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?
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