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DCE Magazine

Alumni Spotlight: Her Job Isn't Such a High-wire Act Anymore

Spring 2019

This DCE alumna found her voice as a leader managing Cirque du Soleil's “Zumanity”

You might say Tracy Blackwell is a multitasker extraordinaire. As associate company manager for Cirque du Soleil's hit Vegas show “Zumanity,” Blackwell has her hands full coordinating a wide range of tasks on a daily basis, keeping a million moving parts working harmoniously behind the scenes.

From people engagement to project management, Blackwell is a driving force behind “Zumanity.” And now that she has a DCE Organizational Leadership & Communication (OLC) certificate under her belt, she's taking on more responsibility than ever.

“I've always described my position as helping people navigate the off-stage stuff so they can focus their energy on the show,” she said. “Then one day I realized I had been working with ‘Zumanity’ for five years, and I felt like I had pretty much figured everything out. It's a slower show, and I just felt like I needed to do more, stretch myself. So I started looking to grow out of my old role and take on new responsibilities.”

She talked it over with her boss and he fully supported her decision. “He said, ‘I can see you're frustrated and looking to take on more opportunities.’”

Because the job requires her to fill multiple roles and interface with talent and staff around the world, Blackwell realized that communication and leadership skills were paramount to her success. She wanted to take her talents to the next level in order to advance — and that's when she serendipitously found the OLC certificate program.

“At first I started looking for graduate programs, but I had previously enrolled in two of them and never finished,” she said, laughing. “Plus, they take up too much time. That's when I stumbled on UCI. I was just Googling terms like leadership and communication, and the program popped up.

“It was like the universe directed me to it and said, ‘This is it. This is what you're looking for.’ I really believe that.”

Getting back to multitasking, Blackwell also works independently doing voice-overs and commercial jingles, using talents cultivated studying musical theater and managing stage productions, including a turn with the Broadway touring company of “101 Dalmatians Musical.”

Despite her packed schedule, she found time to catch up from her home in Las Vegas to talk about her UCI experience and the effect it's had on her life and career.

Working with Cirque du Soleil seems like a dream job. How did you land it?

Well, I've been in show business for 15 years and got my start with Blue Man Group in Las Vegas. I tried for years to get a position working for Cirque du Soleil but couldn't even get an interview, so I finally gave up and went out on national tour with “101 Dalmatians,” which unexpectedly closed after only nine months on the road. I decided to apply one more time with Cirque, this time for a position with their resident show in Macau. Ironically, the job on the other side of the world was what finally got me in the Cirque world.

So tell me a bit about your position with “Zumanity.” What does your daily workload look like?

I'm the go-to when nobody knows who to go to, handling all sorts of things on a given day. We're talking HR and benefits questions, ticketing requests, scheduling, ordering supplies, project managing, VIP hosting and whatever else comes along. But I'd say that, in addition to these ad-hoc tasks, one of my primary responsibilities revolves around communication. I'm the conduit for the flow of information from Cirque division offices, company headquarters and the hotel property.

Do you feel the OLC certificate program has had a positive impact on your job performance?

Yes, I've always had the ability to adjust my communication style to my audience, but the program really helped to enhance and hone those skills. I've also acquired stronger leadership skills and have become a much better listener. The program taught me that I need to put myself out there more, show my skills. So when I filled in for a couple months on “Michael Jackson One,” I found myself being more assertive, taking on a lot more responsibilities. I got to work with my former “Zumanity” boss, and he said he could see how I had benefited from the UCI program. I definitely felt like it changed me for the better, but it always feels so great to get outside validation like that!

So you finished the certificate program in spring 2018. What made you feel like it was time to take the leap?

I knew that I'd benefit from additional studies, and I also noticed that there were holes in the company's internal communications, and I wanted to find a way to fill those gaps. The combination of courses in the Organizational Leadership & Communication program seemed like a perfect fit! I enjoyed all of the courses, but the communications courses were my favorites.

What did you take away from those courses?

Well, I work with people from all over the world, and I learned a great deal about how to communicate with others based on understanding cultural differences. For example, I work with a lot of Asian staff members, and I came to realize that in their culture the team is the focus, not the individuals. I was having trouble getting through to them individually. But when I address them as a group, the message is much better understood and absorbed.

You have so many options for continuing education, why did you choose UC Irvine?

UCI has a great reputation, and the fact that the certificate program was online was a big factor. I loved that I could work on my projects in the evening or early morning. And I really enjoyed working on all the group projects with my classmates.

Do you have any plans to go back and pursue other certificates?

I might. I had some interest in the HR program, but I decided I really don't want to go back to a desk job. There are some other programs that interest me — the Division of Continuing Education has so many! I've been talking about my UCI experience and recommending the certificate programs. Several of my coworkers are interested.

Okay, I have to ask. What was it like being on a national Broadway tour for nine months, with dogs? Sounds like quite an ordeal.

It was! Every day I had to manage 15 dogs and 10 kids, all of them ‘tweens. I doubled as the assistant company manager and child wrangler—which was especially tough dealing with all those raging hormones. I was in charge of booking travel — flights, buses, rental cars, you name it. Every city had new challenges. One of my responsibilities was providing “city sheets” — maps of where everyone needs to go in each city we traveled to. It was a huge learning experience, and great training for what I'm doing now.

Learn more about Organizational Leadership & Communication at ce.uci.edu/olc.