An interview with Christopher Childers | Carnival of Wonders | VMA20 BEST FILM OF THE MONTH | May Edition
We only have one chance to shine our inner light? Or do we? One life, one shot to discover who we are and enjoy it to the fullest, having fun with our talents while embracing our authenticity. If we miss out, the sun will continue to rise tomorrow.
This is the core message of Carnival of Wonders, winner as Best Film of the Month in May at the Vegas Movie Awards. A film born from an idea of Christopher Childers, a great performer with a long career with Cirque Du Soleil, first as a Principle Character and then as the Choreographic Coach for ‘Mystere’ and ‘0’.
A triumph of soul, visual art and talent to explain the drama of our existence and urge the viewer to seek their true nature. We had the honor and great pleasure of talking with Christopher, in an extremely inspiring interview.
• Hi Christopher, we are really happy to celebrate your victories with you (especially the one as Best of the Month, our highest honor) and to talk a little bit with you about your project! For those who still don’t know you, do you want to talk a bit about who you are and your artistic career?
I was raised in a dance studio. Taught by my Mother since the age of 3. My Mother was a dancer for the USO in WWII, and met my father, an AirForce Pilot, flying reconnaissance in Germany. As soon as I could walk, I had on Tap shoes! Then came ballet, jazz and all sorts of other styles of dance. When I started my professional career at 16, after leaving High School, I was selected to be a dancer in The Folies Bergere in Las Vegas. Folies at that time, was the ultimate Production show, and years before Cirque came to town. I learned vast amounts from legendary Director Jerry Jackson! Much of my work today is infused with Jerry's vibe. Formations, colorations, pacing and the hi's and low's of how to make a show work from the audience's perspective. I met Paula Abdul after a show and she asked me to move to LA. The work really took off from there!
I danced on TV shows, The Tracey Ullman Show, The Drew Carey Show, the Oscars, American Music, and Soul Train awards shows. I toured with Madonna, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and performed with Prince, Bryan Adams, Sting, Liza Minelli and many others! I was also in the films Showgirls, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Stuck on You, and quite a few others. I was the CGI and choreographer for creation and pre-production on the first Spiderman film. That web-slinging through the city, and wall climbing? Created by me, with the amazing Director Mr. Sam Raimi coaching me based on Storyboards. He was so nice and very much put his trust in me. In fact, when the stunt team and Toby were hired, he brought me back to coach all of them!
• How did your career lead you to the idea of creating Carnival of Wonders? What gave you inspiration and cue for this artistic project?
I actually didn't join Cirque du Soleil until after all of the other jobs I had already done, and in fact when I was contracted there, I was ready to retire. At 32, doing 10 shows a week was not only grueling, I was also really ready to take on more of a 'behind the scenes" role permanently. When I was at Cirque, and seeing the world-class artistry and the way that they approach creating shows, my entire world kind of flipped, creatively speaking. I used to do everything by the book, technically, with everything so prepared ahead of time. That is really so limiting, when you see your 'vision' not come out exactly as on paper!
Cirque, believe it or not, opened my eyes to a completely different way of working! That way was creating AS you work, on the bodies in front of you. Spur of the moment! Rough ideas are there, but they show themselves as you create. It was then, that I began to think of doing my own take on creating a super cool, carnival based project. I actually created Carnival of Wonders the year before we shot the movie. I did it as a live stage play. In 2018. The idea of a film came to me when I was thinking how the heck do I outdo myself from the live version? Not wanting to get 'stuck' in an annual 'production', I thought: Let's shoot this as a film! Luckily my amazing childhood friend and filmmaker from Los Angeles, Mr.Jonathan Lawrence had asked me about doing a project on film together, quite a few years back. It was like a light switch! I called him, and we met and flushed out the idea of Carnival of Wonders for film!
I had a very sensitive Mother who always said to me "really try to walk in someone else's shoes, before judging a situation". Those sentiments have never left me. I use all of that in all of my work. It's a blessing and curse really.
• Your film offers a lot of insights. Let’s start with the chosen form of language: the body language to support the language of the soul. It is expressed, inside your film, with dance, with the mimicry of faces and with the peculiarity of voice over rather than “live conversation”. Would you like to explain the reason for this choice to our audience?
Yes! I must credit our Director and cinematographer, Jonathan Lawrence with the idea of telepathy, and no spoken word! I had written a rough treatment for the film, and then I wrote the very first lines that Joy, the Seer, speaks. I really wanted to put the idea out there immediately that everyone has a story of their life. Many of those stories are betrayed (A term I really love) by people's own self-destructive habits. I can't tell you how many people I have met that have had unfulfilled dreams of being something other than what they became in life. Why is that? I came from a very lucky, encouraging home where artistry was celebrated. Most of us are not that lucky. Jonathan was concerned with not only the proper dialogue through the film, but the level of acting experience.
Besides our amazing Mr. Jeffrey Weissman, who has been in countless films and plays (He was in the "Back to the Future" series), our other leads, Jordan Grisim, Jennifer Fuller, and Joy Venturini Bianchi, had no experience in front of the camera. At least from an acting perspective. Jonathan and I had been going back and forth on these lines and what the feelings behind them should mean. Dance is a very easy way to convey emotion. Acting is much harder. So, once we set down this path of telepathy and VO's, it all began to flow forth very very quickly! The idea of the young girl with her "Fairy Godmother" protecting her, introducing her to this town of strange souls and connecting her with her dear departed Grandpa told through telepathy and VO, gave us so much more freedom to tell a stunning visual story. The words could flow on top of what we were shooting. It was different and definitely a complete blast to shoot!
• The plot uses metaphorical storytelling to identify the viewer in the story, as in a fairytale, with the difference that we talk about ordinary and well-established life in today’s society. How did you decide it could be the best way to get your message across?
It really came to be a pure collaboration between Jonathan and me. Because of that openness and collaborative feeling, we saw the film's message that we wanted to convey, as a single voice. And, considering it was our first time working together, I think it went incredibly smoothly! For example, as we were going through scenes, ideas, and concepts, he'd ask me what was really important to me, for a scene or idea. Then he would make sure that it happened. I did the same thing when Jonathan would say he really thought it needed to come from a certain way, shot wise, or story-wise. And I would say, that makes sense, let's do it! We also both, love fairy tales and stories that are magical. We were both in perfect alignment when bringing this message to the audience. I think it shows, and I hope the audience feels that as well!
• What new awareness led you from Artistic Director and choreographer to the creation of a film, and what did you particularly enjoy about this experience?
I've always loved seeing movies. When I was a young boy, my Mother and I loved going to the movies. She was quite a movie buff, and she took me to every new film release imaginable! She loved scary movies especially! I was one of the people in line, for the first 3 Star Wars films. That anticipation of what you were going to see, after hearing rumors and reading articles, was almost unbearable! I remember seeing Alien in '79 in San Francisco with my Mother when I was about 9! We held each onto each other for most of that movie! I love Ridley Scott's films! When I finally got my SAG card in LA and began performing and acting in films and after working for Directors like Mel Brooks, Paul Verhoven, Sam Raimi, and Tony Kaye, and seeing their processes, I immediately knew I wanted to create my own films!
Once I connected with Jonathan to make Carnival of Wonders as a real film, I immediately got a feeling of being washed over with warmness and pure raw creativity. Hard to describe. I think because I have been a choreographer and Artistic Director, that transition was quite seamless, creatively speaking. It felt amazing! Working with someone like Jonathan, who is so kind, and patient was one of the best experiences of my life! I think seeing what is in my head, comes into the realm of film? It is the best feeling I have ever had as a creator!
• Carnival of Wonders is an invitation to Life. Not the one wasted in betraying one’s Innate Nature by doing things that do not match what one is, but the one committed to discovering one’s true talents and developing them. What were the best experiences that made you understand this concept, which made you an aware person?
Good question! I have to say that I was raised with a very acute awareness about every detail in each day. My Mom was definitely like this, but so was my Dad. To see everything that's occurring around you, take notice of it. Feel from it. Learn from it. Why is something occurring that you notice? Even just a car drive with Mom and Dad, was an education! I also had a very sensitive Mother who always said to me "really try to walk in someone else's shoes, before judging a situation". Those sentiments have never left me. I use all of that in all of my work. It's a blessing and curse really. Sometimes I am too overloaded with ideas. Funny, I prefer working with performers who have different levels of discipline, different body types, way different personalities, and big variables in their talents! Carnival of Wonders was exactly that! I brought in some of the stars from Cirque in Las Vegas, our amazing Fire spinners, Contortionist, and the two hand balancer guys. I then mixed the townspeople and dancers between young and old, heavy and thin, advanced and beginner levels. I believe that bringing the pros in, help the newer ones see the level of professionalism and work even harder. It's great to have a group of professional A-listers. but for me? Boring a bit. Authenticity is everything when I work, so that mix of humans makes an awareness happen that is universal. At least on set!
Change can be scary. But it is a constant in our lives. On this earth. Look what is happening! Push your limits. Take chances. Love big.
• THE SOUL MUST GO ON: how important is it really to be awake to participate in life’s great show, enjoy it to the fullest and inspire other souls?
For me? The only reason I am on this earth! I think as creators, we should be striving to inspire, to help others during this life experience, and to create magical moments. I believe in two words: Authenticity and Inclusion. The most important values to have when I create!
• People forget their talents and often desire things that do not reflect their authenticity. What do you advise people out there, from the youngest to the most mature, who feel “lost souls” and how do you think they could find their real “meaning of life”?
You guys ask the best questions! First of all. I hate dream crushers. I know many of those types. When I left High School, most everyone said I'd never make a real job as a dancer, that it was a hobby. I'm amazed that many still think like this. Even friends I have, do this to themselves and others. I am a dream encourager! I say GO FOR YOUR DREAMS! I think the most important thing is that if you have a dream? You have to go for that dream, NO MATTER WHAT! One Caveat: Your dream may not look exactly like you planned. That's ok! Be open to the evolution of your life's dream! Keep on track, dream big, and believe!
• How much, in your opinion, does our socio-cultural and economic structure negatively affect our lack of respect for ourselves and others?
Unfortunately, I think severely. We are in this crisis right now, so the timing of this question is so important and layered. As I said before, many people do not believe that a career in the arts is a "real" job. That is definitely echoed in the tone from this current administration. Can I get political? LOL, seriously, it's a very difficult time for the performing arts and artists of all types. Dancers, actors, technicians, directors, choreographers and so many others. Now with the much needed protesting in support of the African American community? We have to hold human life to the highest regard. Self-respect is the only way to treat others with kindness. There must be a turnaround for the human race. It starts at home. I believe that firmly.
• The soul is ageless. Mark Twain once said “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Could this concept encompass the essence of Carnival of Wonders?
I absolutely LOVE this! Yes! This is the core essence of Carnival of Wonders! Take risks. Go for your dreams! I am a huge risk taker as is my husband, David. We'd spend our last 20$ on a change in our lives. A tank of gas to a new place? Change can be scary. But it is a constant in our lives. On this earth. Look what is happening! Push your limits. Take chances. Love big. Carnival of Wonders is rooted in this belief!
• What are your next projects? Do you want to give us a preview? Where can our readers follow them?
Well, I am actually slowly working on Carnival of Wonders 3. We are rehearsing once a week, on Zoom! I am most excited to share a concept that myself and Jonathan Lawrence are working towards. A film project that we plan to shoot in Las Vegas! I can tell you that it is about the Las Vegas Showgirl. An art form that has all but disappeared. Jonathan and I are very excited about this one! Stay Tuned!
• Thank you, Christopher. We hope that your words and plans will awaken as many souls as possible. Is there something or someone you want to thank or to whom you feel you want to dedicate the last words of this beautiful interview?
I want to thank Jonathan Lawrence, our film director and cinematographer. We had never worked together before Carnival of Wonders! He is an absolute dream. talented, kind, and incredibly gifted! Here's to our next project!
Our cast of talented dancers and extras from Half Moon Bay! Thank you!
My Cirque du Soleil buddies Chris, Blake, Anna, and Mike, who donated their talent and time for free!!! You have my heart!
Our leads, Jeffrey, Jordan, Jennifer, and Joy! You are all magic. Thank you! Bravo!
Lisa Grisim. Jordan's incredible Mother. Friend, ally, and the biggest supporter of our film!
Lastly, my husband David Oliphant. He believes in me and is my biggest cheerleader. I learn to be a better man each day because of David. I love you!
- Website: https://carnivalofwondershmb.com/
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