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Riding Self-Employment

Chris Lashua is the Founder and Director of Wheelwork Arts, LLC, a performance company based in Las Vegas, Nevada doing business as Cirque Mechanics.  The company was founded in 2004 as a way to provide a unique brand of entertainment that encompassed theater, the circus, history and all things mechanical.  Chris received a Growth Grant in 2010 to build a device to be incorporated in his shows.  Cirque Mechanics has toured the U.S. theater arts markets, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Dubai and Hong Kong.

What inspired you to enter the field you are in?
The experience that led me to enter this field was during an appearance in 1992 performing my freestyle BMX act at the Wu Ciao circus festival in China. I was representing Ringling Brothers Circus and this led me to a meeting with one of the creators of Cirque du Soleil and he invited me to join their tour in Japan. Once I had a taste of theatrical circus and the international travel, I was hooked.

When and why did you start your business?
We launched Wheelwork Arts in 2004. We wanted to be our own boss and be able to express ourselves creatively without the limits imposed by large companies.

When and why did you join the NASE?
We joined NASE when we launched our company Wheelwork Arts in 2004 as a way to learn from other small businesses and professionals as well as access to resources available in the NASE publications and website.

Can you tell us a bit more about the new device the 2010 Growth Grant helped you create?
The device we created is the Gantry Bike. We put all of the money from the grant towards the purchase of trusses (which are the heart of the device) used to assemble the Gantry Bike. As a result of the construction of the Gantry Bike we have been able to focus on the special event market. As a signature offering of our company the Gantry Bike lead to the creation of several other mechanical apparatus that widen the appeal of Cirque Mechanics and allow us to provide elements that continue to integrate entertainment with hospitality.

What challenges have you faced in your business?
Several years ago, as our business grew, we faced the challenge of not having our own warehouse space for storage and rehearsals. Thanks to increased business in the corporate events market we were able to secure a space. Finding new clients/business is an ongoing challenge. We have increased our sales effort by holding one on one presentations and meetings with potential clients.

How do you market your business?
We primarily rely on our website and social media presence to market our company. We are about to launch a monthly gathering of performers at our studio. We work with a New York based agency to sell and schedule tours, plus work with theaters to promote our shows.

Do you have any employees and if so, how are they categorized?
My wife Aida and I are two equal partners in the company.  We hire about 75 individuals every year on a contract basis typically tied to the show they will be working on.  In the future we would like to be in a position as our business grows to add a full time staff.

What's your schedule like, what's a typical day for you?
One of the great parts of being self-employed is that every day has the potential to be different.  A typical day may start in our warehouse space or machine shop building a new apparatus or repairing current performance machines.  We may have long brainstorming conference calls with our creative team to discuss new project ideas or might have to load a truck with our equipment to head out to an event.  Time is spent every day on the computers designing sets, developing budgets, negotiating contracts and casting performers for upcoming events.

What’s the best thing about being self-employed?
The best part of being self-employed is the flexibility in workspace and schedule, plus the freedom to make decisions without the typical bureaucracy of large companies.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received from a client?
The best compliments come as audiences laugh and applaud.  Meeting younger performers who are inspired by our shows and audience members that are grateful for our appearance in their city are always extremely gratifying.

What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone starting their own business?
Make sure you love what you do every day and surround yourself with talented, creative people you like.

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