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Specials: Behind the Curtain

"The Friends of Cirque"

    Text by: Richard Russo | November 2002
    Fascination! Newsletter, Issue #15

Are you a friend of Cirque du Soleil? As a fan you'd probably answer "yes" without any hesitation. But would you be surprised if I told you the answer was most likely "no"? Before you wrinkle your forehead in confusion or yell out in protest let me ask you another question: Have you ever come across a page dotted with star-like shapes accompanying names within your Cirque du Soleil programmes and wondered what that page was all about?

If you've seen such a page then you've stumbled upon the recognition for "The Friends of Cirque du Soleil" and the reason for this line of questioning. The page described can be found in many of Cirque's earliest printed programmes, from its first organized tour through Quidam's original North American Tour (1996-1998). Yet, the purpose of the page is rarely described.

We are going to take a look at some of the treasures that lurk within some of the earlier Cirque's programmes, beginning with "The Friends of Cirque du Soleil" program.

So, what is "The Friends of Cirque du Soleil"?

"The Friends..." was a special club created by Cirque du Soleil to recognize its greatest sponsors and most generous contributors in its earliest days. Cirque du Soleil wasn't always the multi-million dollar company it is today, and Cirque initially relied on 3rd-party funding to put on its shows. In the beginning the majority of the troupes operational budget came from the Canadian Government, but that just wasn't enough. For example, the table below is a cross reference of Cirque's operational budget, the percentage subsidized by the Quebec Government, number of shows that year and the number of people employed:

      Operational Budget      % Gvt       # Shows     # Empl.
      ------------------      -------     -------     -------
1984    $1,328,655 CDN        97%           50          45
1985    $2,332,867 CDN        50%           160         72        
1986    $4,000,000 CDN        27%-32%       208         77
1987    $5,400,000 CDN        15%-17%       276         120
1988    $6,000,000 CDN        10%           312         150

[Source: Cirque du Soleil]

In order to keep up with their needs, another percentage of their budget was donated from companies and citizens within Canada. It's those donations that are honored on "The Friends of Cirque du Soleil" page.

And how did you become an honored "Friend" of Cirque du Soleil?

Simple, by "purchasing" a seat under the big top for $500.00 CDN or more, placing you in one of three categories: Silver, Gold or Platinum. Each one had a different price bracket: Silver at $500 CDN, Gold at $1000 CDN and Platinum at $5000 CDN. And depending on the amount you donated you received a plethora of unique gifts.

For a donation between $500.00 CDN and $999.99 CDN, you were considered Silver Status and received a permanently affixed nameplate on a ringside seat under the big top with the donators name on it.

For a donation between $1000.00 CDN and $4999.99 CDN, you were considered Gold Status and received the same rights and privileges as a Silver Status member and two other perks: the donator's name printed every year in the Cirque du Soleil souvenir program, and the donator's name posted on the "Friends of the Cirque du Soleil billboard affixed within the confines of the big top.

And for a $5000.00 CDN donation or more, you were considered Platinum Status and received the same rights and privileges as a Gold Status member and two additional perks: an honorary certificate attesting to your support of the Cirque, and two complimentary tickets for a show in every city on the tour. Wow!

Through the years many individuals and companies donated outright to Cirque or contributed to their "chair buying program". Chair buying programs are nothing new and are put into place to help raise money for a cause - such as keeping a museum running or in this case, a new circus. Some of Cirque's givers include:

		- Groupe La Laurentienne (1985)
		- Air Canada (1986)
		- René Lévesque (1986)
		- LOCAM (1986)
		- UltraMar (1987)
		- Dominion Textile (1988)
		- Bombardier, Inc. (1988)
		- Lowes Hotels (1989)
		- Lavery O'Brien (1990) 
		- Leon Constantiner (1993)

		- Alban Asselin, Les Coopérants (1986)
		- Gabriel Groulx C.A. (1986)
		- Alan B. Slifka (1987)
		- MicroFlex (1987)
		- Mount'n Seal (1988)
		- Mary Calder Rower (1988)
		- Zurich Canada (1992)

But with Cirque du Soleil emerging as a major player on not only the circus scene but the performing arts scene, the company no longer needed to rely on government funding or patron donations to keep afloat and "The Friends of Cirque du Soleil" all but disappeared. Today, Cirque du Soleil is self-sufficient and blossoming, no longer needing donations to keep itself operating. In fact, the last mention of this program came in the Quidam 1998 programme and with it "The Friends of Cirque du Soleil" became nothing more than a memory.

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