Sarah Turner is a British-born gymnast and acrobat who has been training since she was 5 years old. There are thousands of versions of her living and working in Las Vegas, but there’s only one Sarah Turner.
When she’s performing in Mystère as one of the show’s high-flying “Spermatine” characters, catapulting across the stage from the teeterboard or somersaulting furiously along a series of trampolines, she’s unrecognizable as Sarah Turner, but in another way, that’s the truest version of herself.
She’s been with Cirque du Soleil since 2010, performing in several touring and resident productions, and arrived in Las Vegas in 2018 to join the cast of the company’s first Strip residency show at Treasure Island. When I met her last year, she told me how much she and her twin daughters enjoyed living in Las Vegas and hoped to stay here for a long time.
“It’s crazy to me this is my job and I get paid for this,” she said. “It’s a very fun and unique environment. Everybody knows the Strip and all the shows, and it’s really exciting to be part of that. The audiences in Las Vegas seem to be more lively.”
On March 4, 2020, we did an interview and photo shoot for a magazine article that never got published. A few days later, I went on vacation for a week, and when I returned to Las Vegas, Strip casinos were shutting down.
Turner had taken a vacation back home to England in January when Mystère took its annual two-week break, and although word was spreading about the coronavirus, it didn’t seem to be much of a concern when she came back to Las Vegas.
“We all felt like kids at school. ‘Wash your hands, cover your nose and mouth,’” she recalls during a Zoom call last month. “Then in March, the [Cirque] touring shows shut down, and [we realized] maybe this was bigger than we thought. I went into work on Saturday, and we had a meeting and found out we were probably going to be reducing shows, but everything was going to be OK. Then we went in on Sunday, and it was, ‘Actually, we’re going to close.’ We did two shows that night and that was it, but even then, we thought it was going to be two weeks.”
The majority of Cirque du Soleil employees around the world were laid off, but most cast and crew members in the Las Vegas shows were furloughed and their benefits were maintained. President and CEO Daniel Lamarre says the company’s focus quickly shifted to supporting its artists in the best way it could.
“We kept up with medical insurance and worker comps to try be helpful, and that was a lot of money for us, to be frank, but obviously the situation was tough for the artists,” he says. “Today I look back, and I can say that was the best investment we could do, to keep these artists in Las Vegas and keep those relationships between us.
“We have over 125 artists on work visas, and if we would have stopped the [business] relationships between us, they would have had to leave town. Those were the kind of investments not going directly into their pocket, but certainly it protected their positions moving forward.”
Turner says she was lucky to maintain that connection and to be able to receive unemployment to keep day-to-day life as stable as possible during the past year. She also kept in touch with her Cirque family through virtual at-home workout sessions and chats.
She appreciated all the extra time with her daughters, especially being able to put them to bed at night. That only happened a couple times a week before the pandemic.
When Mystère reopens on June 28, Turner and her castmates will perform for the first time in more than 15 months. They’re not just going back to work.
“I think a lot of people take their job in the way that it’s a big part of who you are, but for us it’s more of a complete lifestyle,” she says. “It’s a unique job and a really cool job, and a lot of people are very proud to work for Cirque. So all of a sudden to have that taken away, I felt like I didn’t have a purpose in life. I’ve never not worked, never been on unemployment, never been that person that stays home and doesn’t do anything. But obviously, it affected the whole world and the whole industry, so it’s not like you could go out and get a job doing something else.
“Now that so many [performers] have had it temporarily taken away from them, I think everybody will be even more grateful for the job they have, especially knowing we’ll be one of the only shows that will be open,” she says. “There are still thousands of artists out of work, and we’re all hoping and praying they can get back to work.”
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