For Craig Jennings, all it took was passion and a little bit of luck.
49-year-old Jennings first heard of Cirque du Soleil 15 years ago when he was in California.
At the time, the troupe was touring their new show Allegria. That was all it took to spark a new passion.
“I thought to myself,” Jennings said, “this is what I want to do.”
Jennings was playing in a rock-and-roll band prior to joining Cirque. He wrote some music for theatrical shows, but had never performed in a traveling circus.
Now, in the troupe’s show Varekai, he plays the shaman or priest through singing, interacting with the crowd and telling the story as it unfolds on stage.
He said he heard about auditions when the troupe was in New York City, pushing him to take a leap of faith that has led to a long and fruitful career in the industry.
Luckily for him, one individual who had an audition time failed to show up.
“I basically just crashed the auditions,” Jennings said. “I didn’t have an audition time, I just went.”
Jennings’ spontaneous transition from rock-and-roll god to circus performer can be reflected in Cirque’s current show. Varekai, he said, is one of redemption and rebirth.
Like the show itself, Jennings also has his own story.
Although he now calls New York City home, his birthplace of rural northwestern Ohio is very different. He attended Ohio State University, but always had aspirations of making it to the Big Apple.
Through online courses with the Berkeley College of Music (Boston), Jennings has learned piano and guitar skills, music theory and mixing and mastering music.
“The classes have helped a lot,” he said. “When I go out on stage to sing I just feel more rounded.”
Juggling school and traveling with Cirque, Jennings said, helps his work ethic tremendously.
“Sometimes my courses are so difficult that I can’t wait to get out to the circus to do something that feels natural and comfortable,” he said, “and to do something that I know, as opposed to something I’m trying to understand in class.”
At six tours in total, Jennings admits he may be near the end of his career with Cirque.
“I have a feeling I have one or two more years,” he said. “It’s been an amazing ride and I’m so blessed, but I think it will be time for me to move on to something else.”
For Jennings, it’s the true and deep connections with the audience and his fellow troupe members that have made his experience with Cirque what it is.
After about 6,000 shows in total, Jennings said he has seen it all and more.
“There’s been a lot of people that I have opened my heart up to and sang my brains out to,” he said, “and there’s some kind of spiritual connection that I have taken and given.”
Cirque du Soleil will be premiering in Kingston on Jan. 17. Students are invited to save $10 on tickets at the following link: www.cirquedusoleil.com/queens10.
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