"I hope people come for more than the pretty boys,” says Mark Pawsey, the artistic director of Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna
. While the male lead Romeo is “very visually appealing and showcases in a Chinese pole act, gay men appreciate intelligence, and this show has a very strong storyline. The set and costumes are lavish — with an Elizabethan feel, very Tim Burton-esque. The music is phenomenal, very contemporary, very rock ’n’ roll. Yes, it’s an all-female band, but it’s accessible to everyone.”
Pawsey is sensitive to the gender of the show’s cast because “there’s this perception — Amaluna
has sort of been branded as a women’s show. Yes, the cast is 70 percent women, and Amaluna features and showcases powerful women. But it also features 15 men from all walks of life — Chinese, French, Columbian. Like in everything, you need men to make the world go round.”
But we gay men do love powerful women in fabulous costumes. “When I was young,” Pawsey says, “even though I didn’t know I was gay, I was drawn to those flamboyant strong women who were different. Because I was strong and a little different.” Fortunately for Pawsey, he went to drama school and then worked in London’s West End, including four and a half years stage-managing Phantom of the Opera
. “I worked on lots of charity shows, and they would bring in big stars for two or three weeks. We did Hello, Dolly!
And to have Carol Channing come down the stairs and sing stopped the show. To have someone in the wings say, ‘Hello, I’m Julie Andrews,’ so natural, so normal. They were loved for just appearing, but they were never stars; they weren’t there to have fun. They were there to inspire and lead.”
When Pawsey saw his first Cirque show, like most audience members, he “was transported — I’d never been to that place. I couldn’t speak for 20 minutes after. It was overwhelming, and I’m not the sort of person who gets overwhelmed very much.” Unlike most audience members, Pawsey then decided, “Oh dear. I need to work for this company.” And like even fewer, he now does.
“We’re all travellers, gypsies at heart. You never know what door will open. It suits the gay man. We don’t all have responsibilities or partners, but even if we do we can bring them. We have a couple of support staff on Amaluna
who have their significant others touring with them, so it is always two feet together and you travel the world, share the adventure. We don’t give up our lives to work at Cirque, but it identifies a lot of who you are; it’s part of what defines us as human beings.”
Pawsey has worked in locales from Las Vegas to Tokyo and beyond. “On several tours there were young boys in the cast who I didn’t know at the time were gay; they didn’t know they were gay. When I came out to my parents it was hideous. It’s still hideous; it’s still a big deal even though it’s more acceptable. Being part of the Cirque family enables you to do it and be who you are.”
Pawsey remembers some sage show-biz advice he was given by Chita Rivera. “She told me, ‘If you can influence one person by what we do, then you’ve achieved something miraculous.’ I don’t know that I was a role model, but most of those young men are still circus performers, some still with Cirque, and are now openly gay. Being in Cirque was a privilege for them but also for us, because we get to help shape who they are at the start of their adult journey, and that’s miraculous.”
“We have 52 artists from 16 different countries, and we plant them in the ground and water them, put manure on them and help them grow. You cultivate them, pluck the weeds around them and help them flourish to become these beautiful flowers. I always see the last show of the week,” Pawsey says. “The cast always has a little bit of extra energy because they’re about to have a day off. And despite whatever difficulties I’ve had during the week, I fall in love with Amaluna
Amaluna runs Thurs, Sept 6-Sun Oct 21 under the Grand Chapiteau, 51 Commissioners St. cirquedusoleil.com
See also fab's video interview with Mark Pawsey
featuring lots of visuals from the show and a review