Guy Laliberte typically commands the spotlight. But Cirque du Soleil’s “other” co-founder has raised his voice about the faltering artistic company.
Gilles Ste-Croix joined a distinctly theatrical demonstration in Montreal on Tuesday, marking Cirque’s 36th anniversary. A troupe of performers assembled a blue-and-gold tent at the city’s Old Port, in the same region where Cirque usually sets up its own staging.
The performers were there to serve public notice that the company still owes $1.5 million in wages over the past year. Cirque is in financial desperation, having laid off 95 percent of its workforce, falling to about $1 billion in debt, considering bankruptcy and entertaining buyout bids from several potential investors — including Laliberte and former Cirque director Franco Dragone.
“It’s a sad thing because I always say that the Cirque du Soleil is the energy of the creators and workers who … bring it together,” Ste-Croix was quoted in a story published in the Montreal Gazette. “The Cirque du Soleil is not a big top — it’s a show, and a show is human energy and human creativity. I think it’s sad that they stopped paying them. And it was not a question of COVID — it was a question of bad finance. They ran out of money before COVID.”
Reportedly, Cirque has spent about $550 million to expand since Laliberte sold his interest to an investment group led by TPG Capital in 2015. The story outlines several warning signs of the company’s revenue struggles, including the closing of “R.U.N” at Luxor, which cost the company about $65 million.
In March, the company laid off 4,700 employees, including more than 1,300 in Las Vegas.
Ste-Croix, who remains Cirque’s vice president, told the Montreal publication, “Already last year we could see that there were some problems. They were putting out many, many shows, and a couple of them didn’t work out. … It was a question of how they were going about the development. Having so many shows out on the road … demands lots of money to finance, hoping to make a buck out of it. But it didn’t work out that way, and they were, I’d say, stretching to finance all this debt — and finally COVID came and it stopped all the revenue.”
The Quebec government has given Cirque a $200 million loan, which could be attached to a buyout of the company to keep it in its home province.
Ste-Croix is said to support Laliberte’s attempt to recover ownership. The two street performers started the company in the town of Baie-St-Paul in Quebec in the early 1980s.
Ste-Croix is first an artist, then an executive. As he said, “The recipe to make money — and we did for 30 years — was create good shows and sell them! Develop markets. Of course that costs money. But you don’t cut on creativity. That’s what the Cirque du Soleil trademark is. The last few shows they put out, (there) was not so much money in the creativity.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats! podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.