Daniel Lamarre, O.C., is the President and CEO of Cirque du Soleil, one of the most successful entertainment enterprises in the world. He is also a member of the MMIAM program’s International Advisory Committee. Students in the program have the privilege of visiting Cirque du Soleil’s creative headquarters in Montréal to tour the facilities and meet with Mr. Lamarre. Laura Adlers recently interviewed him about Cirque programs, what happens behind the scenes and what he looks for when hiring an arts manager.
Many people don’t realize how big the Cirque du Soleil corporation is. Could you give us an idea of the scope of the organization?
We are currently going through a period of growth, so the number is changing frequently, but at the moment we employ somewhere between 5,000-6,000 employees around the world. Many of them are based here in Montréal in our creative centre, about 2,000 are based in Las Vegas where we have seven shows, and the remaining are travelling the world with all of our different shows. There are 50 different nationalities represented in Cirque and we are touring 23 unique programs in 60 countries and 450 cities around the world. There is no other entertainment company touring with such a broad scope as Cirque.
I have about 25 vice presidents who are in charge of different mandates which support the organization, requiring a variety of different skills and expertise — from touring to marketing, ticket sales to costume design and production. There are also many logistical processes happening in the background, such as immigration and legal issues, translation, training and financial processes.
The bad news about touring as much as we do is that there is a lot of paperwork, a lot of legal issues which need to be taken care of. The good news is that we have many years of experience with this and have all of the right mechanisms in place to keep things running smoothly. It also means that the barrier for entry into this field by our competition is very, very high, because we are really unique in the industry in this regard. It takes a wide variety of expertise to run an organization like Cirque.
What role does cultural diplomacy play in the countries where you have ongoing productions?
First of all, there is a lot of talk in cultural industries about diversity. At Cirque, we don’t talk about diversity, we LIVE diversity. In any given show, we have at least 20 nationalities represented, which over our 35 years of existence have contributed towards developing artistic content that is relevant on an international level. In addition, travelling internationally, we see ourselves as Canadian ambassadors, meaning that wherever we go, we like to share our culture with local cultural organizations. Over the years, we have developed an amazing international network of artists, creators and cultural organizations and this is also part of our mission — to help artists around the world develop their passion and their talent. I am particularly proud that at Cirque, we employ over 2,500 artists from around the world and we are able to provide an opportunity for them to live their dreams – to travel the world and show their artistic passion through their performance.
Tell us about your community outreach programs.
We have two major causes that we support internationally and we have a lot of community involvement in our neighbourhood here in Montréal as well. Internationally, we have a program called “Cirque du Monde”, where we work with at-risk youth, teaching them about circus art. What we have discovered is that if you reach out to these kids and teach them about circus art, they regain their self-esteem and many decide to go back to school. This program has been around for 30 years now and has been implemented very successfully in cities where Cirque performs.
In addition, about ten years ago, Cirque founder Guy Laliberté and I launched a project called “One Drop”, which is tied to our dream of resolving the water issues that exist around the world. Cirque is a founding member of this foundation, and we are working in a lot of countries where water is tough to find. We go into these communities and provide funding and other resources to bring in water sources which are healthy and sustainable.
Why do you think the specific study of international arts management is important for the profession and for the cultural sector?
I think it is very important, because a lot of entertainment organizations say they are international, but they are not. Most of the organizations I know are North America or US-centric, and I think there is much more to offer. Every time I visit a new country, I discover a new culture. I discover the richness of artistic content of different countries. I am not just talking about large countries, or developed countries. I am also talking about emerging countries that have a lot to offer through their legacy, through their heritage. There is a lot of artistic content that is quite relevant and exciting to discover.
My hope is that a program like MMIAM will help promote the diversity of cultures around the world and will stimulate people to discover cultures outside their own countries. Similarly, I hope that artists will also reach beyond their own countries and look for opportunities to perform in other parts of the world.
How would you describe your management philosophy and style?
Cirque is not a one man or one woman show. We are very much a collective. I tell people that I am not here to decide, I am here to convince. If I convince people of my plan, they will be supportive. So, my style is to consult my colleagues, to hear their thoughts and get their input, before I make a decision about a plan. I always want my colleagues to feel they have been part of the process.
What specific qualities do you look for when you are hiring an arts manager that are unique to the industry?
First and foremost, the desire to travel around the world. If you want to have a very normal life, you are in the wrong place! Most of us are travelling all the time, and we don’t have a job here, we have a lifestyle. So it takes someone who has a passion for what we do here, combined with a desire to travel and discover different cultures. In a time where, unfortunately, many people are returning to a focus on their own backyard, we are doing the opposite. We care about the planet, we care about what’s happening in the world. That’s the kind of people we’re looking for – people who share our vision and are comfortable with our lifestyle.
What are some of the future projects in the works for Cirque du Soleil?
We have a five year plan, but in reality it is a cycle of two years, because it takes two years to produce a new show. The coming year will be particularly fruitful, because we have a new big top show opening in April in Montréal. We have a new show opening in the summer in Hangzhou, China and another show opening in the fall in Las Vegas. We have a new ice show, which is a new format we have developed. This show will open in the fall as well. So we have a very busy schedule in the coming months – we are adding ten new Cirque shows in various cities around the world!