On August 7th, 2019 I attended yet another in a very long string of Cirque du Soleil performances when a revamped version of Alegría came through Ottawa. The show was actually called “Alegría In a New Light” and it came in fact through Gatineau, Quebec (though well within sight of Ottawa’s Parliament Buildings just across the river) and for once* I had pretty goods seats too, having taken advantage of a pre-order seat sale long before this date.
And of course it was another highly professional ultra-creative romp through the mystical world that Cirque reliably creates after farming the planet for the most mind-bending acrobatics possible and blending them with their own patented made-in-Quebec crystalline magic. It’s like a nomadic dream-like Disneyland for the senses, and much like the House of the Mouse Cirque du Soleil has it’s ardent followers (myself very admittedly included), fans who are pleased to throw sizeable chunks of money into the coffers of their pet franchise at regular intervals.
Just think of the vast amounts of cash they make! With as many as twenty tent performances touring the world at any one time added to at least a dozen permanent shows in Vegas, Florida, Mexico and beyond, well, these guys sell a whole lot of tickets (and a whole lot of merch too). Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if their concession sales alone outperformed the GDP of a sizeable number of countries.
And all of it started with a government grant.
Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix received a provincial arts grant in the late ’70’s that allowed them to fund a stilt-walking troupe, which eventually grew to become the origins of Cirque du Soleil. The group leveraged a significantly larger government grant in 1983 (this one for $1.6 million) into their first real Cirque-type tour and a few further federal grants to expand their productions throughout the 1980’s. In the 1990’s Cirque started to really take off, and they have gone on to drastically alter the circus industry on-the-whole, and dramatically for the better too, little question about that.
Now Cirque du Soleil employs 5,000 people from over fifty countries (and we’re not talking minimum-wage gigs here) and the franchise generates an annual revenue of a thousand million dollars every year**. That’s a lot of moolah. Ever been to Vegas? Imagine this: Every day 5% of the people visiting Las Vegas go see one of the city’s permanent Cirque shows. That means that one out of every twenty people (on average) in any given casino will be taking two hours out of that very day to go to a Cirque du Soleil performance. Just thinking about it makes me nutty.
And all of this (taxable) income grew from Canadian government arts grants. And really, Cirque is just one example.
Remember that. (And never mind that they declared bankruptcy in 2020. Lots of crazy things happened in 2020.)
*Okay, twice. I had a ringside table for their dinner theatre show in Riviera Maya, Mexico.
**AKA Ten hundred thousand thousand***.
***AKA A billion.