Cirque Execs on its Disney show and Surviving Shutdowns

Cirque du Soleil, one of the most recognizable names in theatrical entertainment, began operating its newest show “Drawn to Life” last November — the first time it offered performances after shutting down during the Covid-19 pandemic. Since then, it has sold more than 200,000 tickets, and on March 24, it celebrated its 150th performance since its Nov. 18 debut.

The Canada-based company’s new show was a collaboration between Cirque du Soleil, Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Imagineering.

The premise of Drawn to Life is “a live acrobatic journey telling the story of Julie, a determined girl who discovers an unexpected gift left by her Disney animator father: an unfinished animation,” said a news release at its debut. “As she dives into the inner world of animation guided by a surprising pencil, Julie embarks on an inspiring quest filled with childhood Disney memories.”

The Disney show brings something Cirque never has done before, Daniel Lamarre, executive vice chairman of the board of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group who retired as CEO on Dec. 1, told Orlando Business Journal. “The show is an immersive production featuring an all-original score of new music pixie-dusted with playful snippets of melodies from Disney’s classic animated feature films; makeup that reflects animation principles like exaggerated lines, highlights and shadows; larger-than-life costumes and props that are more than meets the eye; and a set that envelops the audience in sketch pages and an animator’s drawing table.”

Stéphane Lefebvre succeeded Lamarre as CEO Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group. The two executives recently spoke with OBJ on the company’s performance, experience through the pandemic and more.

Here, Lefebvre, CEO Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, discusses initial feedback and performance of the new Walt Disney World show, how the company adjusted to Covid and more:

Q. What is the current status of Cirque’s shows globally?

We are working on gradually relaunching our shows and on developing new projects that will foster new growth opportunities and expand the business through new markets. As of today, all our resident shows have opened in Las Vegas and Orlando, our touring shows have restarted in the USA, in the Caribbean, in Asia and in Europe (Alegria, OVO, KOOZA, Messi10, LUZIA), and three Big Top shows soon will reopen across Canada (Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal). A new Cirque du Soleil seasonal show by our events and experiences division completed its run at the end of 2021 in Malta and our creative team is working on exciting new projects for Asia, Andorra, Quebec (Trois-Rivières), the US and Europe. Intermission is definitely over.

Q. What has been the initial feedback of Drawn to Life at Disney Springs?

This show had been in the works for years, and unlike anything we had ever done before. There was a lot of excitement in the air on Nov. 18, 2021, when we finally were able to open the show. Drawn to Life not only was the opening of a new show at Disney Springs, it also was the first new Cirque du Soleil creation after almost two years of forced pause. It was a very emotional moment for our teams and our fans, and the critics agreed.

Q. How has Cirque adjusted operations during Covid for guests?

Health and safety is a top priority at Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group. As we gradually started to reopen our shows, a series of protocols were implemented with regard to Covid-19 to keep our artists, employees and audiences safe. Since the beginning of the crisis, we have been in close communication with health and governmental authorities, and our guidelines are re-evaluated and adapted as the global sanitary situation evolves. Some components were adjusted to help control the spread of the virus. For example, the pre-show experience was modified to remove interaction from the cast with the audience. Again, in an effort to ensure everyone’s safety, our VIP experiences also were adjusted (backstage tours, meet-and-greet with artists, photo ops). Ensuring the health and safety of our cast, crew and audience members has always been one of our priorities.

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Meanwhile, here’s what Lamarre, executive vice chairman of the board of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group and recently retired CEO, shared about his experience navigating the pandemic, advice to CEOs still facing Covid challenges and what his new book “Balancing Acts: Unleashing the Power of Creativity in Your Life and Work” can teach executives:

Q. What was your biggest lesson navigating the company during the pandemic?

The Covid-19 pandemic had a devastating impact on the entertainment industry and therefore on us, at Cirque du Soleil. We went from 44 active shows across the globe, nearly 5,000 employees and sales of more than $1 billion annually to zero revenue. In the span of 48 hours, all our shows were shut down and 95% of our workforce was laid off, which truly was heartbreaking. But we decided to put forward some of our strongest assets, and what made us the company we once were: Creativity, our ability to inspire people and the strength of our brand. We had zero revenue, but we had an amazing brand, and that’s what our lenders believed in. We managed not only to survive this unprecedented crisis, but also to bounce back stronger than ever. The biggest lesson was the resilience we showcased, how we were able to turn around a catastrophic situation and how creativity helped us redefine what we do.

Q. What advice would you give CEOs still facing challenges due to Covid?

Always challenge the status quo. The pandemic has changed the way we do business forever, and we have had to adapt and shift our ways of working to face the new reality. Nurturing a creative environment helps push the boundaries and reinvent yourself. It is important to give space for creativity in business, encouraging companies to throw off the old rules and restrictions of conventional thinking and unleash the creative spirit of their people.

Q. What do you hope readers of your book take away that can help their business?

With “Balancing Acts—Unleashing the Power of Creativity in Your Life and Work,” I want to be an advocate for creativity in business and cultivating it within the workspace. I want to share what I learned throughout my years at the head of this wonderful organization that is Cirque du Soleil. I want to inspire the younger generation into challenging the status quo and start thinking outside the box and unleashing their creative spirits. Whether you work for one of the most creative organizations on the planet like Cirque du Soleil, in a stuffy corporate job, or somewhere in between, my book is filled with principles that can strengthen and accelerate any business on the planet.

{ SOURCE: Orlando Business Journal }