No clowning around for Newry physio who keeps Cirque du Soleil performers flying high
As Irish audiences prepare to crawl inside the world of OVO, Cirque du Soleil's touring production which celebrates nature and the movement of life, Jenny Lee finds out more about it and how its cast of 50 performing artists keep in shape, from the show's Newry-born physiotherapist Roisin McNulty
How would you describe Cirque du Soleil's OVO show?
OVO is a show that is immersed in the world of nature and insects, telling a simple love story between a ladybug and a fly. There are great acrobatic acts and funny clowning moments, reminding us all not to take things too seriously. The acrobatic acts closely relate to the physical attributes of that particular insect – for example, our crickets jump on trampolines and our scarab beetles fly. Overall it celebrates diversity and inclusivity.
How did you land your job at Cirque du Soleil?
I had been working as head physiotherapist to the Australian women's national rugby team and had toured to the Women's Rugby World Cup in 2014. I really enjoyed he experience of combining travel with working with high-level athletes. I had previously seen the cirque show, Dralion, in Sydney and was left completely mesmerised by what I had witnessed. I learned that cirque employed physios and it came to my mind years later when I was seeking a change. Timing was fortunate and within a few weeks of getting in touch I had a contract. I had packed up my life in Sydney and moved to Montreal for the remount of OVO to arena.
Can you explain your role, performance medicine head therapist?
Daily surprises are all part of the cirque fun and challenge. My work involves a lot of organising and planning continually. The artists have to be in shape to perform up to 10 shows a week. I review any performers that need treatment or assistance with preparation before training and afternoons are busy treating, working on rehab or prevention sessions in our gym area backstage. Pre-show I am assisting artists with their preparation including strapping tape, warm ups and addressing any last-minute surprises that pop up. During the show we are always nearby and ready to help the artists.
How many artists do you look after?
The performance medicine team is two physiotherapists on the tour. We currently have a cast of 50. There are 40 acrobats, seven musicians and three character actors.
How often do the cirque performers train?
Depending on their role, they may train for two to four hours per day, up to five days per week. Some may require less volume and more maintenance of their skills. We pay close attention to training schedules with the aim of keeping workload consistent and balanced with what else may be going on. Many work out or train after the shows quite late into the night as that’s when they may feel most energised.
Do you include any other wellbeing measures in preparing the artists physically and mentally?
For wellness, I am a big believer in getting the simple things right – adequate sleep and recovery, appropriate training, good hydration and a healthy balanced diet. Alongside this we recommend and strongly promote strategies for mental recovery. The Headspace meditation app is one tool we use on the road.
Have you learnt any circus skills yourself during your time working with Cirque du Soleil?
I have been fortunate enough to get some coaching on the trampoline from one of our lead performers. It's a lot of fun and gives me a small glimpse into what these artists are feeling in their bodies, as well as a better understanding of what positions are required to execute skills with the correct technique. But I'm still quite a way off sending any videos to the casting department.
Has being part of the Cirque family, taught you any other qualities?
Being in the cirque working environment has taught me a lot about collaboration and adaptability. Preparation is key, but being present and flexible to adapt and change plans quickly is an important skill to develop. Overall, working on the show has taught me that anything is possible with a vision and hard work.
Are you looking forward to bringing the show home to Dublin and Belfast?
I feel very fortunate to be able to take the show to Ireland and for my family and friends to experience it. I am equally excited and proud to show my colleagues my homeland and what makes Ireland such a special country.
:: Cirque du Soleil presents OVO at Belfast's SSE Arena from October 17-21. Ssearenabelfast.com.