CDS rebounds after pandemic, bankruptcy protection

Now that the Cirque du Soleil has rebounded from its near-death experience during the pandemic, Duncan Fisher can wax philosophical about the wild roller-coaster ride the Montreal-based circus company went through over the past few years.

The vice-president of operations and general manager of the touring show division of the Cirque du Soleil paraphrased Charles Dickens, saying it was both the best of times and the worst of times.

“It was the worst, then it developed into the best time of my business career,” Fisher said in a Teams interview Wednesday.

“As we went into COVID, that was the worst. We had to shut down all the shows. We had to release 95-per-cent or more of all our employees that we had at Cirque. You know the whole bankruptcy story. We were negotiating with suppliers and partners during the whole bankruptcy process. That six months of shutting things down, all those proceedings, that was just miserable. It was the worst thing you could imagine. There was nothing good then.
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“But then after the bankruptcy was done and the new owners got all their legal stuff taken care of and were able to assume (control) of the company, which happened right around November/December of 2020, one of the most exciting calls I’ve done in my life was just before Christmas of 2020,” Fisher said.

“When we closed down, I had about 1,500 people in my division that we let go. I went from 1,500 people to six. And we weren’t able to communicate with everybody throughout the bankruptcy process. But once we got the ownership stuff taken care of and knew at that point that we were able to come back, we sent an email out to all the employees that we had let go, 1,500 of them, and said we wanted to have a call just before Christmas to update everybody as to where we were at.
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“I really had no idea,” Fisher said. “I thought maybe a few hundred people would join the call. 1,400 out of the 1,500 joined the call on video basically to hear me say, ‘Guys, we’re done, I don’t know when, I don’t know which show, but now I know we’re coming back.’ And that’s one of the best calls I’ve been able to do in my whole life.”

While in bankruptcy protection, there was a drawn-out legal battle for control of the Montreal-based company. In the end, the previous owners — U.S. equity firm TPG Capital, China’s Fosun International and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec — lost control. The company was taken over by a group representing the creditors, led by Toronto-based Catalyst Capital Group.

Two years later, the Cirque is indeed back. When everything ground to a halt in the spring of 2020 with the arrival of COVID, the circus had to shutter 44 shows, many that were already on, others that were set to be presented shortly. At the time, they laid off about 95 per cent of their 4,000 employees. Now, the Cirque has 38 operational shows and employs around 3,600 people worldwide.
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The touring show Corteo was set to have its première at the Bell Centre Wednesday and will run there until Jan. 1. Earlier this year, the Cirque returned to the Big Top at the Old Port with a revival of its 2007 show Kooza, and it went on to become the outfit’s biggest hit ever in Montreal, selling 270,000 tickets. Echo, the first original new production from the Cirque since the pandemic, will have its world première under the Big Top here in April 2023.

There are currently six permanent Cirque du Soleil shows running in Las Vegas, the same number as prior to the pandemic. There are also eight touring shows on the road at the moment, three in North America, one in South America, two in Europe, one in the Middle East and one in Asia. In addition, there are Cirque productions everywhere from the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. (Drawn to Life) to Riviera Maya in Mexico (Joyà).
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“As far as our Big Top shows go, we have been incredibly surprised and pleased that the demand across the world is still there for our Big Top shows,” Fisher said. “Here in Montreal, Kooza did the most tickets ever for a Cirque show. In London, when we opened with (Ovo), we broke the record there. In Madrid, we’re currently going to break the record there (with Luzia). We’ve been able to come back with the Big Top shows without missing a beat.”

{ SOURCE: The Montreal Gazette }