Viktor Franyo is a guy whose face you may have seen before, either behind the clever makeup of his character in Cirque du Soleil’s TORUK–The First Flight (inspired by James Cameron’s AVATAR) as he tours the world, or as the rising star of the Circus Talk commercial we filmed with him in 2015. Franyo has an inspiring story to tell about making his way to the top echelon of the circus industry, and we asked him to tell it to us in his own words in this recent interview while he was on a brief break from touring:
How did you get involved with the circus? What made you apply to the Hungarian Circus School and how old were you?
When my mom was pregnant with me, a circus came to our village to perform there and the owner asked her if she would like to join the circus. She said no, but it looks like my life was meant to end up in this magical world. When I was seven years old, I saw a circus and later, I heard many stories about how the performers traveling around the world. It was then that I decided I wanted to be an acrobat. My mom tried to get information in my school about circus education but the teacher laughed at us and said I had no chance of getting in to a school like that because it was mostly for the kids of circus dynasties. Three years later, we moved to Budapest and soon after, I saw a commercial on TV about an audition at the Hungarian Circus School. That day changed my life forever.
What is your specialty? What were your performing opportunities after graduation?
The first three years in the circus school we learned everything on the basic level, like juggling, ballet, pantomime, acting, trapeze and acrobatics. After that, they decided what our strongest ability was and we formed groups and solo acts. During that time, I grew very fast and I got taller and stronger than my classmates. So they decided to make me a porter in a Russian bar group. For the next five years, I was mostly standing on the ground, throwing people in the air and catching them. I was happy to do it, but looking back I’m a bit sad that I missed the chance to learn anything else. My aerial career started only 7 years ago with corde lisse. My first performance alone on stage was in 2011 in New York city.
Was it difficult to find a contract right after graduation? How did being a graduate from your circus school help you prepare for seeking employment?
As we graduated from the circus school at age 18, we got an agent who worked for Maciva (Magyar Cirkusz es Variete Company) that was part of the Hungarian State Circus. They created a Hungarian Gala and all of the agents came to watch the Budapest Circus Festival. From that, Laszlo Endresz offered us our first contract to work with his show in Blackpool Tower Circus, where the show won the 2002 Best Circus Show in England title. We traveled mostly around Europe and spent 4 awesome years together with our little team that I consider family.
How and why did you move to the US? Tell us about your career challenges after you moved.
My mom decided to give up her Hungarian life and start a new life in New York. In the summer of 2011, I went to visit her and I fell in love with a beautiful Hungarian girl who lived there. I promised her I’d be back in a month. So I went home, ended all my jobs with the theaters I worked for, sold my apartment and with a student visa I was back in the Big Apple in 30 days as promised. We both were very passionate about our careers and had many challenges in that big city, so our love faded out after a couple months, but I fell in love with the city so much that I decided to live there for a while. I’m grateful for my mom and the many people that helped me along the way. My only dream at that time was to get into a big production as an acrobat. So next to my job and school I trained as hard as I could. With a couple of my friends, we performed on the streets, in the park or subway stations. It was out way to train and make some money at the same time.It was a very busy and challenging time, but I really loved that part of my life.
I always adored your positive attitude. How can you keep up that attitude in the most challenging times of your life?
I got this positive attitude mostly from my mother. We grew up in a small village in Hungary and she was the one who always dreamed big and that’s how I had so many opportunities at a young age. She always tried to give her best for me and made me feel special. And I believed it so much that it became my reality. When I lived in New York I listened to motivational speeches, and read books in my free time. I learned how others become successful. I think everyone can reach their dream if their believe in it and most importantly, if they’re willing to work and sacrifice almost everything for it.
What resources have you used to find jobs while you were in the US? Where and how often did you train to keep in shape?
I tried to find as many auditions as I could but I didn’t really find a platform like Circus Talk where I can search for everything in one place. Usually, I heard about them on social pages or when friends sent me messages. But many auditions were only for citizens of the US. Twice I flew to Vegas for an audition but got the same answer: it was easier to hire a local then a foreigner. When I arrived in New York, I started my training at Circus Warehouse where they made me feel at home right away. They always welcomed me, even in the hard times. When I wasn’t able to pay for training, they offered me free classes and kept me progressing and learning. I also trained in many other smaller facilities.The circus community is awesome. It’s always a big family, even if you are far away from your home.
How did your big break come?
In 2014, I won a grant by the STREB – GO! Emerging Artist Commissioning Program and created a 15 min show with my 8-year-old friend Mark Kiss. In the summer of 2014, the artistic director of the Abu Dhabi Ferrari World offered me a stunt job for their upcoming show where I had to perform on a 16 meter wall. In the story my character Agent Cavallino had to save the planet every day. We performed that show three times a day and it was so much fun. Finally, I was concentrating only on my performing career!
How did you get to Cirque du Soleil? Tell us about your audition experience.
Halfway through my contract with Ferrari World, I got an email from Cirque du Soleil asking for some extra audition videos for their upcoming show TORUK– The First Flight. The first time I auditioned for Cirque du Soleil was 10 year prior to that. We had a casting audition with my Russian bar team in Budapest and it was an awesome mind blowing experience! Ever since then, I updated my profile yearly and stayed connected with the casting team. But I never really had a real plan of which show I wanted to join. So when they contacted me about TORUK I was super excited because it’s based on the movie Avatar which I admire a lot. And I could totally see myself as a Na’vi alien from another world!
How did you feel when Cirque offered you the job?
It was definitely one of the happiest day of my career. I had finally reached the level to be part of the biggest and most famous circus company on the planet. Thousands of people’s dreams fell into my hands and what I always believed about hard work paying off became a reality.
Now that you are on tour, what do you do to stay physically and mentally strong?
Living on the tour can be challenging. Our team is not only our work group, but also our family. We train for the show daily and we push each other’s limits much as much as we can. We learn from each other and pick up new disciplines on the road. I also try to find local gymnastics, aerial studios, parkour or ninja warrior parks, and high diving classes so I can continue improving myself. I also try to learn online. Last year, I finished my Personal Trainer course so I could challenge myself not only physically but mentally. I love doing yoga and sometimes I meditate as well to keep my body and mind in a healthy balance.
We appreciated from the beginning that you believed in the CircusTalk concept and committed to be the artist in our intro video. What do you think about CircusTalk as a resource for artists?
It was an honor to be part of that revolutionary project. I was really proud to be the artist you chose. I really liked the webpage and I wish I had that resource when times were challenging so I could get easy information about the whole circus industry around the world. The platform is very well made and easy to access.
What is your advice for emerging circus artists who dream to get into a big production likeTORUK– The First Flight?
Dream big and never give up on it. Work hard every day and put all your energy and heart in it and success will come. You can easily follow Cirque du Soleil artists on social media. Check out their training and lifestyle. Don’t forget to update your profile in the databases. And don’t give up when it doesn’t happen right away. To get into a show, you have to be perfect in many criteria–not only on your skills. Be patient and your time will come if you are around long enough.
What are your future circus plans?
I’ve always been a leader type of guy. So on TORUK – The First Flight, I became a captain of three acts. I’m organizing the schedules and the rotations for the shows. Later, when my body doesn’t feel like performing anymore, I would maybe like to move to a bigger scale and be an artistic director. Working with other people always makes me happy and it’s a great way to challenge and bring out the best in each other.
On the other hand, I really like to work on the technical side as well. As a young artist I learned how to build a tent and do my own rigging. Later, I worked with a big Hungarian production for 6 years and I became a technical director where I organized full load in and load out for arenas and big tops with over 10 trucks and running a staff of 30 people. I also have dreams that I can’t talk about yet, but just like the dream that I’m living now, hopefully soon enough you might be able to see it.
Feature Photo: Viktor Franyo, Chief of the Kekunan clan in TORUK – The First Flight. Photo courtesy of Thierry Ballangé.