Alex Woo Interview

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Alex Woo, a native of Boston, Massachusetts in the USA is an artist in the tour show, Cirque du Soleil’s AXEL. AXEL is a live performance that features ice skating, acrobatics, and wushu. Woo is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and worked at Tufts Medical Center before being hired by Cirque du Soleil.

Woo trained at Calvin Chin Martial Arts Academy, Rick Wong’s Chinese Martial Arts Center, and New England Championship Wushu Academy for traditional and modern wushu.

Credit: Benoit Leroux

How long have you lived in Boston?

My whole life.

What did you study at UMass?

I double-majored in Sociology and Asian American studies. I did a lot of research on the history of Asian people migrating from different Asian countries to the USA. The different stories they have and how migrating has affected their lives coming here. It was cool to take different courses in Asian American studies.

Credit: Justine Agaloos

What kind of martial arts training have you done?

I trained tiger crane style. Which is the opposite of modern wushu because it mostly focuses on stances. The closest wushu style is nanquan because of the animal forms. There are a lot of similarities in tiger crane movements. Then in the more recent years, I started to train in modern wushu.

Out of all the styles in wushu which one do you practice the most?

I don’t have a primary style or choose one over the other. Otherwise, I would lose skill over the other. When I was on tour I was focusing on the routine for the show. In my free time, I focus on brushing up on the nanquan or changquan so I won’t lose any of that.

Credit: Benoit Leroux

What inspired you to audition for Cirque du Soleil?

I’ve been a big fan of Cirque du Soleil since I was 8 years old. The first Cirque du Soleil show I went to was their resident show at Disney World. The show is not there anymore, but it was there for a long time. After seeing that production, I was already a huge fan. Fast forward to middle school I was at Las Vegas, I saw Cirque du Soleil’s KA. There is a lot of wushu in the show, KA. When I saw that perfect marriage of mixed martial arts, wushu, and acrobatics, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I’m going to train as hard as I can to reach that goal. It was the first personal goal I made for myself. When it was time for me to train I did nothing, but that train towards that. It took a very long time to reach that goal

Around 2013 I started to actively apply for the job. I started to actively brush up on the skills or anything I could do this show them this is my best. I first auditioned in 2015 in Las Vegas. I did not get at that time. I went into it blindly because you don’t know what to expect. The first time I auditioned there was maybe 50 of us. They wanted to perform a one-minute piece to show your best skills. The next round they will keep people or cut people. They cut me the first round. The first time was devastating because you trained so hard and all of your focus was getting in. It’s tough to handle that kind of rejection. After working for so long and that hard.

Luckily the people in casting told me what I should do to work on myself. I’m very thankful they gave me the advice. So for the next three years, I did nothing but train. I decided I’m going to go back to the drawing board. I asked myself, “What are the things I can do to get better? But I should also focus on the thing I did right.” Fast forward to 2018, I auditioned in Los Angeles and this time it was an audition to get into their database and for a stunt show, they are working on. That time I got into the database. Then five months later I got the contract for AXEL then immediately I said “Yes!”. I’m going to take it.

Credit: Justine Agaloos

What was the process like for the second audition which is Cirque du Soleil’s database?

The audition is a long process and it’s a lot of steps to get into the database. You apply online first. If they like the content, you sent online then they will send you to a live audition. Then you go through all the steps the same day. If you get into the database, it’s like being on a waiting list for them to contact you. They will contact you if there is a role that matches your skillset. Then you can make a decision. If it’s yes, they present your profile to the director of the show. If the director likes it then you can be offered a contract.

All of this process is worth it especially if you have the goal set for so long. Having patience because it takes a lot of time. You can try for so long but ultimately it’s up to the director.

Credit: Benoit Leroux

What advice would you give to people who want to do martial arts for live performances?

Do your best. Be the best you can be. The most important thing is to try and get out of your comfort zone. Plus, don’t hurt yourself. I have gotten it to some points. Do I have to do this new skill at this level? Focus on what your good at. Focus on your strengths and work on that. Do something safe first and second do something that you’re personally good at.

The first time I had to audition I did not know what to do. So I tried to do all these new movements to impress them. But it did not work. I’m giving the same advice they gave me, just back to your roots and think of what you’re good at. Once you hone those skills then you will be good.

The most important thing is to not give up. I know it’s easy for someone to move on. But it also depends on how much do you want it? How badly do you want this goal? Once you answer this question. How much effort can I put into this? The main thing is don’t give up especially when you are rejected.

Credit: Cirque du Soleil

What is your daily routine at Cirque du Soleil?

The great thing about touring with Cirque du Soleil is that every day is different. There are days when we rehearse, there are days when we have regular training and then the days we have shown. We go in and clock in then put on our make-up, change and train. We warm-up before the shows. We have two days off than during another day we go in for rehearsal. We are changing a number or practicing our number for the show. That would last for a couple of hours during the day. When it’s a show day we go and spend or two hours putting on our make-up. Personally, it takes an hour to warm up and stretch. There’s a number where I perform for two and a half minutes. The show itself is two hours including intermission so during the whole show plus my number there are many ques that I do. It’s tiring but it’s a lot of fun.

Credit: Cirque du Soleil

Did you choose your make-up?

Cirque du Soleil picked the make-up for me. So the way it was when I had my first meeting with the creators. They ran the whole show with me and talked about the beginning to end. They showed pictures of what the show was going to be like. They also showed me what my costume is going to be like. The make-up looked a lot like what they have in KA. They taught me to step by step how to do the make-up. I tried doing the makeup by myself. It took around two hours. Then practicing it over and over. Then I got down to about an hour.

Did you create your character for the show?

They did everything for the show. It was their concept. In the first meeting, they explained my role. Before I started the show, the original concept was the martial artist was supposed to be a girl. However, when they tried to look for a girl artist they could not find any. Some girls were not available or did not match the role. Then they created the male character.

Credit: Justine Agaloos

What weapons do you use for your character role?

They first had me do a number with four weapons. Then they figure four and a half minutes would be too long for a number. Then they shortened it to two and a half minutes. Then instead of all those weapons, they decided it to staff to double sword.

What is the best way to improve your stamina in wushu?

The best way to improve your stamina is to just do your forms. Whether I was at tournaments or on tour, I’m focusing on just doing my routines.

What is nutrition like while you are on tour?

I focus on having a healthy diet. Protein, carbs, and vegetables. When you’re doing a lot of shows, you have to make sure you are eating a lot.

While you were on tour does Cirque du Soleil have their cafeteria?

Yea! It was great. During the tour, we have our catering team. Our breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They made sure while we are on tour we are well fed. They had professional chefs making our food. I appreciated that.

What options did they have for room and board?

We had the option to have a roommate or not. I did not have a roommate. I chose to have my privacy and relax.

How is meeting people from all around the world?

The great part of being part of the Cirque du Soleil show, you get to meet people from all around the world with many different talents and skillsets. It’s great to meet all of them and become good friends with them.

What state do you want to visit while you are on tour?

Either California or Nevada. Nevada because of Las Vegas.


Any last advice you would like to give to people who want to practice martial arts in the performing arts?

Besides working hard and training, go and see as many live productions as you can. I learned how to be more presentable on stage. There’s a huge difference between competing and performing. When you’re on stage it’s about how you are presenting yourself. Having a great stage presence. When you’re not feeling in the form, then you might not get the same performance. Watch live productions especially Cirque du Soleil. Watch how people present themselves even the littlest things.

Wushu Schools in Boston

New England Championship Wushu Academy
Calvin Chin’s Martial Arts Academy
Rick Wong Martial Arts

Connect with Alex Woo

Justine is a National USA Wushu Taolu Judge and was on the 2017 U.S.A. Traditional Wushu Team. Justine works full time as a Systems Analyst. With her extra time, Justine currently travels to domestic and international wushu tournaments.