Member: RJ Owens
Career Title: Bebè François, Mystère – Cirque du Soleil
Member since: 2013
Favorite thing about One Nevada: I love the personal attention I get when I visit a branch.
Q: Tell us about your career in the entertainment industry and how you got your start.
I have been performing since the age of 11, both as an actor and magician. My professional career took off when I got my driver’s license. While most others my age were worrying about acne and the prom I was incredibly busy performing magic all over Monterey County (California). Birthday parties and corporate gigs were my bread and butter all throughout high school. During that time I was also working at a local theatre both as a technician and actor. Those were my formative years…I look back on them very fondly.
Q: How did you end up with Mystere and how long have you been with the show?
While I was performing in Saltimbanco (see below) the man who created Bebè François, the incomparable François DuPuis passed away. It was a shock not only to the show but also to the entire Cirque family. He was a legend and had created and performed the role for 19 years.
I was in San Juan, Puerto Rico when I received a request to put on video my interpretations of Bebé François. I was flummoxed. How could anyone, let alone myself do justice to that role? I didn’t want to mimic or copy anything…I wanted it to be my interpretation. I had a fellow Saltimbanco cast mate watch the videos they sent me for reference and describe to me the actions that were taking place…that way anything I came up with would be organic to the situation I was in. The videos were shot and sent to casting.
One month later I received a call wanting me to come to Las Vegas for a live audition. Only one problem, I was in Costa Rica…and performing in Saltimbanco. Luckily, I would be stateside within the next 2 weeks. We made it work. I flew to Las Vegas from Austin, Texas at 6 am on a Tuesday …met with the Artistic Director of Mystère at 1 pm…auditioned and flew back to Austin for a 7 pm show that night.
Another month went by and at this time we were in Montreal, Canada performing the final 7 shows in Saltimbanco’s history. Montreal is also the headquarters for Cirque du Soleil so I was able to meet with casting to see if there was any news about my audition. Nothing. Then, on December 24, 2012…yes, Christmas Eve…I got the call that changed my life. I had two weeks in which to return to San Francisco, pack up my life and move to Las Vegas to join the show.
I just started my 3rd year with Mystère and there is no end in sight.
Q: What was the audition process like? I’d imagine it’s intense and that they only take the best of the best. Was there any special preparation beforehand or did you treat it like any other audition you may have been to?
It was 2008 and I was performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I was doing my magic act on the Royal Mile during the day and 3 venue shows at night. It was the most exhilarating, exhausting and rewarding performance time of my life.
One dreary and drizzly day after one of my street shows a little man approached me and said ‘I really like your look’. Well I thought ‘he’s hitting on me!’ he then extended his hand and palmed a business card into mine. I didn’t even look at it…I just threw it in my bag and went on with the day.” That night, at one of my venue shows…he was there, in the audience. Stalker! Luckily, I didn’t see him for the rest of the festival.
Fast forward to 2010 and I receive a phone call…’Hallo, RG (French Canadians can’t say RJ)…this is Marc-Andrè Roy from Cirque du Soleil.’ Me: OK. He continues…’I met you in Edinburgh at zee Fringe…I said I liked your look.’ Me: Holy Heck! (I went straight for my pack that had his business card in it…yeah, I know it was 2 years later but being a Virgo has its advantages) Sure enough, my stalker was from Cirque. He goes on…’we are coming to San Francisco and are very interested in meeting with you and having you audition for us.’ My first reaction was ‘as what?’…but, I agreed to meet and audition.
The day of the audition I show up and there are 50 people there…49 of which are lithe acrobatic dancer types and then there was me. ‘What the HECK am I doing here?’ I start looking around for hidden cameras and the like. Nothing.
So they put us through our paces. After an hour they cut our group down to 24. Another hour…down to 12. Another hour and its lunchtime. Marc-Andrè says…’If I read you number please join us after lunch…if not, thank you for auditioning.’ Numbers were read. Mine was not. So I grabbed my bag and started to head out…on the way I stopped and thanked Marc-Andrè for having me. He asked ‘where are you going?’ ‘You are the reason we’re here.’ I was flummoxed.
They put the remaining 4 of us through our paces for another 4 hours. At the end he told me I was an “Artist of Caliber” and “it may be 3 months or 3 years…but you will be working for Cirque one day.”
As I have said numerous times…it was the hardest, most demanding and most rewarding 9 hours of my life.
Low and behold, a year and a day later (on my 42nd birthday no less) Cirque called and asked if I would have any interest in playing the Ringmaster in Saltimbanco. Interest?!?!? Let me check…Um yeah!
I joined Saltimbanco for its final tour, which lasted 12 months, visited 19 countries and performed 242 shows.
Q: How many shows are you in per week?
10 shows per week. 2 shows a night, 7:00pm and 9:30pm – Saturday through Wednesday.
Q: How many times a week do you rehearse? Is it a full show rehearsal or do each parts rehearse separately?
I’m fortunate that Bebè François is a solo act. Most of my rehearsal is done on my own time however, there are times when we do “stagings” when we are putting in a new artist or sprucing up an act.
Q: What type of training program are you in for this part? Does the show give you specific training on a daily basis or is everyone responsible for their own workouts?
Again, I am fortunate I am not an acrobat! I am also fortunate that Bebè François calls for a certain body type…the rounder the better. However, I do workout. I do a couple of “bits” in the show that require huge core strength as well as strong joints…so my workouts consist of strength and conditioning as well as cardio.
We have a fantastic Physio team who are mostly all former professional sports trainers. They are my go to guys for any exercises I might need to help maintain a healthy workload.
Q: With the improved Vegas economy, are you seeing more packed audiences this year? Did the bad economy over the past few years affect your shows or your schedule?
We at Mystère are very fortunate to be the longest running Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. We just celebrated our 10,000th show and our 21st birthday. Also, we have never cancelled a show…needless to say, even a bad economy doesn’t affect Mystère.
Q: What is the most enjoyable or rewarding part of what you do?
That’s easy. Laughter. I love to hear the audience laughing. There is nothing better. François DuPuis was once asked, “What do you do when the audience is laughing?” “Nothing”, he replied. “It’s when they don’t laugh that you have to work harder.”
Q: Would you ever want to play another role? If so, which one?
Are you kidding me?!?!? I have the best job in the world! If I had to choose…I guess I’d like to be David Copperfield for a day.
Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the entertainers in Vegas as opposed to other big entertainment cities around the world?
I think the public believes we party like rock stars…after all, we ARE in Vegas, right? Not so much. We are normal, everyday people…just like them. We just have a particular skill set that allows us to do what we love…every day.
Q: what would you want fellow ONCU members and fellow Las Vegans to know about your work/career that maybe people don’t understand or appreciate?
It’s not as glamorous as one would think. Oh it does have its incredible moments, don’t get me wrong. It’s not parties until dawn every night…just every other Tuesday. I’m joking. As I said before we are just like everyone else…we are just incredibly fortunate to have incredible jobs in an incredible city.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
Believe it or not…I am very domestic. I love being in the kitchen. Cooking is therapy for me. I also distill my own whiskey and cure meats and sausages in my garage. Of course I still perform magic when I can.
Q: What advice would you give the thousands of aspiring entertainers in Vegas that want to land a gig like yours or in a major production? Any inside secrets?
Work as much as you can. Learn as much as you can. Watch as much as you can. Inside secret…be better than anyone else who does what you do…no exceptions!
Q: What are some of your favorite things about living in Las Vegas?
I love that fact that I can live literally 6 minutes from onramp to offramp to get to work and yet feel like I am another world away. I also love to watch people…and what a better city to do that in! Springs Preserve. The Neon Museum.
I also love the 15 N…at Tropicana…at about 5pm…on a Friday…(note the sarcasm).
Q: Other than Mystere, what is your favorite show on the strip?
I have a few. I adore LOVE at the Mirage. The bawdy side of me cannot get enough of Absinthe at Caesar’s. Of course, there’s Penn & Teller at the Rio.