Meet the "Mayor of the Village"

Tidewater Women’s Fran Ward recently had a lively conversation with Heather Reilly, company manager of Cirque du Soleil’s KOOZA.     

TW: Good morning, Heather. I’m thrilled to be talking with you. I love Cirque du Soleil’s performances—live or on PBS. I love everything about Cirque du Soleil!

HR: Good morning. Thanks, Fran. What a wonderful way to start my day!

TW: I even love being a member of Cirque Club ( I look forward to their fantastic video birthday cards. I cannot be cool talking about Cirque du Soleil. I gush!

HR: The mission of Cirque du Soleil is to invoke the imagination, provoke the senses, and evoke the emotions of people around the world.

TW: You succeed! I have to ask you, right out of the box. Kids dream it, but you did it. When did you run away and join the circus?

HR: 13 years ago. I grew up in a small mountain town in Canada. After graduating from university, I was an elementary school teacher in British Columbia. I followed my path that surprisingly brought me to perform in the international, multicultural program “Up with People.”

TW: I remember bringing my students to see a performance. Perhaps I saw you.

HR: From there, I joined Cirque du Soleil, a Canadian entertainment company and the largest theatrical producer in the world. Starting at headquarters, I then became tour services director for Quidam, Alegria, and Corteo before becoming general manager of Corteo. Now I’m company manager of KOOZA,

TW: I was told you’re the “top” person on the tour, the person to whom everyone with KOOZA reports.

HR: The “mayor of the village,” so to speak. It’s a well-oiled operation, and it’s my job to make everything work.

TW: Tell us how you communicate with people from many countries speaking many languages. Is it a Tower of Babel?

HR: Overall, the organization has 4,000 employees, including 1,300 artists from more than 50 different countries. We tour with 110 people in the company and hire a hundred locals to get the show up and running, and a hundred more to work during the show selling tickets, usher, and then take it down.

      The working language is English. We offer language classes so everyone can communicate on a basic level. For more in-depth conversations, there’s always someone who can translate. I love to work with multi-national people in international settings.

TW: From the literature: “Cirque du Soleil has brought wonder and delight to 155 million spectators in more than 300 cities in 40 countries on 6 continents.” How is the energy different in the various settings?

HR: What an interesting question! On a visual level, the landscape changes whether we’re in London or Bern (Switzerland) or Virginia Beach. On a cultural level, there are different levels of appreciation and audience response. In Japan and in Russia, the show is the same. The artists perform their acts the same, regardless of the location. That part does not change. In Russia, audiences are exuberant. In Japan everyone claps for the same short length of time. They love us just as much, but they are more reserved.
      The challenge is for the clowns. They “volunteer” people from the audience. We do not set anyone in place ahead of time. It is up to the clowns to read the people and know the culture. They have to know where the line is so they can cross it!

TW: Wikipedia defines Cirque du Soleil as “acrobatic performance and the ART of clowning.”

HR: Yes, the clowns are very skilled. They ad lib without spoken language. 

TW: The tag line for KOOZA is “an adrenaline rush of acrobatics in a zany kingdom.” I loved learning the name KOOZA is based on the Sanskrit word for box.

HR: Yes, it’s a treasure. It’s high energy with bold colors and bold slapstick. In fact, the show opens with the main character, the Innocent, opening a box. And everything proceeds from there. There is a message beneath the surface.

TW: What a beautiful metaphor for the whole world presenting itself one piece at a time.

HR: Yes, for everyone.

TW: Heather, what is your first memory?

HR: I was sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of a summer cottage with my mom. I was looking across the lake during a thunderstorm and eating an orange. We were outside Smith Falls, Ontario.

TW: Heather, I think you have always been moving, watching the energy and observing all kinds of nature.

HR: And always involved in sensory delights.

TW: What would you like the readers of Tidewater Women to know?

HR: Not only is KOOZA a great show, but it’s also wonderful entertainment. It will take you away for two hours. It’s about following one’s path. I would like to tell the readers of Tidewater Women to follow their own paths. Take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. Follow your path. And always try to cross the line!

TW: Thank you, Heather. I hope many readers of Tidewater Women will join me under the big top!

Cirque du Soleil’s KOOZA  • Daily through August 16, 2015 • VB Convention Center • 877-924-7783 • ($)

Fran Ward

Fran Ward is an artist and writer with a Ph.D. in Metaphysics (the body, mind, spirit connection). She is an active art and music lover who enjoys traditional cultural productions as well as seeking events off the beaten path. Reach her at

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