For Daniel Lamarre, going to work means going to the circus. As CEO of the Montreal-based performance group Cirque du Soleil, he heads a cult company that has redefined the circus arts and taken live entertainment to spectacular new heights in 450 cities around the world.
Since it was founded in 1984 by two street performers the Cirque has become, in many respects, “The Greatest Show on Earth” – a title once reserved for a circus of a more traditional kind. The travelling Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus closed two months ago after a 146-year run and now, whenever Big Top springs up, you can be sure Cirque du Soleil is in town.
There are no animal acts in a Cirque show, only themed, theatre-style acts featuring multi-talented performers such as acrobats and gymnasts, mimes and musicians. Last year, this circus for the new millennium drew over 10 million people, with 10 permanent and nine touring shows. In a recent New York Times interview, filmmaker Judd Apatow said Cirque shows were “scary and funny and beautiful and experimental” – as good a way as any to describe a live entertainment experience that often defies belief and always evokes wonder.
Mr Lamarre, 64, has been with the company since 2001, working with owner-founder Guy Laliberte to grow the brand and ride out tough financial times. In 2015, Laliberte sold a majority stake to an investment group comprising private equity firm TPG Capital (60 per cent), Chinese conglomerate Fosun Industrial Holdings (20 per cent) and Canadian pension fund Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (10 per cent) while retaining the last 10 per cent.
The deal was valued at roughly US$1.5 billion.
As part of the company’s diversification strategy, Cirque recently announced the acquisition of another iconic show, the percussive performance act Blue Man Group.
Later this year, the company will open NFL Experience Times Square, an interactive journey in collaboration with pro football’s National Football League. The latest developments herald exciting times for Lamarre, who was in town for the opening of Cirque’s latest Singapore show, Kooza.
These are exciting times for Cirque du Soleil. How has the ownership change affected the company?
We are in a great place right now – the timing is right for us in live entertainment. We’re evaluating the opportunities for Blue Man and Cirque and how to go from a circus organisation to a total global entertainment company.
TPG is an amazing organisation that has grown with Silicon Valley and gives us access to new technologies.
We are making our first major statement in China with touring shows in seven cities and are in full pre-production mode for a Vegas-style permanent show in Hangzhou.
The Cirque brand is highly recognised in China and our expansion there fits perfectly with the enhancement of entertainment value that’s offered in China. We are going for geographical diversity as well as diversity in content.
With the disappearance of traditional circuses it means Cirque will have the Big Top market to itself.
There’s a lesson to be learnt with Ringling Bros. We have to make sure that our shows continue to evolve. We invest a lot in research and development and new technology to support and enhance our human performers. With innovators like James Cameron and Samsung with 3-D and also virtual reality, we’re seeing a lot of new technologies.
We won’t want to be complacent and our challenge is, “I want to surprise you with new types of content and visual effects.” My role is to support the creative team to make sure that happens – when you look forward, new technology is what people are expecting.
What was your first impression of a Cirque show, and how will you keep audiences coming back for more?
The first time I saw a Cirque show – it was Saltimbanco – I was totally taken aback, in a state of shock. I remember thinking that someone is making a breakthrough in the industry. When I joined, I knew the brand was ready to expand. The new owners of Cirque have injected oxygen to the company. Guy (Laliberte) reinvented the circus. Now our goal is to reinvent Cirque du Soleil and turn it into a totally integrated company within the next two years. Our acquisition of Blue Man Group sent a clear signal to the market and now we are in a good position to explore other content. We have this amazing capability of touring in 450 cities around the world and now we can leverage on that capability to bring other content to the market.
Give us a glimpse of the future for Cirque du Soleil, and will Singapore remain a part of it?
Singapore is an important market for us and we want to come back on a regular basis. A hundred years from now, new technology is going to change the way we do live entertainment. Interactivity will be one element – people will be part of the live experience. Geographical diversity will be another thing, with China playing a big role. Our daily challenge is always to keep looking ahead, always moving forward.
Story first appeared on The Business Times.
PHOTOS Daniel Lamarre’s Instagram page