Mike Newquist, president of Cirque du Soleil’s Touring Shows Division, discusses the challenges of moving a production team consisting of people from 27 countries around the world while coping with soaring costs.
The pandemic hit Cirque du Soleil hard, leading it to lay off 95% of its workforce, some 4,679 people, and file for bankruptcy protection in Canada. “I never thought in my life that within 48 hours, I [would go] from a billion dollars of revenue to zero revenue,” Cirque du Soleil’s former CEO Daniel Lamarre later told the FT.
The Montreal-based business is now back in action with shows taking place globally. Its recovery in the UK kicked off this year with a lengthy run at the Royal Albert Hall with Luzia.
The focus is now on Corteo. Having attracted a worldwide audience of more than 9 million people since it first premiered in Montreal in 2005, Corteo made its UK debut in July at The O2 arena (cap. 20,000).
As part of a European tour, the show will return to the UK in October for five-night runs at Manchester’s AO Arena (21,000), the OVO Hydro (14,300) in Glasgow and Birmingham’s Utilita Arena (15,800).
The show’s story is centred around an elderly clown, who on his deathbed reflects on his life while finding the energy to burst into playful action in between the extensive cast’s gravity-defying acrobatics. It is Cirque’s usual hallmark blend of breath-taking acrobatics, a beautiful stage set up and family-focused fun.
Behind the scenes, though, there is no time for clowning around. In a post-Brexit and post-pandemic market coping with soaring costs and crew shortages, Cirque’s Mike Newquist is responsible for the tour’s operations, logistics and revenue strategy.
“Arena tours like Corteo, where you are moving venue week to week, and in our case country to country, have logistical challenges, and then there is the rising cost of transportation, labour shortages; everything is different from pre-pandemic,” he says.
Including artists and staff, the touring crew consists of 117 people from 27 countries, with 100 local crew and technicians employed at each location. While significantly less sizeable than Cirque’s big top shows, which take 90 trucks to transport, Corteo requires 25.
With around 200,000 people having seen Luzia at the Royal Albert Hall earlier this year, Newquist says the buzz around that run helped set up the Corteo tour and ticket sales have been strong, despite prices having been raised to reflect increased costs.
“There is a balancing act, you can’t just raise ticket prices for the sake of it but there is a cost involved in doing business and ticket prices have had to rise with inflation,” he says. “Once we get into a market we really see the demand pick up as the word-of-mouth spreads and people talk about the production. What we are seeing with Corteo is a really great reception and strong ticket sales.”
Looking ahead, Newquist says the focus is on bringing a new big top show to the UK that will involve cutting-edge technology: “We are looking at a new big top tour next year, and how we utilise tech to really immerse the fans more in the show production.”