The Hollywood Reporter Spotlights Cirque

Cirque has been popping up in some interesting places lately. One of them is a special 30-page section in the Hollywood Reporter’s “International Edition” of June 15-21. The issue sports a full-color cover portrait of Skywatcher, Guide, Olga, and Anton posing in front of the Varekai Tent. The back cover is a mosaic of 49 character faces from all Cirque shows.

Inside the issue, in addition to the “congratulatory” ads normally taken out by associates, vendors, and others associated with the “honoree” (Cirque du Soleil in this case) are 13 pages of features, including:

* An overall view of the company and it’s current status
* Interviews with CEO Guy Laliberte and COO Daniel Lamarre
* A visit to the training center, and the casting process
* Articles on the Production and Costuming departments
* Discussion of the new circus arts complex, Tohu, which will open this September across from the Cirque IHQ
* Plans for Cirque du Soleil Musique

The articles, written by Irene Lacher, Etan Vlessing, and Ada Guerin, aren’t for the most part very long – most of them only run one full page. Yet there are several new finds in those pages. Allow us to run down some of them for you…

* Guy Laliberte on how he would describe his management style: “Much more hands-off but completely aware of everything that is happening. I have a great team around me, and they know how I work and what I need to know. Creatively, I am a little more hands-on, but then again not in the complete creative process. That’s why the creators chose to call me “Guide” some time ago. I like to not be too involved in the beginning and during the process so as to keep this fresh look and be able to give constructive recommendation on the final production.”

* President and COO Daniel Lamarre on brand identity and the Cirque audience: “We spend a fair amount of time understanding our brand. We know what we want to be, but we have to respect how our consumers perceive us. The research on our brand is very touching and puts an additional responsibility on our shoulders. People are expecting us to do things, to be innovative – they recognize values that they don’t see anywhere else. They understand we are creative-driven, so if we became a business, they would be disappointed. They don’t want us to be a corporation; they see us as street performers. They like to see us as nomadic, as people traveling around the world – and we are. We’re trying to make sure everyone in the world sees our shows.”

* Cirque’s formula for success? Partly it includes the following:

– Don’t let budgets or purse string-minders dictate content.
– Invest heavily in research and development, but steer clear of conventional market research about what audiences say they want to see. In fact, don’t worry about audiences, just express yourself.
– Embrace risk.
– Never, ever relinquish creative control, no matter how much money is on the table.

* There are currently three creative teams working on productions at the Cirque IHQ, including a show for 2006.

* Cirque invests 70% of its profit back into developing new creative content. Half of that money goes into research and development, more than double what the average corporation invests, according to Lamarre. The shows produce 85% of the $100 million a year the company nets on $500 million in annual revenue.

* MGM Mirage has the exclusive contract to partner with Cirque on shows in “gaming jurisdictions.” Though the article indicates they are still talking with Cirque and other suppliers about a replacement for the Siegfried & Roy show, MGM Mirage is talking with Cirque about possible shows at properties in Asia and the United Kingdom. (See “In the Ring” in this issue.)

* Luc Plamondon, VP Production, and Eleni Uranis, Assistant Costume Designer tell an interesting tale of the development of costume technology for “O”. A week after the show opened, costumers found that chlorine was ruining the elasticity of the hand-painted sheer netting of the costumes. Corsetry fabrics were tried, but they were too heavy. So every three weeks they would try something else. A year later they hit on a Lycra netting that allows water to pass through so that air pockets don’t form inside the suits.

Early on in production, performers started developing skin disorders. With their costumes and the technology in the pool, the artists came into contact with aluminum, steel, plastic, wire, rubber – “a big bowl of soup with a lot of chemical interactions,” Plamondon says. Another complication was oil microbubbles leaking out of the underwater hydraulics causing vision problems. Changing the pool chemicals only changed the colors of the costumes! So, working with chemists at a Montreal textile school, they were able to fine-tune the pool’s chemicals six weeks later.