Off Stage: Circus and Entrepreneurship with Marie-Lee Guilbert, Philippe and Alanna Bélanger - StageLync
Our Term of Use, Cookie and Privacy Policy have been updated on June 3rd, 2024.OK

Circus News

Off Stage: Circus and Entrepreneurship with Marie-Lee Guilbert, Philippe and Alanna Bélanger

“Off Stage” is a 3-part, written series for the circus performer pursuing interests outside of the performing arts, or “off stage.” Our host and author for the series is performer, choreographer, and writer,Elena Suárez Pariente. The series presents three interviews between Elena and her guests as they offer personal stories and advice on pursuing parallel passions to circus performance. The topics here include pursuing a degree, starting and running a business, and turning a hobby into a lucrative side job.

In this next segment of CircusTalk’s Original Series, “Off Stage,” my three guests speak from their experiences as both performers and entrepreneurs. All owners of their unique companies, each professional will explain what motivates them to keep going, how they make their occupations sustainable, and what mindset is necessary to balance their artist career with their own business projects. Let’s dive in with Marie-Lee Guilbert and Philippe and Alanna Bélanger, all currently based out of Las Vegas.

Some background on our guests: Marie-Lee and Philippestudied together at L’école de Cirque de Québec in Quebec City early in their circus careers, and have been acrobaticpartners ever since, performing as a unicycle duo for more than a decade. Originally from London, Alanna comes from a gymnastics background, and among her various skills, has become an aerial acrobat.The three performers have traveled the world with Cirque du Soleil for a significant portion of their careers. Philippe and Marie-Lee secured their first contract with Cirque in the touring show, Kooza, followed by Paramour, in New York, and then went back on tour with Volta in 2017. Alanna joined Cirque du Soleil in 2013, performing in front of thousands of people during her eight years with the touring show Ovo. Today, you can see Philippe and Marie-Lee’s duo unicycle act in the show Absinthe by Spiegelworld, and find Alanna balancing different gigs in the city, including being an on-call artist in O by Cirque du Soleil. She also performs her aerial hoop solo act in Lost Spirits Distillery and has recently joined Spiegelworld to be a part of the Sway Poles act in Absinthe.

I was curious as to how these performers got into the business world, having successful careers in the circus industry already. They all agree that for them “it is another way to explore their creativity, to feel fulfilled and not lose the spark”. Philippe and Marie-Lee’s business venture started back in 2015 when they created a clothing brand, Design KontroL, together with the intention of staying connected with the circus community after leaving the touring performance scene. Philippe defines himself as a “problem solver,” stating “it was me trying to find a solution to not having to lose contact with the producers and everything. Leaving Kooza was the initial point where we needed to create something that would solve that problem. And once we started creating the products, we realized that, wow, this was fulfilling something bigger and something different in our artist’s life, inside of us.”

He explained that he enjoys the balance the two careers have given him. He will go to work and do what he’s supposed to do on stage, but after those five minutes of stage time are over, he’s able to turn his attention to the business. Even in the spotlight, it can be easy to lose the spark when doing the same act a thousand times, so this other facet helps him stay sharp and focused on the task at hand. But keep in mind, being business owners means the responsibility of doing everything falls on themselves. They are not only part of the innovation and creation of the products, but everything that comes afterwards, including the marketing, social media, etc. The balance cannot exist without the hard work behind it!

Marie-Lee and Philippe’s duo unicycle act | PC Ruby Plaza

Even though running a business is not necessarily as creative or artistic as performing on stage, it’s still a creative outlet in terms of finding solutions. For Marie-Lee, sharing the goals and the ups and downs of the process with others is her favorite part. “We are more powerful together than alone. So that’s why it is important to create relationships, go as a team, talk to the competitors, collaborate, listen to the advice…”

Connection was also the motivation that pushed Alanna and her husband Philippe, to create a company in tandem with Design KontroL that would serve circus performers in other ways. In 2020, they launched their custom printing business, Maison B & B, as a new project during the pandemic, and through this, were also able to connect with other performers out of work during the lockdown. They made an investment, bought the proper machine, and were able to connect their existing clients from their clothing brand with this new service. By expanding their services for artists in the industry, they started to attract clients from outside of their immediate circle. Now, they provide the merchandising to companies like 7 fingers and Cirque Life. After Maison B & B, Alanna and Philippe opened Studio 14, a photography and video studio. Not only did this create a space where they could shoot their own clothing and bring all their businesses under one roof, but they were also able to fulfill a need within the community by offering the space to artists on a rent per hour basis.

I asked them to explain what challenges no one talks about when having multiple businesses. Alanna responded, saying “I guess the struggle is finding time to take one step away and have a day not working. We will always find something to do. We love to work. We love to improve our businesses.” Additionally, when I asked what entrepreneurial mindset an artist needs to succeed in the business world, Alanna added “it is important to be open, because not everything goes the way you want, and you have to be prepared to fail. You have to enjoy the failures as well, because they are part of the journey. But failure doesn’t really exist for us, because it is always a learning process, and what doesn’t work, is important to transform it into a lesson to make it better and keep going.”

Philippe added his thoughts, mirroring Marie-Lee’s sentiments about sharing and connectivity. “It’s always been a big success to share more knowledge and help people. If we’re not the right solution for someone, we tell them. If we have the information to make their project [succeed] we tell them. They’ll come back and use us in a different way… they’ll refer us as artists, and they’ll refer us as a printing business… and all of the sudden, we’ve built trust and a relationship. So that’s definitely a mindset to have: always share more.”

When asked how they manage their time with so much to balance, Marie-Lee answers without hesitation, saying she wishes there were 26 hours in the day to do everything. Alanna offers a personal strategy, sharing that she and Philippe try to disconnect completely once every two weeks, with no phone and no signal, to really give their minds a break. Still, while they put so much time into their crafts, Marie-Lee clarifies that the business is also a plan B. An artist’s life is limited, but their businesses are not. It’s another way to explore the capacity of their brain, another way to make money and a path to push limits and find growth.

Considering the fierce competition in today’s  business world, I wonder how they try to stand out? Phil’s insight is very interesting: “ I hear this sometimes when people see other businesses as competition, but to me, it’s not necessarily competition. There’s room for millions of businesses, and there’s room for millions of brands, and it’s more about collaborating with other businesses than seeing them as competition. To me, it’s more about seeing the opportunities in working together and offering services and helping other people grow.” This mindset helps them as artists too, encouraging them to not compare themselves with others and to find confidence in their uniqueness.

Alanna’s solo Lyra act | PC Starfruit Productions

To close, I asked for recommendations for new entrepreneurs and some closing thoughts and advice.

– Elena: Is there a book or podcast that you could suggest? 

– Phil and Alanna: Simon Sinek! Books and podcast

– Marie-Lee: Business en Bagnole podcast from Yann Darwin

– Elena: What’s your greatest entrepreneurial achievement to be proud of? And what is your future goal?

-Marie-Lee: They say that the first five years of a business are the hardest ones. Just a small percentage survive, and we have been open 7 years already, and keep growing. Definitely this makes me feel good and successful.

– Phil: For me the future goal is simple: Let’s help each other out. And let’s all work together to grow and to get more recognition within the circus community and outside the industry as well. I want multiple circus companies to be on the map, not just the big famous one. I think it’s time for the individuals to stand out and to be out there.

– Alanna: I want to build an empire.

I would like to finish this article with those motivational and powerful words. The teamwork between the three helps them accomplish success as both artists and entrepreneurs, and can serve as proof that any artist can pursue more than one passion. When you put all your passion, your heart and commitment into making something work, it might take some time, it might take you through unexpected roads, but the journey is the ultimate goal and as Phil said: “There’s no failure unless you let it be a failure.”

Elena Suarez Pariente
Performer, Choreographer, Writer -Spain
Elena Suárez Pariente is an artist, journalist and barre coach from Spain. She was the original ballerina from the show Volta by Cirque du Soleil, and currently performs a hair hanging solo act in Spiegelworld’s Opium in Las Vegas, US. Elena has experience as a dancer, actress and hair hanger, and also studied journalism in Madrid. She is passionate about art, culture and sharing other people's stories.

Editor's Note: At StageLync, an international platform for the performing arts, we celebrate the diversity of our writers' backgrounds. We recognize and support their choice to use either American or British English in their articles, respecting their individual preferences and origins. This policy allows us to embrace a wide range of linguistic expressions, enriching our content and reflecting the global nature of our community.

🎧 Join us on the StageLync Podcast for inspiring stories from the world of performing arts! Tune in to hear from the creative minds who bring magic to life, both onstage and behind the scenes. 🎙️ 👉 Listen now!

Elena Suarez Pariente

Elena Suárez Pariente is an artist, journalist and barre coach from Spain. She was the original ballerina from the show Volta by Cirque du Soleil, and currently performs a hair hanging solo act in Spiegelworld’s Opium in Las Vegas, US. Elena has experience as a dancer, actress and hair hanger, and also studied journalism in Madrid. She is passionate about art, culture and sharing other people's stories.