Meet Mark Ward. He's a local boy who spends 90 minutes each day transforming into his role of John in Cirque Du Soleil's "Quidam," which wraps up its Dallas run this Sunday, March 11. You've only got a couple more days to explore Cirque's rabbit hole world of contortionists, acrobats and whimsical curiosities before it must scoop up its toys, pack them in a tiny, magical satchel and ship them off to another adventure.
Any time I see a Cirque performance I can't help but wonder about these individuals who dedicate their lives to swinging gracefully on a trapeze or effortlessly bench pressing their co-worker. Since we have a Dentonite in the "Quidam" cast, we shot Mark Ward a few questions about circus life, which he answered between somersaults.
Mixmaster: Were you born and raised in Denton? And at what point did you realize that you wanted to run away and join the circus? I was, I went to Woodrow Wilson, Strickland Junior High, and Liberty Christian Academy. I did not dream of running away with the circus, but I was gymnast, acrobat, musician (piano), singer, and tennis player, so I knew that I wanted to perform somehow. I really fell in love with dance when I saw Baryshnikov fly through the air in the movie, The Turning Point. However, I didn't know any other kids who were dancing so I just held it all inside.
Did you attend a circus school, like Ringling Bros, go straight to Cirque, or did you take a more traditional academic route? I did not attend a circus school. I left Denton in 1985 for New York to dance and have never stopped working since that time. I was dancing with Ballet Chicago when I received a call from CDS asking me to audition for them. This resulted in me becoming an original member of the company's first permanent show, "Mystere" in Las Vegas where I was dancer and acrobat for 5 years.
What does Cirque look for in a potential performer? What set you apart from the pack? And what skills did you need going in? CDS is always looking for all kinds of performers. I don't think that anything really set me apart from other artists, but I do know that you should bring your best if you want to work for CDS. Also, if you are willing to learn other skills they are more than willing to help. As a matter of fact, my roles in "Mystere" were very serious. However, because of my audition tape where I was a total clown, they remembered me when they started searching for someone to be the principal character, "John" in "Quidam."
What's the strangest thing that you can do now that you've been touring with Cirque that you couldn't do before? I have learned many skills over the years that I was not able to do when I joined. They hired me as a dancer/acrobat, but I learned contortionism, ball walking, Japanese Taiko Drums, and many other things.
Could you describe the character that you play in "Quidam"? I have been with Cirque du Soleil for 19 years, but I have been in "Quidam" as the principal character, "John" for a little over 13 years. John is the MC more or less, but he is really like a kid trapped inside a man's body. I try really hard to make the adults remember the kid inside of them. The children seem to accept me right away.
Staying in such perfect condition must come with a price, are you still allowed to eat fried foods? What is your diet when you're training? I am 46 and weigh 147lbs fully clothed and wet, lol!! However, I do take really good care of myself. I train in the gym at least 3 times a week and I watch what I eat, for the most part. A good cheat day is really important for an artist. And by, "Cheat Day" I mean I can eat anything I want, but in moderation. I also really love red wine and 70% dark chocolate. Both are very good for you... thank goodness!!!
Do you get long periods of down time, or do you tour constantly? I have worked many different schedules with Cirque du Soleil. However, in the [current] Arena Tour, we work 10 weeks on and two weeks off. What's your favorite thing about touring with Cirque Du Soleil? I get to travel to so many places and try to put a smile on the people's faces. I love being able work with so many talented people from all over the world.
Cirque Du Soleil's Quidam runs through Sunday at the Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco, and tickets are still available.