On March 14, 2020, when it was already evident that the entire planet was going to stop due to the coronavirus, Daniel Lamarre was forced to give what may have been the toughest order of his life: the suspension of a thousand functions of the 44 shows that the Circo del Sol had active, a company of which he has been president and CEO for two decades. From billing millions of euros every day, they went on to have to pay back millions for early ticket sales and lay off 95% of their 4,000 workers. So far, nothing different from what the rest of the companies in the sector have experienced in the world. But three months later came the second (and surprising) part of this story: the company that, due to its size, seemed better prepared financially to face the pandemic stoppage, declared bankruptcy and declared a debt of close to one million euros. Did Lamarre think the end had come? “They were difficult weeks and the future looked dark, yes. But I rejected that idea from the start. My role was that that did not happen ”, recalled this Monday the manager in an interview with this newspaper in Madrid.
Lamarre, 68, born in Quebec as the Cirque du Soleil, has traveled to Spain to support the promotional campaign that the company has launched in recent months to announce its return to the slopes around the world. He has already resumed seven fixed shows in Las Vegas, another in Riviera Maya and the tour of Joy, has premiered a new montage in Orlando and in January next year it will present Lucia in the Royal Albert Hall in London. But it will not be until March when it will raise its emblematic traveling tent in Europe again, and it will do so for the first time in Barcelona with Lucia, which will move to Alicante in July and Madrid in November. The tables seem to have been reversed again: from success to bankruptcy in three months and from bankruptcy again to success in less than a year.
In between, a storm of speculation. It was difficult to understand why a company whose growth was studied as a success story in business schools fell into the abyss in just three months. It was then attributed to the debt of one million euros accumulated since the co-founder Guy Laliberté sold his shares to three large investment firms that changed the management model, which darkened the sunny image that the company projected until that moment. The Moody’s agency had already been pointing out for some years that this debt was very high. Lamarre, however, assures that the debt had nothing to do with the crisis: “We met our financial obligations and the future was guaranteed.” But to that suspicion we had to add the business soap opera that emerged with the war that broke out between the owners and the creditors to gain control of the brand, in addition to the reappearance of Laliberté as a rescuer with a purchase offer and even the proposal from the Quebec Government of a loan to get it out of the hole. At that time, many considered the Cirque du Soleil for dead.
But a year after that the company surprised again with a miraculous rebirth. Not only that, but Lamarre ensures that the brand image has not been damaged by the crisis. “Absolutely. What we experience in financial circles has not been passed on to viewers. Proof of this is the great reception that all the shows that we have resumed are having. It has contributed to this that during all the time we were unemployed we did not stop keeping in touch with the public through the virtual platform Cirque Connect, with videos of our shows that have been seen by 70 million people ”, says the manager.
The horizon seems, indeed, clear. “We have new investors who have injected 375 million US dollars (333 million euros) that ensure us sufficient financial stability to face the challenges that lie ahead,” explains Lamarre. Those 375 million have been contributed by its main creditors, led by the Catalyst investment group, which a year ago presented a proposal to take full control of the company in exchange for eliminating the accumulated debt. Of the 4,000 workers laid off last year, half of those who are part of the permanent nucleus (about 1,200) and the artists who participate in the shows have returned to the track.
With the accounts healthy, Lamarre trusts not only that the crisis will be a bad dream soon, but that the Circo del Sol, which has not stopped expanding since its foundation in 1984, will return to the path of growth that it has traveled in the last two decades: the seven active shows that the company had when he arrived in 2001 went down to 22 in just a decade and to 44 when the pandemic broke out. “We have had many imitators in all these years, but none have matched us. That’s because we try all the time to reinvent ourselves and never stop surprising the public. We invest in R&D, new technologies, visual effects, modern scenography ”, says the manager. It is the maxim that has always guided the circus world to stay alive: even more difficult. Only then, Lamarre adventure, will be able to face its umpteenth reinvention.