Tag: entertainers

The Billionaire Entertainer (Part 2 of 2)

Do not miss out the first part.

 

Le Grand Tour had been conceived as a one-year project, but Laliberte was determined to keep Cirque du Soleil going. He convinced the government to underwrite another season of shows in 1985. Outside of Quebec, however, the reaction was mixed. Shows in Toronto and Niagara Falls were poorly attended and the fledging Cirque organization ended the year of $75,000 in debt. A national tour of eight Canadian cities the following year fared much better, though, and ended with a showcase performance at the world’s fair in Vancouver.

Cirque had an informal, collaborative style of organization in which Laliberte took on the de facto role of executive producer. He kept pushing the circus’s creative staff to make the shows larger, more theatrical, and more visually lavish. Although the crowd kept growing through 1986, so did Cirque’s debt. Laliberte seemed determined to spend money that Cirque didn’t have. He went to France and brought back a gigantic new circus tent even though Cirque couldn’t pay for it. For almost three years, the fiscal management of Cirque du Soleil involved bouncing checks, wheedling creditors, and begging for government handouts.

In 1987, Laliberte booked Cirque to open the Los Angeles Arts Festival. The finances at Cirque were so shaky at the time that some members of the troupe quit over what they considered a reckless move. But Cirque quickly became the hottest ticket at the festival. All 30 performers sold out and the $19 seats were being sold by scalpers for $200.

Elton John and Francis Ford Coppola were among the celebrities who counted themselves a fans. Jane Fonda said she saw the show seven times during its two-week run. Cirque returned to Quebec with $1.5 million, its money problems a thing of the past. Within five years, Cirque shows were touring Europe and Asia. Over the next 20 years, Cirque grew into one of the largest, most profitable entertainment brands in the world

Laliberte’s story is often help up as a classic rags-to-riches triumph. His tremendous success suggest that anyone, even a street performer, who pursues a vision with hard work and determination, can end up falling into an enormous pile of money.

There is more to this story than just passion and drive. After all, plenty of passionate, creative people work hard their whole lives and still struggle to make ends meet. Laliberte isn’t a billionaire because he’s followed his passion and because he managed to hold on to a big equity stake in his business even increasing it along the way at the expense of his other partners.

 

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The Billionaire Entertainer (Part 1 of 2)

 

Back in 1983, Guy Laliberte’s parents must be worried about their twenty-three year old son.

The French Canadian Laliberte had skipped college after high school and took off to Europe for a year. He supported himself hand-to-mouth as an accordion-playing street performer, or busker. When he first arrived in London, he had less than $1,000 in his pocket, and to preserve what he had, he spent the night sleeping on a bench in Hyde Park.

Laliberte’s English wasn’t very good and he soon moved on to Paris. There he fell in his shirt and tie back his hair for safety. Then he would swig a mouthful of toxic flammable liquid and, with a burning torch in one hand, spray a writhing plume of orange-yellow fire 10 feet into the air. Fire breathing became Laliberte’s crowd pleasing specialty.

He was raised in a large middle-class family headed by a corporate executive father. He always expected to go to college. But when he returned home from Europe, he instead joined a nonprofit collective of stilt workers and acrobats called Le Club des Talons Hauts (the High Heels Club).

His next several summers were spent living in a youth hostel while helping run Talons Hauts street festivals in the tiny Quebec resort town of Baie-Saint-Pault. Money and possesions never seemed all that important to Laliberte. Each winter he spent whatever cash he’d saved up by escaping to the beaches of Florida and Hawaii.

In early 1983, the Quebec government announced plans for a celebration of the province’s 450th anniversary to take place the following summer. Money was set aside for festivities that would showcase Quebec’s homegrown talent, and Talons Hauts received $1.6 million fir a travelling circus that would visit 14 towns throughout Quebec over 12 weeks. Laliberte led the planning. He even dreamed up its name: Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil.

The travelling circus was a chaotic mess that often flirted with disaster. The new huge performance tent was almost impossible to set up. It collapsed in a rain storm one day during a preshow media event. Working conditions for the performers were so poor that there was a near-revolt by the Europeans circus artist brought in to supplement the amateurish Talons Hauts regulars. The Cirque du Soleil show itself, however, won glowing praise from the press and the public throughout Quebec.

 

Continue reading Part II

Inseparable

 

Chang and Eng Bunker were the original Siamese Twins, the rare condition being named after their birthplace of Siam (modern-day Thailand). They were joined at the stomach by a small piece of cartilage.

They lived aboard a house boat and sold duck eggs to help feed their family. The twins’ decision to remain conjoined ensured the interest from overseas that started their unexpected journey.

A Scottish merchant then spotted them while swimming and offered to send them off to America as entertainers, having first paid their mother the equivalent of around $500 and getting a blessing from the king of Siam, who sat upon a golden throne.

They have the courage to spend months sailing across the ocean not knowing what lies ahead of them.

As expected, they became performers. The nature of their work demands countless travel, where most of the time, they will be in economy class while their handlers ride in luxury class — an injustice that annoyed the twins as they watched their handlers grow richer.

In 1832, after a few years on the road, they became clever enough to break off on their own, buying themselves 500 cigars to celebrate their success.

In Traphill, North Carolina., the twins reinvented themselves as members of the Southern gentry, buying a farm, dozens of slaves and marrying a pair of sisters and fathered a total of 21 children.

When the Civil War broke out, Chang and Eng eagerly backed the Confederacy, sending their sons to fight. In an irony lost on nobody, the war lost Chang and Eng much of their fortune. They attempted a return to their freak show roots.

In 1874, Chang suffered a stroke in his sleep and when Eng awoke to find his brother dead, he refused to be separated from him and bled to death three hours later, because the blood was not being pumped back from his twin’s body.

 

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