Seeking a career in the performing arts, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte toured Europe as a folk musician and busker after quitting college. By the time he returned back home to Canada in 1979, he had learned the art of fire breathing.
Although he became "employed" at a hydroelectric power plant in James Bay, his job ended after only three days due to a labour strike. He decided not to look for another job, instead supporting himself on his unemployment insurance. He helped organize a summer fair in Baie-Saint-Paul with the help of a pair of friends named Daniel Gauthier and Gilles Ste-Croix.
Gauthier and Ste Croix were managing a youth hostel for performing artists named Le Balcon Vert at that time. By the summer of 1979, Ste-Croix had been developing the idea of turning the Balcon Vert, and the talented performers who lived there, into an organized performing troupe.
As part of a publicity stunt to convince the Quebec government to help fund his production, Ste-Croix walked the 56 miles (90 km) from Baie-Saint-Paul to Quebec City on stilts. The ploy worked, giving the three men the money to create Les Echassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul. Employing many of the people who would later make up Cirque, Les Echassiers toured Quebec during the summer of 1980.
Although well received by audiences and critics alike, Les Echassiers was a financial failure. Laliberte spent that winter in Hawaii plying his trade while Ste-Croix stayed in Quebec to set up a nonprofit holding company named "The High-Heeled Club" to mitigate the losses of the previous summer. In 1981, they met with better results. By that fall, Les Echassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul had broken even. The success inspired Laliberte and Ste-Croix to organize a summer fair in their hometown of Baie-Saint-Paul
This touring festival, called "La Fete Foraine," first took place in July 1982. La Fete Foraine featured workshops to teach the circus arts to the public, after which those who participated could take part in a performance. Ironically, the festival was barred from its own hosting town after complaints from local citizens.Laliberte managed and produced the fair over the next couple years, nurturing it into a moderate financial success. But it was during 1983 that the government of Quebec gave him a $1.5 million grant to host a production the following year as part of Quebec's 450th anniversary celebration of the French explorer Jacques Cartier's discovery of Canada. Laliberte named his creation "Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil".
Originally intended to only be a one-year project, Cirque du Soleil was scheduled to perform in 11 towns in Quebec over the course of 13 weeks running concurrent with the third La Fete Foraine.
The first shows were riddled with difficulty, starting with the collapse of the big top after the increased weight of rainwater cause the central mast to snap. Working with a borrowed tent, Laliberte then had to contend with difficulties with the European performers who were so unhappy with the Quebec circus's inexperience, that they had at one point sent a letter to the media complaining about how they were being treated.
The problems were only transient, however, and by the time 1984 had come to a close, Le Grand Tour du Cirque Du Soleil was a success. Having only $60,000 left in the bank, Laliberte went back to the Canadian government to secure funding for a second year.
Unfortunately, while the Canadian federal government was enthusiastic, the Quebec provincial government was resistant to the idea. It was not until Quebec's Premier, Rene Levesque, intervened on their behalf that the provincial government relented.The original big top tent that was used during the 1984 Le Grand Tour du Cirque Du Soleil tour can now be seen at Carnivale Lune Bleue, a 1930s-style carnival that is home to the Cirque Maroc acrobats.
In that same year, Cirque attempted to revive one of its previous shows, Le Cirque Reinvente. The attempt was abandoned after a weak critical reception. Laliberte and Ste-Croix instead created a new show based on the plans that had originally been drawn up by Caron before his departure. Originally intended to be called Eclipse, they renamed the show Nouvelle Experience.
Franco Dragone agreed to return albeit reluctantly but only if he had full creative control of the show's environment. One of the first things he did was to remove the curtain that separated the artist from the audience, so that they would both feel part of a larger show. Whereas in a traditional circus the artist could go past the curtain and drop his role, Dragone had created an environment where the artist had to remain in character for the full length of the production.
Although Dragone was given full control over the show, Laliberte oversaw the entire production. He was in favor of Dragone's new ideas. Inspired by Jules Verne's "La Chasse au Meteore", Dragone's concept for the show was that the performers were playing the parts of jewels spread around the Earth.
New Experience turned out to be Cirque du Soleil's most popular show up to that point and would continue running until 1993. It spent one of those years at The Mirage Resort and Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. By the end of 1990, Cirque was profitable again and was prepared to start a new show.
Barbara Herbert is the author of Tickethold.com . Tickethold is a leader tickets market search engine that enable Ticket shoppers to easily find, compare and buy Cirque du Soleil Tickets sports tickets, theatre tickets Theater Tickets plus other events tickets.