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Saturday September 22, 2012

Taking the creative journey

By M. HAFIDZ MAHPAR
hafidz@thestar.com.my


AT the Spikes Asia Festival of Creativity that ended on Tuesday, even the experience of a circus troupe provided food for thought for the advertising industry.

One of the more charismatic speakers at the Singapore-based festival, where 1,800 delegates from 27 countries converged over three days, was Lyn Heward, creative director of Cirque du Soleil.

The Canadian company has entertained audiences worldwide with spectacular shows that are a hybrid of circus acts and theatre-based performances.

Heward, speaking on Igniting the Creative Fire that Lives Within Us All, says everyone has a wellspring of creativity and it is a question of tapping into it regularly.

One must allow oneself to move beyond “analysis and the mechanics” and move into the moment, she says. “You must trust your senses, your intuition and yourself.”

Acrobats with the world famous troupe Cirque du Soleil, wearing costumes depicting ants, performing at the Big Top Tent in Sydney recently. It’s creative director Lyn Heward says the company organises closed auditions to evaluate hidden potentials. –AFP Acrobats with the world famous troupe Cirque du Soleil, wearing costumes depicting ants, performing at the Big Top Tent in Sydney recently. It’s creative director Lyn Heward says the company organises closed auditions to evaluate hidden potentials. –AFP

She also reveals Cirque's recruitment practices and the staff attributes that it seeks.

Heward says Cirque du Soleil, which has over 5,000 employees, doesn't do “recruiting” in the traditional sense of the word.

“Our casting department has two distinct mandates: firstly, to scour the world in search of ideas and inspiration that becomes the driving force behind our creative process, and secondly, to identify talented individuals who will ensure the artistic richness and longevity of our shows.”

The company, she says, maintains an active database with 20,000 individual entries. And it organises closed auditions, not “cattle calls”.

“A cattle call serves to determine whether you (the person auditioning) can do precisely what a director, or in this day and age a judge on a game show, will ask you to be, while a closed audition seeks out hidden talents sometimes talents even those auditioning don't know they have and evaluates hidden potentials.”

It organises a general training programme twice a year to test out the most interesting candidates.

“We bring together 100 would-be performers from around the world, and for 16 weeks, we push them to their extended limits without the promise of a job,” she says.

“At the same time, we evaluate their core human values related to the job at hand, including their ability to work together in a team to solve problems, their courage to take risks, both physical and artistic, their generosity not only towards paying spectators but also in sharing their creative ideas with other members of the team and their willingness to manage their own artistic growth and to learn quickly.

“Then, and only then, we hire them not for who they are now, but for what they might become and how they will be able to contribute to our work in progress.”

On the importance of having a nurturing environment, she says it is difficult to be creative in isolation and true creativity requires stimulation and collaboration.

“At Cirque, creativity is nurtured in work groups where people first get to know each other and then learn to trust one another with their most intimate creative ideas,” she says.

She notes the importance of “collective creativity”, saying that creative synergy is encouraged and recognised through a reward system.

She also points out that Cirque's training studio is designed in the shape of a sailing vessel to remind every employee constantly that “we are on a life-long journey through uncharted waters.”

Heward says constraints, worldly challenges, cultural differences and consumer expectations can become creative catalysts.

“Cirque designers don't like small budgets, deadlines or limited resources, but even they would admit that these constraints force them to become more resourceful and more creative.

“Some of our most inspiring ideas have arisen from moderately spartan situations,” she says.

Another attribute of “Cirquesters” is risk-taking.

She recalls Cirque's risky performance at the Academy Awards show in 2001 where one of its artists suffered third-degree burns on his back during rehearsal. Nonetheless, he went ahead with the fire act and years later recounted how that was his best experience at Cirque and that the long-term benefit outweighed the risk.

Heward says Cirque performers have to practise risk-taking and some errors are thus permitted. “At Cirque, this is what we call research and development',” she adds.

“Complacency is the single biggest risk you will take and often the least productive,” she says.

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