Cirque du Soleil’s Mike Newquist Smoothly Managing the Opening of OVO & Other Relaunches

BWW Interview: Cirque du Soleil's Mike Newquist Smoothly Managing the Opening of OVO & Other Relaunches

Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group and Microsoft Theater will launch their new five-year partnership of presenting a Cirque du Soleil touring production within L.A. LIVE annually with their high-energy, high-acrobatic spectacular OVO opening March 16, 2022. I had the opportunity to field a few queries to Cirque du Soleil’s president of the touring shows division Mike Newquist.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Mike!

Last fall Cirque du Soleil announced a new partnership with L.A. LIVE to present a touring production there each spring for the next five years, starting with OVO. Is this the first of many multi-year contracts for your touring productions?
We are delighted to call the Microsoft Theater our new home for our shows in the heart of Downtown L.A. It was essential for us to choose an iconic place for this leading partnership. This collaboration with AEG marks a new step for Cirque du Soleil touring shows. It’s a way to diversify our offer and to explore new way of presenting our shows. If the conditions are right, we would look at partnering for similar multi-year contracts in other parts of the world and we have looked at our partnership with Royal Albert Hall in London as a model for success.

BWW Interview: Cirque du Soleil's Mike Newquist Smoothly Managing the Opening of OVO & Other RelaunchesHow much in advance does Cirque du Soleil need to book a venue to play?
Our Tour Planning Division is constantly assessing several potential locations in the world for our touring productions. With so many moving parts and logistics involved, it’s like a chess game where all the pawns affect the others. Therefore, we have potential tour plans of several years in advance for each of our shows. At the moment, we have a very good idea where each show will be in 2024, but until the tickets are on sale for the public, it can always change!

As Cirque du Soleil’s touring shows division president, what decision-making do you get involved in? Is it all tour logistics as opposed to creative input?
At Cirque du Soleil we have a Creation Chief Officer who has a team overseeing the creation of our shows. Once a touring show is created and has premiered, my team takes over the operations and insures to maintain the quality of the show that was produced by the creation team.
In my role, I have a privileged overview of each department and I find it important to understand how each decision impacts both the logistics aspects, P&L impact, and the creative input. Our revenue strategy is also near and dear to my heart and I am heavily involved with our sales, marketing, and ticketing teams.
The business side of things is undeniably my forte… but we have to keep in mind that many decisions that will impact the creative input. Like Daniel (Lamarre) often says, “There are two words in show business: show and business. And the show comes first.” It’s a key aspect to remember as the shows are at the core of our business model.

BWW Interview: Cirque du Soleil's Mike Newquist Smoothly Managing the Opening of OVO & Other RelaunchesDo you ever travel with any touring shows? Or do you keep the home fires burning at Cirque du Soleil’s International Headquarters in Toronto?

Our Cirque du Soleil Headquarters are based in Montreal, Canada but I work out of Las Vegas where I reside. I do make a point of visiting the tours regularly as I feel it’s important to understand the reality on the road. That way, we can make better informed decisions. In the past few months, I attended the Alegria premieres in Houston and Seattle, the Kooza relaunch in Punta Cana, the grand reopening of LUZIA at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and, of course, I will be at the premiere of OVO at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.

You reopened four of your resident productions in Las Vegas (Mystere, O, The Beatles Love and Michael Jackson One) last June. Your first big top production relaunch Alegria opened in Houston in November. Was it a no-brainer to start the Vegas residencies before sending out your touring shows?
It was indeed a straightforward decision. Our arena shows normally change city or country every week. Our Big Top shows move to a different city every one to three months. By nature, touring shows are subject to multiple different local mandates in a short period of time. We are bringing Cirque du Soleil back up to speed but are making cautious decisions to ensure we don’t have to put any show on hold for an extended period of time. Therefore, opening our resident shows first was the logical choice and the best way to assess our return.

Besides COVID safety features, were any additional elements of loading in added with the pandemic pause for OVO
Not per say, other than most shows now travel with an additional road case where they carry multiple swab tests, masks and sanitary gel! That said, on the creative side, we have taken this unforeseen opportunity to revisit some aspects of the shows during their relaunch period. For OVO specifically, two new acts were created for the 2022 version; a Chinese pole act and a fixed male duo trapeze. On a technical aspect, we also updated the entire automation system that allows us to fly artists above the stage.

Pre-pandemic, how many man hours did it take to load in/load out OVO?
BWW Interview: Cirque du Soleil's Mike Newquist Smoothly Managing the Opening of OVO & Other RelaunchesThe load in for OVO is usually about 12 hours, starting at 8 o’clock in the morning with 25 technicians and 100 local stagehands. This hasn’t changed pre or post pandemic, with the exception of the first ones that always take a little more time. As for load out, we currently stand at 5 or 6 hours, but are looking forward to getting back to our 3.5 hours! It means that 3.5 hours after the show finishes, our 20 trucks are packed and on the road to get to the next city!
Of course, as OVO is an arena tour, each venue is different and has their own particular set of challenges.

Do you send out more than one edition of a Cirque du Soleil show?

For our Cirque du Soleil branded shows, we only have one edition each. OVO will be in Los Angeles starting mid-March and that will be the only place in the planet where you can see it at that time.
For other franchises under Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, like Blue Man Group, the concept can exist in more than one city or country at a time.

Does each show travel with a back-up of necessary equipment (high wire apparatus, ropes, etc.) for each show? It’s not like you can go to the neighborhood hardware store for a quick repair.

Each show has multiple technical teams: carpentry, props, lighting, sound, video projections, etc. Each team will travel with backup equipment that they often need. However, it is always a fine balance between ensuring we have everything to keep the show going on, and not to add unnecessary weight and truck space. OVO currently travels with 20 semi-trucks to carry the stage. Therefore, large, expensive apparatus or props that are seldomly changed do not travel with the show as backups.

BWW Interview: Cirque du Soleil's Mike Newquist Smoothly Managing the Opening of OVO & Other RelaunchesAre all eight of your touring shows opened or scheduled to open?
At the moment, Alegria, Kooza, Luzia and OVO have restarted their tour. Kurios is currently rehearsing in Montreal, Canada ready to open in April in Toronto. Crystal and Corteo will hit the road before Summer! It’s been a busy year!

Which of your Cirque du Soleil shows has the most elaborate load-in?
They all have their challenges. Rather than per show, I’d say that the main difference stands between a big top show, where it takes our crew one week to set up, and an arena show that is brought up in 12 hours.

Is there a Cirque du Soleil show that has a simple load in?
Well, they all have a minimum of 20 semi-trucks… so not really! But after doing the load in in multiple cities, the task does appear much simpler!

Post-pandemic, have you included more alternate acts or stand-bys for OVO to cover for any positive testing of cast members?
We always have contingency plans, where each character has a backup. Each show also has a backup act. Here again, from a business perspective, we need to find the delicate balance between having enough artists to ensure a rotation, and at the same time, keeping everyone involved and engaged.

BWW Interview: Cirque du Soleil's Mike Newquist Smoothly Managing the Opening of OVO & Other RelaunchesWhen entertainment arenas and venues got shut down March 2020, how many Cirque du Soleil shows had to be cancelled?
At the beginning of March 2020, CDSEG had 44 shows and almost 5000 employees.

Do you have a favorite Cirque du Soleil show? Or is that a Sophie’s Choice question?

That’s a loaded question! Like asking which of your children is your favorite! They all truly are so unique and so fantastic that I love them all so proud to work with so many great artists and team members.

What aspects of your four years at Ultimate Fighting Championship have you put into good use for your current Cirque du Soleil position?
UFC is such an unbelievable company and brand and a leader in live events. Certainly, as we look across revenue generation and marketing of events and event operations and health & safety protocols and tour routing and planning, we are following a similar model and path to success, just at a much larger scale here with thousands of Cirque du Soleil events every year.

Any money-saving lessons you learned while working for Ticketmaster factor into your success at Cirque du Soleil?

Again, Ticketmaster is another leader in the industry and best practices can be taken from the massive scale they also have, data driven decision making, and putting the fan at the center of your universe and making decisions in the best interests of the fan and fan experience.

Any new Cirque du Soleil shows in the horizon? Or are all your efforts in re-starting pre-pandemic dates?

BWW Interview: Cirque du Soleil's Mike Newquist Smoothly Managing the Opening of OVO & Other RelaunchesAs you can imagine, creating a show is a herculean task that is planned multiple years in advance. Currently, a large part of our efforts are focused on the relaunch of our shows but we’re already planning new shows. Our newest creation, Mad Apple, which will take place at the New York New York hotel in Las Vegas, was announced last week… and more to come!

Thank you again, Mike! I look forward to experiencing OVO again at the Microsoft Theater.

For tickets to the live performances of OVO through May 1st at the Microsoft Theater (or for any other dates at future venues), log onto www.cirquedusoleil.com