Laliberté: “Ensuring a bright future for Cirque du Soleil”

(By Guy Laliberte)

The paralysis of Cirque du Soleil’s activities due to the pandemic has been making waves, and for me, has triggered a flood of emotions. Even though I’m no longer the company’s owner, I will always be its founder; I have devoted half of my life to Cirque, and its success will always be close to my heart. As we head into a period that could be crucial for Cirque’s future, I have decided to share my thoughts, driven by the desire to protect the Cirque family and to give back after having received so much, in the hope that these reflections will help ensure the best possible future for the company and its stakeholders …

The audience’s love for Cirque is the company’s raison-d’être, and few true ambassadors of Quebec culture can pride themselves on shining as Cirque has done throughout the world. Two months after operations ground to a halt, as Cirque faces the biggest challenge of its existence, we’re about to see a wrestling match involving a number of players. From my point of view, we’re in for a battle royal:

• At the front of the ring are the current shareholders (TPG, Fosun and the Caisse de dépôt), led by my friend Mitch Garber, for whom I have tremendous respect. My heart goes out to them.
• In the left corner, the debt holders, who took the risk of financing Cirque.
• In the right corner, the different levels of government, sitting in an interesting strategic position, watching the events unfold, analyzing the situation, and wishing to keep the headquarters and jobs in Quebec. They want what is best for Cirque … and rightly so!
• A little further away, some of the major players in the entertainment industry, both from here and abroad, are weighing the opportunities. In Cirque, they see the possibility of expanding their content portfolio and/or securing priority access to Cirque performances once they can reopen their halls and theatres. But for the most part, they’re more or less in the same predicament as Cirque. Will they make our Quebec icon their priority and give all the love and energy needed to bring it back to life?
• Standing right beside them are the sharks, who have no knowledge of the entertainment industry and dream of buying Cirque for a song.
• And at the very back of the ring are the others … Those who have no skills or experience in managing cultural organizations of this scale. Those are the ones who pose the greatest threat to Cirque’s future …

What is at stake in this fight? What do we want for Cirque? What does the company’s future look like? Does the pandemic provide an opportunity for Cirque to rise from its ashes, like the phoenix?

Cirque is a living organism — with a heart, a soul and a spirit — that lives, grows and recharges through its artists, its audience and its employees. It’s a tightly woven community built little by little, through hard work, commitment and honest relationships. Cirque’s social involvement is an integral part of the pride that artists and employees take in their work, and it’s reflected in the way the public rallies behind its creations. That’s why the discussion should not only take place on the financial level, but on the human level as well. And the nature of the beast should not be underestimated. Cirque has its own personality and ways of reacting. It feeds off the love and support of the audience as well as the creative strength and pride of its artists and employees. Of course, long-term financial viability is necessary for its survival, as well as a good mix of experience and know-how from the veterans, combined with the creative and managerial forces of the future.

It’s clear to me that Cirque’s future will depend on patient investors who will step into the ring and be in for the long haul. Creators will have to be given leeway to reinvent themselves so they can put out shows that touch people and capture the imagination. Investors who want to jump into the ring driven only by the urge to set the wheels in motion again too quickly will have to be avoided at all costs. Patience will lead to victory — that’s my prediction. You can’t win the Stanley Cup 36 years in a row, but with patience, heart and hard work, you can dream of holding it in your hands once again.

A few days before the registration deadline for the battle royal, I am deciding whether or not I’m going to jump into that wrestling ring …

{ SOURCE: Montreal Gazette }