If you want to find that one place in the world where magic runs free and limitless imagination becomes tangible reality, you have to go to the Cirque du Soleil. I was fortunate enough to get a tour of their head office recently and I am now in front of my computer to bring you the experience.
One fine Montréal morning I hopped on the metro and took the train to the eastern tip of the blue line. I was quick to put into question the dubious location of this Cité des arts du cirque I was traveling to… Little did I know then that, like anything else the Cirque du Soleil does, the location of its main office had a good reason for being, too…
The Cirque’s modern HQ are deliberately located in St-Michel, an underserved neighborhood in the city of Montreal. The company wanted to give back to the community and what better way to do so than to be at its core? Aside from actively partaking in the enrichment of the Montréal (and worldwide) art scene, from its strategic location the Cirque is able to easily contribute to the local community through job offerings and distribution of donations. Some of the later come directly from the office’s front garden where vegetables and fruits are grown to help stock the office restaurants.
But the Cirque’s extended community is the whole world. Overall the Cirque du Solei is involved in nearly 80 local communities worldwide through social and cultural action programs to which it donates the equivalent of 1% of its revenue. Evidently, it is vital to do good by the Planet’s environment as well. The building I visited is strategically built right on the spot of the former Miron sandpit and Montreal waste treatment and disposal center. By taking over this unwanted land the Cirque helped rehabilitate the second largest garbage disposal site in an urban area in North America. Plus, the newest architectural addition to the offices counts with a system that collects rainwater and gathers enough of this valuable resource to render a part of the complex autonomous.
While continuously and actively partaking in society, Cirque du Soleil is astonishingly self sufficient. In fact, I am tempted to call the HQ, “Soleilville.” This fantastic city stopped receiving government and public subvention in 1992 and since then runs fully on its own profits. The infrastructure is amazing and complex. All performers start here, so it houses a department specialized in immigration and a welcoming office to support new immigrants that travel to be part of the troupe. Inside the offices where over 2000 employees work there is also a large gym complete with sport therapy specialists, cafeterias to feed hunger and cravings all around, and shops where different departments can find supplies -from desktop basics to glue for wig making-. To make sure all necessities are covered, there is a comprehensive library that gathers information in all sorts of media, including unusual resources that may be needed to research a specific show. Art decorates the building walls. There is an internal newspaper that publishes news for Cirque members the world over and holds daily draws for tickets to both rare and popular non-Cirque shows. With such an organization, employees can easily loose sight of what he came to work for in the first place, so the Cirque HQ were built in such way that training rooms are visible from all offices. You can imagine how extraordinary it might be to be crunching numbers lost in an excel file when suddenly in the back of your screen there is somebody swinging off a trapeze…!
Soleilville is a fascinating place. Still, what I found most inspiring as I walked through the Cirque’s entrails, is its beautiful philosophy that there is creativity in everybody. As you might guess, not everyone on this Earth is aware of his/her own creative powers. Cirque du Soleil knows know this and is happy to take on the challenge. So when new acrobats join the team, they not only train for their parts but they also spend time uncovering their creative side. Every artist on any of the Cirque’s simultaneous 19 stages starts their job taking acting course and art classes. Performers are also required to do his/her own make up so they also learn the intricate task of getting into character through painting their faces and bodies, which can take anywhere from a few minutes up to 2 hours.
My visit to the Cirque’s head office was enlightening. I’ve got to admit to some bias here. There are certain sensations that inexplicably make my heart pound with a soft and continuous beat. Theatre, for instance, has always run smoothly through my veins. The sound of bare feet coming to a controlled landing on a tatami, the exhilarated breath of a performer dispersing in a large space, traveling free towards a high open ceiling… My mind is already at flight! The smell of book pages spreading imagination silently, abstract and necessary like oxygen… I am lost in blissful exhilaration. Combine all these into a tight business model with its turning wheels fully oiled, a superb group of passionate individuals, and deep care down to the smallest of details, and you got Cirque. Bias or not, seeing it all, it’s impossible not to fall in love.
Wouldn’t you agree?
A VISIT TO THE CIRQUE DU SOLEIL – PART 2 – PREVIEW:
The Cirque HQ is the unique laboratory of creation worldwide where the best creators on the planet meet to collaborate in creative projects. Around 400 artisans work only in the various ateliers. My tour took me through these magical rooms as well…