Cirque du Soleil staffer connects to Judaism around the world
“Every time I do something closer to Judaism, I feel closer to my family, even if I'm far away from them.”
Veronica Nijensohn is 5,361 miles from Buenos Aires, but little reminders bridge the distance.
She scrolls through photos of her niece. Nijensohn, 33, messages family members on her iPhone. Engagements with fellow landsmen spur memories of Argentina.
Nijensohn is a stage manager for Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group. She and 116 other artists, engineers and Cirque staffers treated Pittsburghers to five shows in four days last week.
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Though the Jan. 5-8 stay was brief, Nijensohn told the Chronicle she used her time wisely. She visited Randyland and the National Aviary, learned about Pittsburgh and documented her stay with beautiful photographs.
Before becoming a stage manager with the acrobatic company, Nijensohn studied photography. Her photos, which she edits with Snapseed and posts on Instagram, document sites worldwide. The images capture snowfalls, street scenes and reflections cast by skyscrapers. Unlike the perfectly prepared movements of Cirque’s dancers, Nijensohn’s photos detail beautiful blips or unexpected views.
“I keep my eyes open when I’m walking, and I see stuff,” she said.
Nijensohn deflected praise for her photographic ability and continued, “I just pay attention. Things are there, you just need to see them.”
Since officially joining Cirque in April 2022, Nijensohn has seen the world. She’s visited Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Poland and numerous countries spanning east and west. The next several months will be spent between the United States and Canada.
One of the gifts of globetrotting is its ability to further bonds with relatives in Argentina, she explained.
“Part of my family is very religious — I have two cousins who are very religious — so I’m really close to that,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard to connect to Judaism, but I try.”
During a European tour, she stopped in Auschwitz. Over Rosh Hashanah, she found a synagogue in Vienna. On Yom Kippur, she attended services in Manchester. Weeks ago, she was in Montreal when a random person gave her a menorah.
Nijensohn celebrated Chanukah by bringing the menorah back to her hotel. Terrified of triggering the smoke alarm, however, she ignited the flames in her bathroom, she said with a laugh.
Touring the world with Cirque is demanding, and there isn’t much time off, but there are opportunities to create meaningful Jewish experiences, she noted. “Every time I do something closer to Judaism, I feel closer to my family, even if I’m far away from them.”
Whether speaking with fellow synagogue-goers or random menorah-gifters in the street, it’s fun interacting with other landsmen, Nijensohn said: “It’s good to meet other people that basically have the same beliefs as you.”
There are obvious differences between Jewish communities and individuals everywhere, but being able to see so much is “really good,” she said. “It’s very enriching. It really helps me grow as a person.”
Nijensohn told the Chronicle that she’s the only Jewish staffer touring with Cirque and that interacting with colleagues from numerous cultures and nationalities is a treat.
“I’m a stage manager. I always compare it to an orchestra director, where everyone knows what they need to do, but you organize it so it synchronizes and goes well together,” she said. “There’s a lot of scheduling, a lot of taking care of the artists, but it’s basically a mixture between the artistic and the technical side of the show.”
Nijensohn works with every Cirque staffer, but said her team consists of three other stage managers, including a general stage manager, a coach who oversees the acrobatic elements of the show and an artistic director, who serves as Cirque’s artistic head: “It’s not just me, it’s a team effort.”
The commonality, among both her team and the larger staff, is that virtually no one is a native English speaker — Nijensohn’s first language is Spanish; her second language is French; then she speaks English — and because almost everybody is conversing in a non-native tongue, nobody is judging your grammar, she added.
Cirque is now in New England. At the end of January, it will head to Norfolk, Virginia, before venturing to Texas, Oklahoma, Washington, Oregon and then New Jersey and Ohio in June.
Nijensohn is eager to continue traveling. She encouraged people to see the show and said that those interested in pursuing similar career paths should reach out about shadowing staffers.
“Never stop studying,” she said. “Try to make connections.”
Traveling the world is a pleasure, and as a Jewish person an amazing way to contribute to people everywhere, she said. “I think art is a different way to light the world. You can light the candles, but also every time you go to a show, you go to a museum, you take a picture, it’s a different way of lighting the world. It’s not only on Chanukah, you can do it all year.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at [email protected]