Alumni Spotlight: Her Job Isn't Such a High-wire Act Anymore
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
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
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
Do you have any plans to go back and pursue other
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
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
Learn more about Organizational Leadership & Communication at ce.uci.edu/olc.