Name: Didi Negron
Age started drumming: 7
Hometown: Northampton, PA
Lives in: Boston, MA
Current Bands: Cirque Du Soleil- Amaluna Band
Drum Set Up: 8 piece Gretsch Renown Kit
Fav Venue: Church
Fav Band: Snarky Puppy
Fav Food: French Fries
Backstage with Cirque Du Soleil: Didi Negron rocks Amaluna
By: Melody Berger
Live Performance photos: Ikue Yoshida
With Cirque Du Soleil’s Amaluna, director Diane Paulus (known for her Tony Award winning revivals of Hair and Pippin) has created an enchanting female-centric island. 70% of the cast and the entire band are comprised of women ass-kickers. Loosely based on the Tempest, Amaluna has all the death-defying acrobatics and fantastical theatrics one would expect from a Cirque show. And through it all, Didi Negron, drummer extraordinaire, pounds out a formidable rhythm from her smoke filled cage in the back stage-right corner. Out of the way, yet ever present, she is the primal heart of this magical island. When the circus rolled through New York City Tom Tom had a chance to catch the show and have a backstage tour and chat.
How did you get involved with Cirque and what are your suggestions for someone interested in landing a similar kind of gig?
I didn’t really have to audition because I got scouted. He saw me online so he had all my information and videos set up for the board and directors. When I answered their email saying, yes, I’m interested, they considered me along with fifteen other candidates who had auditioned. So, I’m not really sure what’s involved with the audition process. I do know there are some pieces that Cirque requires you to perform and there are calls where you can actually audition for Cirque in person, but for me I didn’t have to do that. The only thing I had to do was send an mp3 of a song of my choice and my resume. The whole process took about two months and then I got the call.
When I saw your show you told me that you’ve never missed a Cirque performance, is that still the case?
Yeah, still! And I’ve been on tour for around two and half years now, so that’s over 720 something plus shows! We started with 8 show weeks, but we’ve had some 10 show weeks. When we have those I literally have to talk to myself, to pace myself throughout the week. And it’s weird, I lose track of the days.
Your costume is quite splendid. You told me you used to have to wear a crazy wig as well?
It was a lime green wig filled with spikes, and some yellow, purple and pink. I had to watch my clearance, especially going into my drum booth, it was pretty tight. With the wig as well I had this superhero looking makeup. I had lime green going across my face and some yellow, and it was pretty cool. But they decided, ok, let’s have more of a natural look to match the rest of the band.
So, this is the first incarnation of Amaluna and you’ve been involved with it from the start?
Yes! And they have had female percussionists on other Cirque shows before, but it’s pretty cool to be the first female drummer. And in the first all female band.
Some of the band members have to fly up to the ceiling while playing. Are you glad you don’t have to do that?
Oh, I would love to do that! Trust me, during the creative I tried to convince everyone I could do like a Travis Barker thing, where I’m spinning. Or Buddy Rich used to do stuff like that. He’d be upside down and they’d spin him. I tried to pitch that out to them, but it didn’t work.
It was pretty interesting, being part of the creation from the beginning, there have been so many changes. Originally I was supposed to come out on stage more, but the drum kit was too loud for the tent. At one point I did have a drum solo where they wheeled me out on stage, but it was so loud I would have blown everyone’s ears out. So then we just decided I really don’t mind staying in the back with the drumkit because the sound is so much better.
Have you learned any circus tricks while on tour?
I’ve learned how to do handstands, I’ve learned how to walk on the tightwire. I’ve been working on my juggling skills, because my goal is to juggle with drumsticks, and it’s really hard! So, yeah, working in the circus I have learned a few tricks here and there.
What have you learned as a drummer from this gig? What’s different about this gig as opposed to touring with a band? Do you have to go more off of sight cues rather than sound?
It’s pretty cool actually. Being used to just performing with a band and that being the main thing, now I’m performing and also playing for acrobats. So I have to be in sync with them. Watching them every night, and catching their next move. For each artist, I kind of know their acts, I learn their tricks. I study their body movements so I know what their next move is so I can enhance it and do a nice little fill. Not only do I have to pay attention to the music and what I’m playing, but I have to be aware of what is happening on stage. They’re not worried about the music. They are following it to some extent, but they’re mainly focused on what they’re doing. They can be completely out of time when doing a trick. So I kind of have to split my brain in two: keep the tempo going with the music while catching their little changes every night. It helps my skills as a drummer and keeps me on my toes. I get asked this a lot, ‘so, do you get tired of playing the same music every night?’ And really, for me, it’s different every night. That’s what keeps it exciting.