To those who like to perform, the first few years in the industry are viewed as the time to try anything and everything, to experiment it all, and get as many shows as you possibly can on your resume. At a time where most artists can’t get busy enough in between time zones, welcoming a child into the world and investing more energy in being a good father rather than a seasoned performer can be seen as putting the brakes on your career. That however is the choice that Gisle Henriet made at 22 years old, barely a year after graduating from Montreal National Circus School. The idea that changing diapers and costumes are not compatible never even occurred to him!
“And that is hugely because of my wife who has agreed to follow me so many times, even to Norway with a newborn! Her lust for adventure and the support that she provides to our family make the whole thing possible!”
Being surrounded by kids has always brought a lot of joy to the Swedish acrobat. He was often “the older one” willing to help in circus classes and to entertain them by making up stories. That being said, the thought that he would fall in love with a Canadian woman, marry young and be a father before his 25th birthday never once crossed his mind! “I actually thought I’d be leaving Uppsala and the family house pretty late in life, but I left at 15 and never moved back.”
The world would be in a much better, less stressed-out place, if more of us would see life the way this dynamic dad describes it, his fingers running through his blond beard. Sentences like “There’s always a way to make it work” and “This was a conscious choice that I made” often come back throughout our conversation. Balancing father, performer and creator duties isn’t much harder than balancing a baby standing on both feet in one hand for Gisle! Upon realizing he would be a father, the young man informed the company that “fatherhood” would soon be added to his skills list, so they’d be prepared for his disappearance in 9 months time. Announcing it early also ensured that he could be the involved parent he envisioned himself to be.
“Being present for my family mattered immensely, even if I knew I’d find myself training and performing less. In fact, it has never really felt like a problem nor a challenge. No drama, no crisis… It would just work out, it had to!”
It not only did, but the way that the artist influences the father and vice versa would even make him better at both since each role gives him daily space for improvisation and teaches him to be flexible, more open. An artist must stay close to his emotions and cannot hide his feelings to deliver a great performance, the same way that a father honestly and openly communicates with his family. That is just one of the many links the 33 year old makes between playing for an audience and with his kids. The latter ones have always had a strong influence on his personality and have brought him creative opportunities in many forms, to the point where he no longer distinguishes father from performer!
“I chose to give all my energy to my family instead of my career. I don’t have to compete nor to flatter my ego. There is no need to force anything if some choices don’t feel right. It ain’t always meant to be, in life and on stage!”
The professional environment in which a performer evolves and the way kids are brought into it also are deciding factors of how a father can conjugate work and family. Seeing jugglers coming in with their baby to throw clubs in the air at Cirkus Cirkör’s studios in Stockholm in his youth was a regular and very casual practice that he adopted when going back to train at the circus school… his one month old strapped to him! There however is a huge difference between Montreal and Europe on that topic according to this European who feels that family really goes hand in hand with circus across the Atlantic. People in Montreal are quicker to doubt, ask questions of themselves and others when kids are a part of the equation.
“It is my responsibility, both as an artist and a father, to check with the venue and people I’m working with what are their views and rules regarding children. Having my kids in the rehearsal space or napping under my dressing room table is a very normal thing for some companies. Furthermore, knowing that your own child is sitting in the audience while you’re performing fills you with the greatest pride!”
Pride and creation. Two words that perfectly embrace the look he’s giving his four kids, busy inventing their own card game right next to him, before adding that being a father is his strongest attachment to the world and that the father is an artist who keeps getting drawn to the stage.
“And it’s with those little shows and music jams that we have back home that we get to ‘go on stage’ and create as a family. I’ve always been more into creation than endless repetitions of the same act, always thought of myself as a ‘small company guy.’ With my colleagues at Throw 2 Catch, we’re always leaving room for exploration and improvisation and have never performed the exact same show twice. My work is equally composed of creation and performance time and that reality is also a product of being a dad. It is because of the choices that I’ve made that I’ve been involved in such great creation experiences, often asked to jump in and replace on various shows, and, consequently, been able to create my own stuff while being in Montreal with my family at the same time. Pretty awesome!”
The more he talks about creation, the more his hands and eyes start moving frenetically and it’s with great joy that he describes his kids as really good, younger friends who are giving him access to a broad range of emotions. Hanging out with his sons and daughter allows him to turn into a 5 year old at play time but also to understand, support and guide each of them.
“Again, my wife’s constant support makes it all possible. She is more than half of the reason why we have such an amazing family dynamic! Each birth was always part of the discussion, never a source of stress. We even talk about creating our own family act and like turning our living room into a brainstorming studio!”
The desire to join the fun onstage came naturally to Kaspian, Elvind, Talia and Loke who have always been surrounded by arts and artistry. When the opportunity of being colleagues and sharing something unique onstage together arose, it felt like too great of a privilege to pass up!
“On stage with the kids, I am the character, the actor. I guide them as I would guide any other artist that needs my support. I take responsibility, no matter who I’m playing with or how old they are. When my eldest son and I share the stage in ‘Eat swett feet,’ our relationship is not father and son but two performers. Seeing me acting doesn’t phase him given how much time I’ve already spent playing and goofing around him. I might even be funnier on stage, come to think of it! I don’t have to and cannot set the rules up on stage, we are equals. We often even have the same salary and dressing room!”
And as his four kids are packing their bags, the Throw 2 Catch’s artistic director laughs and says that handling a family and running a company feels very similar at times and that using the company’s approach within his household could be a pretty clever idea, when planning an annual budget and looking at each member’s artistic or homeschooling goals!
“You have to be fearless to create and raise a family, but I’m at my happiest when I’m creating, when I’m allowed to be creative, to be and invest myself, rather than simply reproducing what has been done. Thanks to my wife, kids, and colleagues, I’ve found ways to do so in both my personal and professional life, to perform both roles at the same time!”
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