Medames et Messieurs! Bonjour et bienvenue au Сirque du Soleil!
This intro will resonate in 20 different cities tonight and every day. I’m so so happy to be in Amsterdam, because Amsterdam is one of the best city for Cirque de Soleil in the world. We have the fan base in this city that is overwhelming for us.
Like, probably most of you, I come from the corporate world. So, when I joined Cirque de Soleil 15 years ago, it was quite an experience for me to join a bunch of street performers. And every time I see this video, it always touches me, because it reminds me my first day of the job. I was so excited! I came back home, I’m having dinner with my kids and I’m saying to my kids: “You don’t know what – in my new job my new boss is a firebreather!”. And then my son looks at me and says that: “You mean, that your boss can spit fire?”. I said: “Yes”. And he said: “Oh, good luck”.
So, I’m not an expert in technology, but I’m a big believer that new technology is going to change entertainment and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about today. I would like to talk to you about how new technology has influenced the evolution and the success of the Cirque de Soleil.
Why is it important to take risk in developing new technology? How have we reinvented the circus art? What are the key breakthrough moments in the history of Cirque de Soleil that has established our brand worldwide? How does research and development contribute to our continuous evolution? And how new technology is changing the live entertainment experience? That would be my modest humble presentation. The most important activity today is that we have an opportunity to exchange and give me the opportunity to answer the questions that you might have.
So, here’s the story: after two years of struggling with the bad weather in Canada Guy Laliberte thought there is only one way to make it happen. And he organized the meeting with the artists and he said to the artists: “Here’s the deal: we are going to Los-Angeles and if it works, Cirque du Soleil will continue its activities”. And then the artists said: “Guy, that’s great, but if it doesn’t work how are we going to come back from Los-Angeles to flight back to Montreal?”. And he said: “If it doesn’t work, I’ll sell the big tent and I’ll pay you your air flight to come back to Montreal”. Came to Los-Angeles, huge success and the rest is history.
Steve Wynn, the casino owner at that time came to meet with Guy and then they agreed that they would do a first show at Treasure Island called “Mystère”. After 22 years, this show is still going on, I just signed a few months ago, a renewal for the additional five years. So, that when Cirque started to build the brand. But the first real breakthrough is the show called “O”. So, when Steve Wynn decided to open the “Bellagio” he came to Guy and he said: “I would like to do a water show”. So, go back 22 years ago – the technology was not really there and we wanted to have a huge show in a giant pool with thousands and thousands of gallons of water. We wanted the stage to dry in few minutes, we wanted to have acrobats in the air, we wanted to have diver diving in the swimming pool, we wanted to have synchronize swimmer. That was demanding. Just to help you understand the magnitude of demanding let’s have some images of our show “O”.
So, it looks really good, but in the early days when we start rehearsing that show there was that amazing effect of the curtain, you know. We shred in a ton of different pieces probably ten curtains. I can still remember Steve Wynn saying: “Why do we need that special effect?”, you know, “It cost me a fortune with”, you know, “blowing ten curtains!” And Guy was saying: “No-no-no-no, this effect is going to be magnificent and it’s going to create a wow at the opening of the show, this is great!”. My point here is when you want to do a break-win technology you have to take risk. And Cirque took a lot of risk with that show shredding curtains. After one month of presenting the show the water was just killing our costumes. So, we had a very-very short period of time, go back the drawing board and come back with new technologies that will ensure that “O” show can work for many-many years. That was a huge multimillion dollars’ risk for Steve Wynn. Today “O” is the most single successful show in the world. We’ve been presenting that show for over 18 years now. We are still now every night. It’s an amazing success. I’m not here to brag about the success of “O”. I’m here to brag about people 22 years ago, that was willing to try to do a breakthrough in term of technology and entertainment. And it did work and that’s why we’ve been successful. I always like to talk about the fact that it’s important in your world, in my world, in our world that you’re always in a lookout for new ideas, for new projects.
So here we are: we have a big party at Montreal and George Harrison is there, and he’s jamming, he sits in the morning with our musician and he’s having a lot of fun. And then at breakfast he said: “That would be cool if we could do something together”. Two weeks later he calls us and he says that “the boys” (because The Beatles within themselves call themselves “the boys”) are meeting in two weeks from now and if you come and if “the boys” are in a good mood, we are going to meet and see if we can do something together. And the Guy said: “Yeah, but if “the boys” are not in a good mood?”. He said: “Oh, we’re just going to go out you and us and we’ll just have a beer”. So, here I am, going in a plane with Guy, we are going to London, not knowing if were there to have a beer with George Harrison or have one of the most important meeting in my life.
So, here we are in the hotel room, we are talking to each other, but we are not listening to each other, we’re just watching the phone and we’re just waiting for this phone call. And then the finally the phone rings and Guy answers and says: “Yeah! Yes! We’re coming!”, hangs off the phone, looks at me, says: “Ya! They want to meet with us!”. So, we’re rushing a cab, go for My World Hotel, walking to the Metropole, walk through the Mandarin Hotel in London and it was like in a movie. All you can hear in the Mandarin Hotel was: “The guys from Cirque du Soleil are coming, the guys from Cirque du Soleil are coming” and then I walk in the suit and I’m pinching myself: here I am with George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Olivia Harrison is there and Ringo is there, and Yoko is there. And then we sat down and Ringo said: “So what’s the pitch?”. And we said: “There is no pitch. You are creative forces, we are a creative force and we are here to see if we can work together.” And then Ringo turned to Paul and said: “Hmm! That’s a changed”. Because The Beatles has been pitched for 30 years but all the entertainment company in the world, but for the first time they agreed that someone will do a show about the music of the Beatles. And I only remember the first rehearsal, I’m sitting in my seat and behind me there is Paul McCartney and George Martin, the producer, the famous producer of the music of The Beatles. And Paul is very excited and he says to George, and I’m kind of listening. He said: “Isn’t that amazing? You know, we were writing song on the napkins and here we are today, having a tribute show made by Cirque du Soleil”.
We have produced “Love” and “Love” has been very very successful for 10 years and still is obviously, but when we came to the celebration of the 10 Anniversary of that show, we said: “The technology is moving so quickly that we have to do something special”. And we have redone, reinvest in the show because that was important for us that we go to the next level. So. I’m going to show you a version of snippet of the new version of show where you will see some audio visual effects that we have brought, that made this show still relevant in 2017.
So, that’s “Love”. Then the MGM call us and says: “Guys, we want to open a new theater and we really want to push the boundaries of your creativity. We want you, guys, to make a new statement in Las Vegas”. We said: “This is great! That’s the business we’re in! We love to make statement, we love to bring new artistic content. Let’s talk about it!” Put together an amazing creative team, so when we put together creative team we love to have people coming from different nationalities. Normally a creative team of Cirque du Soleil is people of at least 15-20 different nationalities because we feel it brings something special to have people coming from different cultures to work together. So, we bring that team together, Robert Labarge, the director, we’re all excited, I cannot wait to have a first pitch of our creative team. So here we are, I’m sitting there and then they’re explaining to us the concept.
- Listen, Daniel, you’re going to love it, the wind’s going to work that there will be no stage.
- No stage, uhhum. How it’s going to work?
- Oh, Daniel, Daniel, listen to this, it’s going to be a very giant void.
- Ha! Okay... Umm, what else?
- Oh, the stage is going to be lift like this and it’s going to flip like that and the artist are going to come from the roof and then they are going to jump and then…
I said: “Ohh… So, just... just tell me before you go any further - do we know if that technology exists?”
They said: “No! Isn’t that great?!”. I said: “Yes… Yeah, I guess so. It’s going to be a challenge.”
- Yes, Danielle, it’s going to be a great challenge! We know a guy that has this technology, we know another guy that has the other technology, we’re going to put that together and it’s going to be fantastic!
- So, umm, do they know each other? Do they work together?
- No! Isn’t that great?!
I said: “Uhh, I guess so”. They said: “So, Daniel come with us, we’re going to pitch that to MGM”
And here I am going to MGM and I said: “Isn’t that great?! The technology doesn’t exist! We’re going to do it!” And this is only new guys from Cirque du Soleil can be crazy like that. So, let’s go, do it. So, let me show you some images of “KA”.
That’s what I love – pushing the boundaries all the time. But in order to do that, it’s very-very important that you invest in research and development. And people don’t realize that at Cirque every day we do research and development. In some formal way like casting. We cast artists from all over the world. You would call me today and say: “Daniel, I was in a bar last night in Amsterdam. There was great musician”. And I would send one of our scout. We have 50 scouts travelling around the world all the time to find new artists, new act, new way of presenting content, artistic content.
Today we’re lucky, because now people are sending us their stuff, to Internet. We have today 75.000 artists in our databank and it’s still growing. And that’s our bread and butter – getting in touch with people. We have a trend group, the trend group travel the world and they are meeting with our creators four times a year, lock the door and they will present to us what are the trends in the fashion business, what are the trends in architecture, what are the trends in music, movie. Because we want to remain on the edge all the time of the artistic content. And the only way we can do it is to be in touch with the people that are the trend settlers for the future.
I like to think of our employees like we have 5.000 pair of ears and eyes because our employees by definition are crazy, in love they passionate about artistic content. So, we tell them: “Please feed us. When you see something that could be interesting for the future of our company by all means, let us know. We want to know.” And that contribution of our employees is very-very meaningful. And that’s something to me; our 5.000 employees are part of R&D Department of Cirque du Soleil.
We love to collaborate with universities. We collaborate with a lot of universities all around the world and that’s very important. Like I would say to an engineer, “This is a chair. If his chair can fly, I’m interested.” And that’ what we like to do – we love to challenge our people all the time. We have a C:Lab which is internal laboratory to try all sorts of different things. We have even created Montreal, we’re one of the founders of C2 Montreal, which is an event about creativity, where again we create a hub of creators and artists coming from around and round the world in May, and then we talk about commerce and creativity.
So, one day my creative guru walks in my office and says: “Daniel, this is amazing – there is this teacher of the university in Switzerland. He has invented drone and apparently, we could use those drones in one of our show.” And I look at him and I say: “What are you doing in my office?” And he says: “What do you mean, Daniel? Are you not interested about it?” I say: “Not at all. What are you doing in my office? Just go to the airport, just jump in a flight, meet that guy and let’s have that drone in one of our show”.
And that’s the way we work – we always like to work with people that are innovators and come with new ideas. So, let’s have some images of our C:Lab and let’s see how the drones have been involved in one of our new show “Paramour” on Broadway.
So, what’s the most important asset of Cirque du Soleil? The most important asset of Cirque du Soleil is its brand. It’s very-very important to understand what people are saying about you. What’s your reputation? And we spent fair amount of time to understand what consumers are saying about our brand. And it was interesting because there was that famous book called “Blue Ocean Strategy” which was published by Harvard Business School. And there was a full chapter about Cirque du Soleil and how we have reinvented circus art. And we were looking into it and we’ve found it interesting and we - I would say it in my own words – is that my favorite sports is to listen to someone that has seen Cirque du Soleil show trying to explain to someone else that has never seen a Cirque du Soleil show what it is.
It starts like this: “Oh, I’ve seen the Cirque du Soleil show but it’s not a circus show, umm, it’s not only music, it’s not only dance, it’s not theatrical” And then I would love to interrupt and say: “This is Cirque du Soleil”. We have created a new category of show and that’s why I’m always saying and reminding people that the brand of Cirque du Soleil has not been created by market people, it has been neutered by market people, but it has been created by creators that have a passion to create every single show something very-very different.
So, the one thing you might notice is that there is no star in Cirque du Soleil show – the show is the star. And that’s very-very important to remind every single artist that they are serving the show, there are not there to serve their own reputation. And in today’s world in today’s entertainment where stars are becoming bigger than any organization or any company, it’s very very important and that’s why I like our organization is that everybody is star today by being humble and being modest because we all want to make sure that next show that we are going to create together is going to be a fantastic show. And if we altogether focus on the same goal – that is the show – then our chances to succeed are a way-way greater. So that’s why we will be always asking to our consumer what they think of our brand. There is only one measure that is important to me – it’s called NPS – Net Promotor Score. What is it? It’s very-very simple: you ask someone “Will you recommend this Cirque du Soleil show or (this product for that matter) to your friend or family?”. The reality is that if you are not welling to recommend our show or a specific product to your friend or family then it means that maybe you’re not fan that much about this product or that show. We just conducted about a year ago a new worldwide research and the NPS of Cirque du Soleil is on the same level as Apple and Google. We were overwhelmed. To be frank, I was scared. I said to myself: “Oh my God, what can we do to keep that level?”.
I’m a big-big fan of Warren Buffet. He’s quite a successful man and I’ve been saying that to my wife all the time. I said: “Oh, this guy is amazing! You know he has done this..” and blablablabla. Here we are: my wife and I were on an event, guess what, Warren Buffet is there. And then my wife said: “Hey! That’s Warren Buffet. You always wanted to meet him. Go and meet him!”. And I was kind of shy and said: “Wait, wait a minute, Cherie, you know… maybe, maybe…”. She said: “No-no-no-no!” She was pushing me like this, you know “You’ve been talking about him for so long, now here’s your chance, go and meet with Warren Buffet!” And so here am I, I’m right in front of Warren Buffet totally shy and I said: “Mr. Buffet, I’m Daniel Lamar from Cirque du Soleil”. And he said: “Huh! I have something to tell you”. And I said: “What is it?”. He said: “I have to tell you something very important - you and your organization has never ever disappointed me.” I’m very proud then I’m walking and then I am listening to what he just said and I start to be scared. I said, “Oh my God, I hope that I won’t disappoint him with our next show”. And every time we produce a show I’m thinking of him but I’m thinking more importantly to millions of fans of Cirque du Soleil that I don’t to be disappointed. And every time I give a creative mandate to a new creator of Cirque du Soleil I always start just to pull a little bit of pressure. I will just start by saying to the guy: “No one was to be famously known to produce a first bad show of Cirque du Soleil”.
So, the brand of Cirque obviously has been built by our creators but the brand has also been built by our market people that have neutered the visibility and it has been built of what people say about Cirque. What I say about Cirque is not really important: I work for Cirque! What’s important is what our customers are saying, what the media are saying. So, let me show you a little clip that illustrate the awareness and the creditability of the Cirque du Soleil.
So, it’s very important to me when you want to work in new technology, you are trying to associate yourself with the best and I had an amazing chance, an amazing opportunity. Here I am, we’re at premiere of one of the Cirque du Soleil show in Los Angeles, in Santa-Monica. So, that’s a premier, show went well, so we have a premier party and I’m drinking champagne and I’m celebrating and I’m having a lot of fun and so, is my wife. And then the Canadian astronaut, Julie Payette came to me in the middle of the party and she said: “Daniel, what do you do tomorrow morning?”. I said: “I don’t know, I’m having fun now”. So, she said: “I have a friend called James Cameroon and he’s working on a movie and he has invited me to come to the studio tomorrow morning at eight o’clock. Would you come with me?” “Julie! I’m going with you for sure”. Go to my wife, took from her a glass of champagne saying: “Honey, we’re not drinking anymore”. She said, “What are you doing?”. “No-no-no, you don’t understand!”. She said, “I totally don’t understand? What’s up?”. “No-no-no, we’re going to meet James Cameroon tomorrow morning!”. She said, “Oh my God, you had too much champagne”. And then we left. And here I am following morning at eight o’clock. James Cameroon is literally living in his studio, he is working 18 hours a day, he has his little bed in the corner of the studio and then my wife and I, I’m very shy. I just don’t want to disturb him, you know. And he says: “Oh, Daniel, I’m so happy you come because I’m going to show you my new technology and you will see that texture of my character, the make-up of characters has been very inspired by Cirque du Soleil.” And then he shows me some images of the movie he was preparing called “Avatar”. And he shows me the technology and then he says, “It would be so fun to work together one day”. I say, “Let me think about it. Of course!”. So he says – and when I think about it I couldn’t stop laughing – “Let me finish that gig and then I’ll call you”. That “gig” became the most successful movie in the industry of the movie.
So, he did his gig ad then few months later I invited him in our creative studio in Montreal and then we start talking about what we can do together, but with this guy it never stops – he has a thousand new ideas a day. He is crazy-crazy-crazy about new technology. He has invented new camera for his new movie that is sequel of “Avatar” that he is creating right now. And so, so we pushed us and, and then I explained to him what we want to do. And a lot people had told me that he is very difficult to work with. I had totally opposite experience with him. He’s been very-very nice with us, very generous with us. He has participated to brief our director, he has pushed us in terms of new technology and it was really-really cool to work with him. But more importantly he has brought us a lot of new technology in our show, in our live-show that we have developed with him.
You go to that Arena show, you will be walking the Arena, all you will see on the floor of the ice-ring is a brownish kind of curtain. And then when the magic starts you would feel a lot different effect and that’s one of our the most famous show that is travelling the world right now. Let me tell you, you know, how much he was excited about trying new tech. You know, we work with one of our key partner, ACP, and we have developed with them a new technology that when the customer, when the fans coming to the show they can interact with our content and they also are part of our special effect. So, that’s James Cameroon, that’s a kind of people that are pushing all the time that we want to be associated with. Let’s have some images of the “TORUK”.
As you can see, we have a lot of fun in Cirque du Soleil. So, one day there was a very sad news – Michael Jackson died – and I was kind of walking around my office for about a week and a second week and think to myself - in a very modest way - “There is only one organization that can do a show about Michael Jackson. It’s us”. And then finally I push myself and I call the guy that was the right of Michael Jackson and thought at the time that BNG will have the rights because they are the one that were supposed to produce the show of Michael here, in London. And I called the guy and said: “Look, I’m sure you’re probably doing your show with the BNG, but just in case you’re interested, I’m glad to talk to you”. And the reason why I’m using that example is that I think it is very important in our world, in new technologies, in new entertainment, in new artistic content that we’re pushing us all the time. And also the importance of negotiating and selling, selling what we believe in. If you have a strong technology and you believe in it, just sell it, just push it with a lot of passion.
So I call a guy and I say: “Look, you know, if you’re interested..” And then the guy stops me and says, “Mm, I’m glad you call because we were talking about you and we didn’t know if you would be interested to work with us” And he says, you know, “When you can come in Los Angeles?” And I say: “Let me think. What about tomorrow?” And then he says: “Are you serious?” and I say that I’m serious. So here I am. I am in the Los Angeles and I’m meeting two guys that own the rights of Michael Jackson. There is this typical lawyer of entertainment, you know. Very, you know – “this is what you want and what you don’t”. And there is this African American who is a creative guy and he is passionate guy. And I have a lot of African American friends and I can tell you that they’ve helped me a lot because I know what kind of guys they are when they are passionate.
So, I’m doing my pitch. I’m like, it’s almost like I’m dancing, I’m singing, I’m trying to do the Michael Jackson’s stuff, you know. And I can tell that the lawyer likes my speech because that was for business speech and I could tell that the African American didn’t like me that much, you know. And I was pitching to him, and was pitching to him and ufff… And then I catch that crazy flash. I looked to the guy and I said, “What do you know about basketball?” “Ugh, guys, look at me, are you kidding me? We are African American basketball, we know everything about basketball! You know nothing about basketball! We know exactly what it is!” And I said, “I thought so and I’m not surprised about it. So here is very-very easy decision that you have to make”. That was the time when the Lakers were the champion basketball team in the US. I said, “Do you want to work with the Lakers? We are the Lakers of entertainment. Or you want to work with the Jackson’s will?” And then the guy: “High-five! I want to work with the Lakers!” And that made the change in our relationship, we became friends, it did work for us, it was fantastic. And I remember because when I left the office, all my creators were coming in my office saying, “Daniel, you’re going to Los Angeles tomorrow, don’t come back with a “no”. We want to do that show.” So I felt the pressure of my creators and I love that, you know, when I know that my creators are passionate about the project, I know it will work.
You know, we’re not driven by the money. The money comes because of the passion of our creators. And that’s very-very important. So we did that show and it worked very-very well. I always love to be caught by surprise. So, one day there is this Mexican passionate entrepreneur that came and meet us in Las Vegas. And he said: “I would love to do a theme park of Cirque du Soleil”. And I said, “It’s a bit ambitious for us. We never did that.” And then we start building the relationship because we thought of the early days that we have been not that serious about the project. And we pushed in and we pushed in and we pushed in so much that one day after a few meetings where I have a strong feeling that we are going nowhere, I said, “Look, one step at a time. Let’s make a great dinner show in your resort in and then if we are successful in doing it then we’ll go to theme park”. The guy said “OK. Let’s do one dinner, one show”.
So one day he invited me to the resort and he said: “This is what we are going to build and build something like totally magnificent” And he was so proud that he could convince us to establish our organization in Mexico that he pushed me and he brought me to meet with the tourism minister of Mexico. And he said to the tourism minister of Mexico, “Look, I’m bringing this guy in Mexico, we’re opening this dinner show in few weeks from now. I’m going to do a theme park of Cirque du Soleil” By the way as we speak, we’re in a full construction, it’s going to open at 2019 and that’s an exciting creative challenge for all of our team. Back to the meeting with the minister. He said to minister, “We would love to hence a Mexican inspire show of Cirque du Soleil that will tour around the world.” And finally we’ve got an agreement with Mexican government and we are as we speak touring a show called “LUZIA” and this show is touring around the world. I remember our creators coming in my office and say, “Oh, Daniel, we have a new idea!” So I hold myself for they say that. And this is, “You know, we have the show in Vegas where there is water? So we’re going to bring water in big tent”. I said, “Wait a minute, you know that we have this OneDrop Foundation, where we promote the fact that we want to protect water?” “No-no-no-no, you know, we’re going to recycle the water, we’re going to use the same water” And I said “Ok, but what’s the big thing having the water in a show?” “It is no water, water becomes clean, and then we’ll use the water screen, we have special effect” And then again there was a new technology. So let’s have some images of “LUZIA”.
So, what we have to do in life is again trying to view new creative challenges. And in the next year you’re going to hear more and more about how we are going to broaden the base of our creativity. We just, I was at Super Bawl, American football last Sunday I was in meeting with the NFL two days ago. And the Cirque du Soleil is going to curate an NFL experience, is going to be located on Times Square, best address at Times Square. 3.000 people every day walking in front of the building and next November after two years of working we’re going to open an NFL experience because the people of the US are just crazy about their American football and it’s kind of a blessing for us that we will have that opportunity. So, NFL experience were going to open, we also have a ton of new projects. The theme park idea that we are opening in Mexico it’s not open yet, we’re in full buss of construction, but the concept is so interesting that we know people in China and people well here in Europe are talking to us about the possibility of implanting a similar adventure. The key there is to make sure that whatever we do in term of creativity it’s aligned with our brand and it’s respectful of our brand. So, don’t expect theme park with rise and stuff like that. It’s going to be a special environment with a lot of breed, and a lot of new characters and a lot of a new ways, new technologies to interact with people.
I truly believe that new technology is going to become more and more important in the development of entertainment. You know, I’m very excited about 3D technology, I’m excited about VR, I’m excited about virtual character and I’m excited about robots. So I want to be in a lookout all the time.
So, just keep that name in our memory – Bernard Fouche. Bernard Fouche is in charge of C:Lab. So, Bernard dot Fouche at Cirque du Soleil in one word dot com. This guy job is to answer your phone call to see how you can help us to bring Cirque du Soleil to the next level. He is in charge of C:Lab and C:Lab will succeed only because we are going to work with you, organization, university, private company that are going to come and knock to our door and become partner with us in the artistic content. New technology is the future of live entertainment. People love to be seated and watch “O” and watch “Ka”. In the future people will want to be part of “Love” and “Ka”, they will want to interact, they will want to be immersive. So, I’m talking at you with so much humility because you are going to change entertainment in the future. And I don’t want to wake up one day and one of you guys have developed something and I’m behind because of you. I want to be ahead with you. I want to work with the people that are innovators, I want to work with the people that right now are in their garage, or are in their warehouse, or are in their big office, or are in their university’s office. I want to work with people like that. That has passion. I want to talk with people that want to push the boundaries of our creativity.
I like to end this presentation saying two things. First of all, if you want to follow me because I have a crazy life and I have a fun life, you can go on Instagram and I love to interact with people because I’ve learned from my kids and grandkids that I should be more active at social media. So, by all means join me and you will see how much fun I have at Cirque du Soleil. It’s not a job I have, it’s a lifestyle. And I hope I would be able to transit to you a little bit of my fun and passion because, you know, and that’s my conclusion. If you take two words “show business” and that’s my last word. So if you take two words “show business” the word show comes first. If you have a great show, you will have a great business. If you don’t have a good show, you will have no business. Thank you very much, thank you!