Cirque du Soleil crew offers insight, advice to students

Jennifer Miller
October 10, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Forget the textbooks, the long lectures and the PowerPoint presentations – students enrolled in RPTM 370, Introduction to Arena and Facility Management, in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management (RPTM) learned things Oct. 9 they likely wouldn’t learn in a traditional classroom setting.

Inside the Bryce Jordan Center, Bernard Punt, instructor and director of marketing for the center, arranged for his students to hear straight from the folks who deal with venue management on a daily basis – the staff and crew for Cirque du Soleil’s "Dralion."

Inside the arena, students listened intently as Mikey Newnum, production manager; Eric Gerard, production stage manager; Jerome Vezina, travel and lodging coordinator; Julie Desmarais, publicist; and Jessica Fabo, lighting technician and Penn State alum; offered real-world industry insight and career advice.

The crew addressed the students while taking a break from preparations for "Dralion" -- five performances were held at the center from Oct. 8 to 12 -- each offering individual advice.

Specifically, Newnum encouraged students to figure out their passion and then choose a career path based on that passion.

“Make sure you do what you love because if you’re not doing what you love you’re not going to be a happy person,” Newnum said.

Vezina acknowledged that for many college students it’s difficult to know what career to pursue and offered that group guidance.

“At your age sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what you want to do, but it’s always good to set goals and try and push yourself to get there,” Vezina said. “I think it’s important to challenge yourself. Don’t be afraid.”

Gerard said when he graduated from college he was vehemently opposed to touring as a career. Then, a friend convinced him to help out with a two-week tour, which led to a 10-month tour in Asia. More than six years later, Gerard is still touring.

“Be open to any experience. Be open to opportunities,” Gerard said.

Gerard and Desmarais encouraged students to actively meet people noting that networking is critical for career growth.

“Go out there, make yourself known, keep good relationships,” Desmarais said. “Be strong and have the drive.”

Fabo, who earned a bachelor’s degree in theater at Penn State in 2006, encouraged students to try out the career paths they’re considering.

“Figure out what you think you want to do and test drive it,” Fabo said. “Don’t feel like you have to be locked into something.”

Fabo also said students who select careers they truly desire are more likely to perform better.

“You have to want it,” Fabo said. “Stuff still needs to get done, and if you don’t want it – game over. You have to want it and that goes for anything.”

Gina Franz, a senior studying public relations and RPTM, said such classroom experiences have a positive impact.

“When we get our lectures, it’s about general venue management. Now, we have both sides by hearing from people with actual experiences in touring,” Franz said.

Chynna Herman, a senior studying RPTM, said the experience gave her an opportunity to learn about the logistics of a tour, such as stage set up and crew accommodations.

“We always get the arena management side of the industry and it’s good to get the touring side of it, too,” Herman said.

Chelsea Laday, a senior studying RPTM, said it is beneficial to hear a different perspective, particularly the importance of small details for venue management, from ensuring a tour’s crew has toilet paper in their restrooms to proper signage inside a venue to guide crew members to assisting an 18-truck tour with local travel.

“Hearing an experienced perspective helps me hear how much is entailed in planning an event,” Laday said. “These smaller details I find to be eye opening.”

Corby Smith, a sophomore studying RPTM, said the crew offered rare insight into a field he’s been interested in for some time.

“It definitely gives me an idea of what it’s like in the real world. This is something I’ve been interested in for a long time. I can hear from them and learn about the different jobs there are, which leads me toward where I want to be when I graduate from Penn State,” Smith said.

While these classroom opportunities are rare – roughly once a semester – Punt said they are critical for his students.

“Now, everything we’ve said is validated because now they hear from the people who do it,” Punt said.

Last Updated October 10, 2014