Sunday, July 06, 2008

Sunday Monring, Looking Back: The Impresario Only Wants Power

This first appeared on July 6, 2008

In the beginning, according to the account of a key inside source, they among the young “team” decided his youth and energy was a good thing, so they together said, “Okay, you be the front man. You be the leader.” And he went out and drummed up interest and money, and he called them from Italy. I have just bought us a tent.

He talked them into going to another country to test their luck away from home. And so they did. And they were a huge success. And they continued to grow and prosper and multiply. And with each new triumph, he became more confident of himself.

He had no artistic ideas of his own, but left that to the others. He listened to them offer their ideas, and then rejected them all. But a week or so later, he suggested the same ideas as his own, and now they were acted upon, all in agreement.

“He had no idea what to say. He is not articulate,” says my source who was there from the start and played one of the most powerful roles. So they gave him his words. He was not a good public speaker, so others spoke for him.

He never had a vision, only an insatiable thirst to conquer more markets and expand his reach.

More and more he began to intrude on the people in positions of importance below him, taking matters capriciously into his own hands, gathering his own people around him, and telling the others what to do even after they had already decided on the policies. And they began to resent his disruptively domineering ways, and they felt a futility, and gradually they left.

“He was always looking to position himself in power.”

In fact, that is the only thing he really wanted. Power and money. Women and money and more power. Every so often, he turned in his current “friends” for a new set — a richer, faster set of global jet setters like himself.

He loved to play with his fortune. He is addicted to the world stage of high risk takers. He revels in playing high stakes poker.

Oddly, his greatest asset, according to one of the now departed founders, is how deeply he allows himself to be influenced by others. But under the ground breaking showmanship they gave him in the beginning, he only repeats the same formula over and over again. He does nothing new.

Who is this Impresario whose only passion, according to my source, is power?

Guy Laliberte.

The owner and operator of Cirque du Soleil.


Returning to Earth, are you surprised? We must think about this from other perspectives, too, for my world-traveled informant, responsible for the above profile, forces us, beyond the Cirque specifics, to ponder the vexing ironies of image versus reality. To confront the mirror of illusions called "life" into which even the most “rational” among us can easily lose their way.

These mortals who bring us magic need not be themselves as passionate about it as we are. The world’s oldest profession comes to mind. A sad truth of life. The impresario to survive must be calculating to a degree. But this too can be said without repute: whatever it is he brings to us is a reflection of either his own intrinsic values — or his business savvy in knowing what the public will buy and how to sell it. Perhaps Guy Laliberte, as my informant insists, is driven only by what fortunes Cirque du Soleil can bring him rather than by what he can give it. Whatever he is behind the scenes (and there are reasons to consider him just as callous as he is portrayed above), he still must be given the credit for the resounding world-wide success of his entertainment empire rooted in circus arts. Brute inarticulate force or multi-talented magic maker, it is Laliberte who makes it happen. Make no doubt of that.

In the beginning, according to my secret source during a global telephone exchange, if there was a single person most responsible for the Cirque du Soleil success, that person was Franco Dragone. (I would have guessed Guy Caron). And even if Guy Laliberte has done nothing more than perpetuate a “formula” like a national chain franchising itself out into more retail outlets, what an astonishing record. And here is where I most differ with my source: Perhaps Laliberte’s genius is in his ability to modify the “formula,” to allow it change in order to, so far, sustain the illusion each time a new show is put up of freshness. So far, the illusion — or reality — has worked.

The modern-day phenomenon that we know as Cirque du Soleil is all designed and packaged and sold from the top down. Twas ever thus in virtually all walks of free market enterprise from cement making to circus producing. And if the man at the top has absolutely no passion for what he is doing, then he is one of the most remarkable business men who ever lived. As long as he can deliver more Varekais and Koozas, to him I will tip my hat.

[photos, from top: Hollywood studio chief Louis B. Mayer groped, drugged and nearly worked Judy Garland to death; Ruthless Broadway producer David Merrick, disliked by many; circus chief Arthur Concello, known as "little Caesar" on the Ringling midway, loved to present himself as doing it "only for the money;" John Ringling North, seen here with Marlene Dietrich at the Madison Square Garden opening in 1955, was viewed by fans as a playboy and absentee owner who had little interest in the circus he produced; Jack Sarnoff, NBC president and notorious self-promoter who took credit for the work of others; Guy Laliberte in 1987 -- who is he?]

For another take on Guy Laliberte, I seriously encourage you to read the comment posted here by Terry Cromwell



Terry Cromwell said...

This great blogosphere of ours is an amazing which allows everyone to exercise their freedom of expression. But by the same right afforded to us all comes to the reality that people who you don’t necessarily agree with will also have a forum to air their thoughts and ideas. I respect that. And very respectfully I must say that you are severely misguided in your assessment of Guy Laliberté. You say he has no real talent, yet he was touring Europe as a street performer in 1978. You question his passion, yet you fail to mention his artistic drive. You would attribute Cirque’s early success to Dragone, but who provided the framework, the canvas, the brushes, the paint, the space and the time? In other circumstances would the end result have been the same? Should Le Reve be admitted into evidence? Guy Laliberté once said “I’m capable of finding balance between business and creativity, and seeing how creativity can grow out of that balance”. It’s this winning combination that’s in large part responsible for the success of the 20+ Cirque du Soleil productions, along with the genius of many great artists who’ve had the great opportunity to create in some great black box in which everything and anything is possible. Imagine that!

And of course, because it’s easy to do so, you talk about his public exposure, and his gambling. But you don’t mention that the company that he owns has made its corporate citizenship one of its priorities long before it became cool to do so: Since 1989 Cirque has elected to give 1% of its annual turnover to social and cultural programs in the community. And in 2006 Cirque du Soleil adopted a proactive environmental policy based on sustainable development in order to communicate its commitment to the environment. Cirque is not only looking for ways to balance its economic, social and environmental interests, but is also developing original and innovative ways to transform the world. (source:

If that wasn’t enough, there’s also the fact that he’s committed himself “to fighting poverty worldwide by ensuring that everyone across the planet has access to water, now and in the future” through his One Drop Foundation.

But who knows? You may be right… Maybe this whole thing of creating amazing shows that keep more than 5000 people employed worldwide, and provides creative geniuses opportunities to work in optimal time/budget/freedom conditions, while giving back to the community in myriad ways that for the most part remain unpublicized – because giving with exposure is not altruism, it’s marketing – maybe it’s all only about power.

Dick Dyes said...

Hello David:
My name is Dick Dykes and I've started a new outdoor showbis blog.
My brother and i were concession managers on The Great American, Billy Martin;s Cole All Star Circus,Garbage on Roberts Bros,
Hoxie Bros and a slew of other shows. We also did promotions on our own. I hope you will check out my blog and possibly add it to your list. Thanks and let me hear from you.

Wade G. Burck said...

Just a thought. If we are talking about "creative genius", I just have to accept that would be the artist who paints the picture, and not the provider of the materials. Now if we are talking "smart", that's a different deal, and the provider will hand those materials to Michaelangelo, and not Jackson Pollack.
Wade Burck.

Wade G. Burck said...

I have to add, this is probably the most brilliant "second side of the story", I think I have ever read or seen. It is so close to being an accurate analogy of another "producer" I am familiar with, that it is spooky. Thank you for flipping the other side of the coin.
Wade Burck