Coronavirus: Cirque lays off more than half its staff

Late Monday afternoon, the Montreal-based circus — the world’s largest live-touring company — confirmed that more than half of its global staff is being laid off indefinitely: 1,400 staff and technicians from its touring and resident shows and 1,200 artists from its shows. The company says all of the layoffs are temporary.

Cirque du Soleil employs 4,900 people around the world.

On the weekend, the Cirque announced that it was suspending all of its touring and resident shows. That includes its six permanent shows in Las Vegas: O at Bellagio, KÀ at MGM Grand, The Beatles Love at the Mirage, Mystère at Treasure Island, Zumanity at New York-New York and Michael Jackson One at Mandalay Bay.

The shuttered touring shows include Under the Same Sky, which was supposed to have had its world première at the Old Port in Montreal in April and then go on tour. Other touring big top shows shut down include Alegria in Austin, Chicago and Houston; Bazzar in New Orleans and Salt Lake City; Kooza in Tel Aviv; Totem in Munich; Volta in Costa Mesa and Denver; and Kurios in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

It has also temporarily suspended its arena touring shows, notably Axel, which is touring the U.S. and Canada; the Blue Man Group world tour in Switzerland, Netherlands and Portugal; Corteo in France, Denmark, Sweden and Belgium; Crystal in the U.K. and North America; and Ovo in the U.S.

Almost none of the layoffs are at Cirque’s head office in Montreal, which has 1,600 employees. About 100 people were laid off from the team working on Under the Same Sky in Montreal.

Via email, the Cirque said: “The company has shut down all its operations indefinitely until the coronavirus is controlled and its performers, employees and audience members are no longer at risk. We will continue to monitor and assess the situation to determine when shows will resume.”

The Caisse de dépôt et de placement du Québec recently increased its stake in the Cirque from 10 to 20 per cent when Cirque founder Guy Laliberté sold the remaining 10-per-cent stake that he had retained in the company. Company executives are in daily talks with executives from the Caisse “to find the best ways to stabilize and ensure a healthy financial rebound for the company,” according to the email from the Cirque du Soleil.

Executives from the Cirque were not talking to the media Monday.

In a response to emailed questions, the Cirque would not reveal if these employees and artists would be receiving compensation from the company.

A performer with a Cirque touring show wrote anonymously to allege that the company is using the “force majeure” legal option, which the artist said means that “all touring artists and staff (onstage performers, technical staff, office staff, tour support staff) will NOT be paid and contractual performance contracts will not be honoured during the indefinite period of time off. All touring staff are now not being paid whatsoever and are all essentially laid off indefinitely regardless of previously agreed-upon contract terms.”

When asked directly about this, the Cirque wrote: “This is an incredibly difficult situation and we are currently looking at all the possible options to stabilize the company for the future. We are now working with all of our partners and the Canadian government to figure out how best to support our employees and prepare for Cirque to return aggressively as soon as this pandemic is controlled.We have nothing to announce at this time.”

{ SOURCE: Brendan Kelly, Montreal Gazette }