Strong loonie, surging production costs prompt 400 layoffs at Cirque du Soleil

MONTREAL – The strong Canadian dollar, surging production costs and the worldwide economic downturn are all being blamed by the Cirque du soleil for its decision to lay off 400 employees.

Most of the layoffs will be at the artistic giant’s Montreal headquarters.

Company spokeswoman Renee-Claude Menard moved to dispel speculation the Cirque is flailing.

“The first thing to say is that the Circus is not in crisis,” Menard told a news conference Wednesday. “Let’s get that straight.

“We had a record year in terms of tickets sold. We sold more than 14 million tickets this year. We had a record year for total revenue, with more than $1 billion.”

Despite that, the Cirque didn’t make money, Menard said.

She said the powerful loonie hit the Cirque hard in that its profit is affected by nearly $3 million for each cent the currency gains against the U.S. dollar.

The layoffs will begin by the end of this month and continue until the end of March.

The Cirque employs about 5,000 people worldwide, including 2,000 in Montreal.

It still has 19 productions being presented worldwide and is currently working on a new show that will open in May in Las Vegas.

Another touring production that will open in the spring of 2014 in Montreal is also in the works.

But four shows besides the 19 that are still on stage have closed recently.

The Cirque’s performances have played to an estimated 15 million people since it was founded by street performer Guy Laliberte in 1984.

It has undertaken several years of unprecedented expansion amid the world economic meltdown that began in 2008 but has been foreced to close the four shows in the last couple of years.

“Zed,” which was playing to solid audiences at Tokyo Disney, ran from 2008 to 2011, when it was retired in the aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. The popular “Saltimbanco,” which originally ran from 1992 to 2006, ended last year after a new tour.

“Viva Elvis,” which got mixed reviews, ran from February 2010 in Las Vegas and wound up last August. “Zaia,” the Cirque’s first resident show in Asia, ran from 2008 until last year and recorded lacklustre attendance.

A fifth show, “Iris,” is due to end its run in Los Angeles on Saturday although there are reports the Cirque plans to take the show on tour.

The Cirque’s 3D movie is reportedly doing respectable business internationally. Box Office Mojo, which tracks how much money movies are raking in, reports “Cirque du soleil: Worlds Away” has made more than $23 million worldwide since it opened Dec. 21.

The Cirque is credited with breathing new life into the concept of a circus. It threw out the traditional playbook, which concentrated on animal acts, and instead used colourful acrobatics, a narrative framework and music to replace lions, tigers and monkeys to stir crowds.

It soon gained renown beyond its Quebec base and expanded into an international operation, its name becoming a pop culture shorthand for circuses. It was even satirized in an episode of TV’s “The Simpsons,” although it was identified as the “Cirque du puree.”

Laliberte has become a multibillionaire, space tourist and advocate for clean water.

The Cirque, which initially got financial support from the Quebec government, stopped getting government subsidies in 1992 and now offers support to other artistic organizations. It engages in philanthropy by aiding at-risk youth and contributes one per cent of its gross revenues to help resolve accessible water issues.




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