’t only speak French to students and speaking French is not a requirement. He called ENC the best immersion program for learning French; however, and considers himself fairly fluent now. Kyle cautioned that his three years at ENC were very challenging and that he had to work very hard.
Kyle lives a life of an artist entrepreneur. He said, “It is hard to make a living as an artist in the US… in Europe, it’s different. In France, for example, the government pays artists. In the US, you have to constantly get gigs. And you have to pay for your own medical insurance and cover your own liability. As a freelancer, you have to have a lot of hustle.” He described that working for Cirque du Soleil is an entirely different experience similar to working for any big corporation: you have job security and perks such as very good healthcare, but that you surrender some creative control.
Kyle values his creative control and his ownership of his own routines. In fact, though currently employed by Cirque, he legally owns the material he performs in Paramour, a situation he describes as unusual and that required extra legal advice and negotiating on his part.
Once Paramour closes, Kyle will spend June with Circus Flora in St. Louis, Missouri. He is spending his free time applying for grants to fund his independent projects and working on his next big step in life – starting his own company to produce shows himself. He is working with a partner/theater owner in Philadelphia to bring that dream to fruition.
Advice from Kyle:
Network. You can’t do it alone. Reach out to people who might be able to help you.
Go for it. “Whole heartedly go for it!” For me as an aspiring aerialist, for example, he recommended reading and viewing on line everything there is on my tool of choice, silks. He told me to learn everything there is to know and to study it like I would a school subject that really intrigues me, above and beyond what is assigned.
Work hard. Working as a circus artist entrepreneur is hard work. Prepare yourself. Make yourself an expert at your skill, and work until the physical parts of the ENC audition are easy for you.
Circus is an opportunity: Circus is one of the few disciplines that is still “do it yourself”. With dance and acting, so much has already been done that it seems like you are defined (in one style) before you even go to school. You are pigeonholed. Circus is still undefined and open to more creative interpretation.
Final interesting tidbits:
1) The performers actually do say “hup” (softly) on stage – I wondered where it came from!
2) Kyle won the Paramour Blooper Award for once falling off the stage during a performance!
Thank you, Kyle, for spending so much time with me! Best wishes for the future! I hope to see you again down the road!