Q&A: Jenn Haight
Jenn Haight has been starring in Cirque du Soleil’s action-packed KÁ since it first debuted at MGM Grand more than 14 years ago. She plays one of the lead roles of Twin Sister, and her actual older sister, Cheri, portrayed her onstage counterpart Twin Brother for much of the show’s dynamic run.
As KÁ has evolved from a curious story-driven creation into a true institution on the Las Vegas Strip, Haight has grown as a performer, excelling at the more emotional aspects of her nightly gig, which has her hanging tight on a ship battling a vicious storm at sea, flying across a stage that rises and falls and tilts beneath her, and taking the audience along for an epic journey of redemption.
When KÁ opened in 2005, you were the youngest member of the cast.
Being 17 and being given such a big role, one of the lead roles, there was a lot of responsibility and pressure. I think I made everyone proud and helped to make the show what it is now, and it’s evolved a lot over time. It’s a great honor, but being 17, there’s a lot going on in your life. I was really growing up with the company. It was a great adventure and it turned out well for me.
What kind of performance background did you bring to Cirque?
I did martial arts, starting at age 10 with kung-fu and then switching over to another Chinese martial art called wushu, and I competed for six years all over the United States and Canada. Being a competitor meant traveling and doing different routines and trying to place but we did a lot of performances on the side for our school. We’d go to different venues and have to adapt to being onstage, and sometimes they’d say the stage is 20 by 20 (feet) when it was actually five by five with a piano onstage. So in terms of being a performer, my background is having to learn to adapt well, and Cirque du Soleil is sort of the same thing, adapting to any atmosphere. I didn’t know at the time but it definitely prepared me.
You also had to learn different skills and circus arts, like climbing a rope and swinging from a trapeze, to prepare for your role. What was the biggest challenge?
Probably adjusting to a very busy schedule. I had 12-hour shifts, training all day long, eating lunch and then getting straight back in. That was the hardest thing.
What’s your show schedule like now?
I get there around 4:30 and start makeup, which takes me about an hour, then do hair prep, then go up to the training room and warm up for about an hour. At 6:30 I’m going downstairs in full hair and makeup and doing all my presets, getting into character, stretching and training with other artists. Just making sure everything runs smoothly.
How big of a change was it when your sister left the show three years ago?
It was a big change but I was lucky because the ones that stepped forward to play the Twin Brother character were understudies, and one of them I had worked with for 10 years. It was kind of plug and play. But I was blessed [to have her around] because when we started, I was 17 and she was 20, and I always had her with me whether we were going to Montreal or coming to Vegas. It’s always nice to have that moral support and just support in general, of having your sister around.
KÁ has a storyline that sets it apart from other Cirque d Soleil shows. What is your favorite part of the show?
I think you hit the nail on the head. We really try to drive that story and I find the most fun part of performing is getting to feel those emotions. My character goes from happy to sad to falling in love, then gathering all her strength and winning back the kingdom from the ones who attacked us. Playing all those emotions is really fun and when you get to connect to the audience and really see how invested they are in what you’re giving them onstage, that’s the best reward. It makes me feel like I’m doing my job to the fullest. It’s great.
Do you still practice martial arts?
Yes. It’s hard sometimes to train all the time but in that hour before the show, sometimes I go through my routines, some of my kicks and my different forms of weaponry, even though I don’t use them in the show, just to stay sharp. And it’s nice to get the pleasure of doing it again in a different way. I definitely try to squeeze it in. It’s a part of me and I don’t want to lose that.