Even in dark days, be creative

Daniel Lamarre thinks your career could use a little creativity.

Maybe you don’t need a clown hanging around the office water cooler — but maybe you do. It worked for him.

Lamarre is the board vice chairman of Cirque du Soleil, the circus-arts entertainment company that also owns Blue Man Group. His book, “Balancing Acts: Unleashing the Power of Creativity in Your Life and Work,” was published this year.

His advice: You don’t have to work for an entertainment company to benefit from creative thinking.

“Without creativity, there will be no business,” he said in a phone interview from Montreal. “If you are not creative, one day you will be totally out of the game.”

He was moved to write the book, with Paul Keegan, as he transitioned in his own career — from chief executive of Cirque du Soleil during boom years, the pandemic shutdown, bankruptcy and rebirth, to his current role as vice chairman of the board , no longer running the day-to-day operations of the company.

“In today’s world, technology will continue to play a huge part in life, but at the end of the day, what’s most important are human values,” he said. “That’s why I was so eager to publish that book — creativity is going to be so essential in the future.”

The clown story is true, by the way. When he first started with Cirque du Soleil in 2001, founder Guy Laliberté thought he was too serious and assigned him a personal clown. Madame Zazou would follow him around the office and with her silliness reminded him not to take things too seriously.

Of course, leading a major company through a pandemic is bound to have serious moments.

He remembers only too well the day in spring 2020 that he announced 4,679 employees were losing their jobs — 95 percent of the Cirque workforce. All of the company’s shows were closed, and with COVID-19 raging, there was no way of knowing when they would reopen. “A nightmare,” he says.

Cirque filed for bankruptcy protection and a deal was struck in which its lenders took over. Lamarre remembers his first encounter with them.

“Imagine, for a moment, the meeting,” he said. “You walk in with the new leaders of the company. We have no shows anymore, we have no revenue anymore. We need $375 million just to keep going…”

But the new owners rallied, the company did keep going and, to Lamarre’s immense relief, not only were the laid-off employees willing to come back — they were eager to return.

“For two years they were waiting to go back onstage,” he said. “We kept in touch with them, we fueled the hope we would come back.”

The reopening of the live-entertainment industry brought about the pandemic-delayed debut of “Drawn to Life,” the Cirque du Soleil-Disney show at Disney Springs that celebrates the art of animation, in November 2021.

Lamarre said developing trust was key to the partnership’s success — and that took time.

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“It’s not something you can do in one meeting,” he said. “If you are going to pay tribute to Disney animation, you go right in there and meet with Disney animators and learn what they are doing.”

As the show developed, the Cirque team was jittery about whether the animators would think they got it right. They didn’t need to worry.

“We were nervous; we were showing them their world,” Lamarre recalled. “We were so, so, so relieved when we saw that they recognized themselves onstage, they recognized their world.”

After the dark days of the shutdown, things were finally looking brighter — much brighter.

“Most shows are selling more tickets than before the crisis,” Lamarre said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would rebound so quickly. Our artists deserve that. And that’s why you’re talking with someone who has a big, big smile.”

Even without a clown nearby.

Find me on Twitter @matt_on_arts, facebook.com/matthew.j.palm or email me at mpalm@orlandosentinel.com. Want more theater and arts news and reviews? Go to orlandosentinel.com/arts. For more fun things, follow @fun.things.orlando on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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