Most future healthcare professionals don’t study by day and don masks to carry out duels at night. But for Trent Sebastian Eisma-Naparan, combat (albeit staged) is part of his weekly routine.
The first-year nursing student plays multiple secondary characters in KÀ, a fast-paced Cirque du Soleil show. It makes for a frenetic but manageable collegiate life.
Eisma-Naparan has been practicing Wushu (Kung Fu) since he was 12 years old, and his Cirque du Soleil story began then too. “My coach was actually one of the original cast members of KÀ,” he says. “He's been there as long as KÀ has been open.”
Nursing has always been a major part of his life, with both his parents and grandparents in the vocation. “I was interested in healthcare for a long time. I would always play with my mom's stethoscope,” he explains. “I got into Wushu because my mom wanted to make sure I was doing something active instead of just staying home and playing video games.”
In 2018, his coach recommended him for an open on-call position with KÀ that required someone with Wushu experience. “He got me an audition with two other people who did karate,” he says. “They ended up hiring all of us.”
A Pandemic Pivot
Eisma-Naparan performed in KÀ until March 2020, when COVID-19 shut down all productions. By the time the show came back around in fall 2021, Eisma-Naparan’s interest in healthcare was calling. "I love Wushu, but after doing it [for] years as a teenager, I thought, ‘Why am I still here?’”
Eisma-Naparan says his mother was somewhat hesitant to see him become a nurse. “She just wanted to make sure that I was pursuing my passion, not just doing nursing for the money,” he explains. The pandemic reignited his interest in medicine, and nursing offered an accelerated path toward employment. “I had no job. I felt a little lost in a sense. I needed to make money but I still didn't want to lose the opportunity of going into the medical field. I saw nursing as a good mix of both worlds.”
He applied for nursing school just as live performances started coming back. “The acceptance for nursing school was around the same time they had auditions for KÀ — the re-audition to make sure you still know how to do your stuff.” He declined the audition because of the possibility he’d have to quit . But he wasn’t selected for the next immediate nursing cohort in spring 2022, leaving him without either opportunity. Eisma-Naparan applied again for UNLV Nursing, this time being accepted for the summer cohort.
Fortunately, KÀ staff also reached out to him, asking if he could come back. “I had gotten my acceptance into nursing school, but I realized we didn't start until May. So I was like, ‘okay, I'll work for you guys for a few months,’” he says. “So I did that, and I got back into it.” And he was surprised to find he could handle both.
Perfecting the Balancing Act
On the surface, being a nursing student and a live performer might seem difficult, but Eisma-Naparan is finding balance easier than he expected. While he’s a full-time student, he’s an on-call actor. In between costume changes or other stage preparation during a show, he can fit in some quick homework time. “At first, I was worried, thinking, 'I need to be in a certain place at a certain time. I need to make sure all this is done.’ But, after you do it for a while, it becomes second nature.”
Eisma-Naparan says being a performer, particularly his Kung Fu training, helped him develop stronger life skills, specifically teamwork and setting objectives. “Even if there's no set goal, you have to make up a goal in your head,” he says. “I think that was a helpful thing I learned from Wushu: being able to keep doing something even sometimes when you hate it."
His mother’s encouragement reinforced that lesson in persistence. “Even when I was in Wushu, I didn't think I would get into KÀ; that was never the plan. I was doing it just because I liked to do it. Then when I would get mad and not want to do it, I just kept doing it because my mom said, 'It's okay, just try it for two more weeks.’ Then I would keep going for two more weeks and say, ‘Okay, I really want to get this down now.’”
Eisma-Naparan says his real passion is simply being able to do activities he wants to do. “Being in [health] is something I wanted to do forever,” he says. “Also, there are so many different aspects of nursing. I could literally do anything. That also helps because I like to do different things.”