MOVING AND SHAKING
Cirque du Soleil continued to ramp up production and charge ahead with a number
of projects slated for this year and next - a mind-boggling twenty-five shows a
cross both 45 DEGREES and the main Cirque du Soleil brand:
X: THE LAND OF FANTASY,
'TWAS THE NIGHT,
DRAWN TO LIFE, UNDER THE SAME SKY,
NYSA, and VIVE NOS DIVAS, plus a
number of items that had not yet been named,
such as: two more AT SEA shows, a third music show for Andorra, a second event in
Malta, an event for Astana, and a rumored new touring show concept. But this huge
list of productions wasn't the biggest news to come out of the year; Cirque du
Soleil actually made a splash with it's business dealings and other behind-the-
GIVING US THE WORKS
Cirque du Soleil continued its diversification strategy by announcing the
acquisition of THE WORKS ENTERTAINMENT on February 6th. Established by Simon
Painter and Tim Lawson, The Works Entertainment (TWE) is a world-class leader in
theatrical productions and large-scale attractions. TWE's productions have
consistently smashed box office records, been seen worldwide, and have included
performances in prestigious venues such as the Sydney Opera House in Australia,
the Shaftesbury Theatre in London and the Palace Theatre on Broadway, New York.
The Works' portfolo Circus 1903 - The Golden Age of Circus, cabaret-style shows,
and musical theater productions, but it was THE ILLUSIONISTS, a touring magic
production, that caught Cirque's eye.
"The play for us is magic," said Daniel Lamarre. He said Cirque became
interested in The Works because of the similarity in the performance and business
models of the two companies. "Like us, they have no stars. The show is the star,
and they're constantly using different magicians. The fact that they're not
focused on stars gives you scalability." Lamarre went on to say that "this
transaction is a perfect example of how our group is diversifying through
acquisitions, while always investing in our core activities. The Works productions
have natural affinities with our own, in that they are high-quality universal live
experiences that appeal to different audiences from different cultures around the
world without having to adapt the show to each market. Magic, a genre of live
enertainment that The Works has successfully mastered through their hugely
successful Illusionists franchise, has been performed for centuries and continues
to enjoy a steadfast popularity among audiences worldwide. I'm honoured to have
their creative minds and theatrical expertise join our ranks."
"As we were reflecting on our company's future, we were looking for the next big
step to fulfill our wildest dreams," said Simon Painter, creative producer and
co-founder of The Works Entertainment. "Joining the team of the company that
completely revolutionized circus arts and is now leading the live entertainment
industry is a true honor for us. Cirque du Soleil's global touring expertise as
well as large-scale production insights will undeniably fuel our desired future
growth in addition to giving us access to new creative resources that we could
ever wish for. When the first journalist interviewed me about the Illusionists
back in 2011, I said, 'I want to do for magic what Cirque du Soleil has done for
circus,' and now here we are."
The acquisition was financed using a portion of a new US$120 million unsecured
credit facility made available by the Fonds de Solidarité FTQ and the Caisse de
dépôt et placement du Québec. But while there was celebration in Montreal regarding
the recent purchase (Lamarre has said he wants to do one acquisition a year,
depending on available targets), out in Vegas about a month later, Cirque du Soleil
and MGM International announced that it would shuffle staff and downsize.
A NEW BUSINESS MODEL
What the new business model meant, in short, was that Cirque shows would no
longer employ a single head of department for each of its shows. Instead, multiple
productions would be under the direction of one department head. Also, Cirque would
continue to oversee all artistic operations (such as managers, artists and coaches),
along with picking up the lighting, staging, maintenance and any mechanically related
staffers, who were previously employed by MGM Resorts. The heads of department who
have been let go have been offered severance packages. Several long-standing
employees have lost their positions. Word of the realignment surfaced March 16th
and many reportedly were caught off-guard by the news; one was reportedly so upset
as to have been led by security from an MGM Resorts property. "MGM is working with
Cirque du Soleil to reorganize backstage operations at Las Vegas shows to align with
how Cirque du Soleil shows are structured throughout the world," MGM Resorts spokesman
Brian Ahern said in a statement. "This is part of our long-standing work together
to continually improve show operations and focus on creating unforgettable experiences
for guests and audiences. All shows and performances will continue as usual."
Although performances did continue as usual (with some cuts and edits), at the
time Cirque du Soleil was also planning to expand "O" to a seven-days-a-week
production (by early 2020), so cuts to support staff were not at all welcome. Nor
was the news that broke in early June that the company was making plans for an
Initial Public Offering (IPO) as early as 2020.
A possible IPO "seems like the logical next step," said Patrick Leroux, a
professor at Concordia University who has written on the circus industry, adding
the move will bring in new capital and ideas as the company accelerates growth.
"It seems like now they're about to enter into an extremely productive period.
Creating new shows, new ventures; opening up to different models of entertainment."
But that growth has not come without risk. Moody's Investors Service says the
company's largely debt-funded expansion strategy could be unsustainable, resulting
in financial strain on its core operations. Cirque posted revenue of US$832-million
for the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2018, and it remains heavily leveraged, with a
debt-to-EBITDA ratio (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization)
expected to remain above seven through 2019, the credit company said in a report
published in February.
Going public would give the Cirque greater financial flexibility as it pushed
ahead with its ambitious global expansion and acquisition strategy, but it would
also make the company answerable to many others. It was made clear that Cirque
wouldn't necessarily follow through with the IPO if market conditions were not
favorable, and by year's end, conditions within Cirque du Soleil were not favorable
- more layoffs had occurred. (A video from Montreal City News discussed a minor
downsizing move on the part of Cirque du Soleil, citing reorganization and
productivity as the main impetus for the laying off of at least 53 employees.) So,
the IPO was called off.
But these troubles would pale in comparisson to what was coming in 2020,
but in the meantime...
SHOWS AND SPECIAL EVENTS
With the 45 DEGREES team's elevation to Cirque du Soleil's core creation and
production department the previous year, change was inevitable. On April 24th,
Cirque announced a new identity for their events and special projects division.
Formerly called 45 DEGREES and operated as a subsidiary, the newly named Cirque
du Soleil Events + Experiences now operates within the Cirque du Soleil company
proper (as it did before it became 45 DEGREES), charged with expanding the company's
live entertainment offerings to an international clientele under the strength of
one unified brand. "The events division has extended the Cirque du Soleil brand
beyond its traditional activities." explains Yasmine Khalil. "Events + Experiences
initiatives continue to be a key part of our business and we remain focused on
raising the bar in the industry with creativity and innovation for new partners
the world over." For nearly two decades, the company's events branch has operated
successfully in both the public and private sectors. Its portfolio stretches from
corporate events for Fortune 500 companies, to cultural attractions commissioned
by heads of state, to live performances on some of the most-watched television
broadcasts in history. To say the brand has been a success would be an understatement.
This year, same as last, would be quite prolific.
Cirque du Soleil AT SEA would celebrate the opening of
the MSC Bellissima in March and COSMOS and EXENTRICKS aboard the MSC Grandiosa in
November; open REBEL, a nocturnal
ode to the rebellious spirit of rock'n'roll, in Andorra; launch the 5th chapter of
the Homage Series at Amphithéâtre Cogeco in Trois-Rivières -
JOYEUX CALVARIE, a show in
celebration of the music of Les Cowboys Fringants (the popular and critically-acclaimed
Quebec band who has rocked the French-speaking world for two decades); celebrate
BOCCA, a mixture of gastronomy and
high-flying acrobatics, in Monaco; helped Saudi Arabia celebrate it's 89th Saudi
National Day with Amal and Fakhar (Hope and Pride); and present
VITORI, a fantastic world inspired
by chess pieces in celebration of the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Malta.
The core company would be just as busy re-launching
PARAMOUR in Hamburg,
ALEGRIA: IN A NEW LIGHT in North
America, X: THE LAND OF FANTASY in China,
AXEL on-ice in North America,
MESSI10: A tribute to Leo Messi in
Barcelona, and sign a new partnership with MSG Entertainment for
'TWAS THE NIGHT, the
company's first Christmas-themed show in Chicago and New York City. We'd also
learn the names of shows slated for 2020, such as:
DRAWN TO LIFE as LA NOUBA's
replacement at Walt Disney World; UNDER THE SAME SKY, as Cirque du Soleil's
newest big top touring show from Es Devlin; and
NYSA, celebrating 25 years of
Cirque du Soleil in Germany.
There would also be the announcement of an exciting new future gastronomic
experience with Grupo Vidanta. This would ultimately replace the storied
THE CELEBRATE PROJECT
theme park concept Cirque du Soleil, Vidanta, and Goddard had been developing
on-and-off since 2014. "With the launch of Cirque du Soleil
JOYÀ, Grupo Vidanta
forever changed the entertainment landscape of Mexico by creating the must-see
and world's only Cirque du Soleil show and dinner experience. Now, propelling
forward with our multi-year operating experience, we are certain the new theater
and culinary experience currently being built in Nuevo Vallarta will be an
unforgettable experience for the senses that will once again present to the world
a unique and unmatched tourist attraction available only in Mexico," said Iván
Chávez, Executive Vice President of Grupo Vidanta.
The new theater will be located in an area dedicated to Cirque du Soleil in
Vidanta's entertainment parks currently under construction in the Vallarta area.
In addition to the theater and show, the area will feature multiple acrobatic and
artistic attractions where guests can immerse themselves in the world of Cirque
du Soleil, where outdoor animations will come to life. "Throughout our unique
collaboration and long-standing partnership, Cirque du Soleil and Grupo Vidanta
have always shared the same vision for high-quality entertainment and captivating
experiences. We are thrilled to embark on this second venture; it's an opportunity
to unleash our creativity within the exquisite surroundings of this new Vidanta
resort," said Daniel Lamarre, President and CEO of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment
Group. This will be the 53rd creation of Cirque du Soleil and its 16th resident show.
But it would be the company's newest resident show -
R.U.N - that would, perhaps,
get the most attention... and most of it bad.
OTHER ENDEAVOURS AND NEWS
In addition to all the new and good things Cirque du Soleil was able to do, this
year would mark the end of the annual "Run Away with Cirque du Soleil" event in
Las Vegas. "The original idea for the event came from Cirque employees, artists
and technicians from the two shows here at the time [Mystére and O] who were
runners and wanted to put on a 5K that could benefit the nonprofits we were
working with," says Run Away project manager Brooke Wahlquist. "It's grown to be
loved and supported by all the shows, and when they get to interact with people
in a way they don't get to do on a nightly basis, the photos that come back always
warm my heart." Cirque is still planning an annual community event at Springs
Preserve for 2020, but it will take a new form. "That will be revealed in 2020,"
Wahlquist says. "We really want to honor all the work that's been put into it over
The 7th Annual ONE NIGHT FOR ONE DROP
went off without a hitch. This splashy affair -
quite literally, thanks to the aquatic flare of the O Theater - was written and
directed by André Kasten and Leah Moyer, who choreographed Cirque shows such as
Mystere and The Beatles LOVE. It featured a 90-minute acrobatic spectacle set to the
music of Academy Award-winning, world-renowned score composer Hans Zimmer, who
performed three arrangements live, including a specially adapted piece from
Interstellar. Drawing inspiration from the principles of human connection, friendship,
beauty, nature, love and loss, main character Everyman goes through a journey of
enlightenment. The production was also broadcast on the CBS Network in the United
States on March 16th.
Cirque du Soleil would evolve C:LAB, a subsidiary to organize a group of people
keep to experiment with new ideas and technologies into
NEXTASY - an organization
aiming to push the limits of live entertainment. "Through experimentation, trend
watching and unexpected collaboration, we aim to quickly test ideas we think are worth
the effort. Our philosophy revolves around the concept of open innovation, because we
believe the more generous you are, the more you receive in return. This is why we
will showcase everything we experiment, be it a success or a failure, in the hopes
that the worldwide community of creators and geniuses will learn from it and will be
excited to help us on our journey to build the future of live entertainment."
And last, but certainly not least, would see Alexey Goloborodko's infamous
contortion act from Luzia represent Cirque du Soleil at this year's Royal Variety