“Fidding Around the Edges”

We’ve heard and written about in these pages some of the difficult decisions Cirque du Soleil has had to make to get in line with the current economic “reset.” Layoffs at Cirque IHQ and eliminating on-tour schooling are just two examples.

In addition, two subtler changes have taken place which, on their face, might not be considered hugely money-saving or revenue-generating. But when considered in the larger perspective they are certainly significant.

SHIFT CHANGE – Until recently, a “workday” at a Cirque Big Top tour for a two-show day was set up to emulate the common 8-hour workday many of us work. The shift would start at 2:30pm with the crew clocking in, stocking up the tent and getting the popcorn popping (department leads would start 15 minutes earlier). The Concessions tent opens at 3pm for the first selling period of one hour. The Grand Chapiteau opens at 3:30pm for a 30-minute seating period for the

At 4pm Act One of the Matinee begins. It would end at 5pm and break for a 30 minute intermission. Act Two of the Matinee would start at 5:30pm and run until 6:30pm. The Matinee crowd is then given 30 minutes to make last-minute purchases and vacate the site.

At 7pm the cycle repeats for the Evening show. Concessions tent opens at 7pm, Grand Chapiteau opens for seating at 7:30pm. Act One of the Evening show starts at 8pm and ends at 9pm for the Intermission. Act Two starts at 9:30pm and runs until 10:30pm. The crowd gets 30 minutes to leave, and at (or just before) 11:00pm the Grand Chapiteau as well as the Concessions Tent closes. Merchandise tills are counted and emptied and the crew is released for the night. This leaves the majority of local temporary workers working the show with a full 8-hour shift. (Actually 8.5 hours with a half-hour lunch and two 10-minute breaks.)

That’s how it USED to be. Now subtle tweaks have been made to the schedule.

Instead of starting at 2:30pm, the local crew now begins at 3:15pm, 45 minutes later. (Leads also start 45 minutes later, at 3pm instead of 2:15pm.) The Concessions tent now opens for the Matinee at 3:45pm, cutting in half the time between when the Concessions tent opens and the Grand Chapiteau opens. Instead of a full-hour selling period, the Concessions tent now gets 45 minutes. The Grand Chapiteau opens for seating at 4pm with a 30 minute seating period.

The Matinee now starts at 4:30pm, a half-hour later than it used to. In addition, each act of each Big Top show has been carefully trimmed to be no more than 55 minutes end to end – including introductory bits, safety warnings, and curtain calls. In some cases trims have been made to transitions between acts, sometimes a trick has been taken out of an act, in others (such as Totem’s Perches act) the act has been cut entirely (which naturally reduces some payroll costs). How they get there is up to the Artistic Director but the mandate is clear, 55 minutes per act maximum.

Now the Matinee First Act ends at 5:25pm, with the intermission staying the same at 30 minutes. The Second Act begins at 5:55pm and is the same length as the First Act, 55 minutes. The Matinee now ends at 6:45pm, which is later then under the old system – but remember the Matinee started a full half-hour later. A final selling period of 30 minutes lets the Matinee crowd leave the site.

Again, the cycle repeats for the Evening show, and with the same trims. The site opens at 7:15pm, and the Grand Chapiteau opens for seating at 7:30pm. The Evening First Act starts at 8pm and goes for 55 minutes until 8:55pm. A 30 minute intermission follows until the Second Act begins at 9:25pm. 55 minutes later, at 9:25pm, the Second Act finishes with a half-hour to sell and clean up until the site closes at 10:45pm, 15 minutes later.

That’s not sa bad. A little trim here, a little cut there, nothing too earth shaking. But look at the shift times. What used to be an 8.5 hour shift is now a 7.5 hour shift – a full one hour less per day, a 12% reduction! Still, that’s not too much. But now, multiply that by the cost of all your hourly workers: food, merchandise, box office, ushers, custodial, security. You’ve just reduced your local labor costs for that day by 12%, not insignificant!

Here’s another way to look at it, side-by-side.

Leads start			2:15	3:00
Rest of Crew start		2:30	3:15
Open site for show 1		3:00	3:45
Open tent for seating		3:30	4:00
1st act start			4:00	4:30
1st act end			5:00	5:25
(Intermission :30)		
2nd act start			5:30	5:55
2nd act end / reset		6:30	6:45
(Sell to those leaving)		
Open site for show 2		7:00	7:15
Open tent for seating		7:30	7:30
1st act start			8:00	8:00
1st act end			9:00	8:55
(Intermission :30)		
2nd act start			9:30	9:25
2nd act end			10:30	10:15
(Sell to those leaving)		
Tent close			11:00	10:45
Total shift length		8.5h	7.5h

IN DEMAND – Another change Cirque has made is to the way they price and group tickets through their ticketing interface. It used to be that all the seats in a Price Level inside a Grand Chapiteau were the same price. All the Price Level 1 seats were the same price for all seats so designated, regardless of the time of purchase. The same applied to “Premium” seats as well as all the other tiers. In addition, it used to be that all the seats in one section of seats were the same category. They changed that some time back when they upgraded the rows in Section 200 in front of the sound board to “Premium” seats, from what was formerly Price Level 1.

Now these assumptions are no longer true. They have adopted “demand pricing” which takes into account how popular seats are as well as what Price Level they are and the time they are purchased. The next time you look at Cirque tickets on the Cirque website, click around at various performance dates and times and watch the price of tickets. Each show and time could show a slight variance to some sections, no longer are all the seats the same price across all performances. And sometimes they might divide up the seats in a section into different Price Levels, just for that performance!

Seats for Price Level 1 for a Wednesday evening show, if they are closer to being all sold out in that Price Level, can now go higher in price at a moments notice, reflecting in their pricing the demand for tickets (and for that price level of ticket) to that performance. And it could very well be different on a Tuesday night or a Thursday night, to say nothing of weekend shows.

So now it pays to look at a number of dates one might be interested in, even the same weekday in different weeks. Just like with airfares, it pays do research and be flexible!