By DIANE WEAVER DUNNE, Hartford Business Journal Staff Writer
March 31, 2008
Cirque du Soleil isn’t your grandmother’s circus. Its four-week run of Kooza, a performance that blends acrobats and clowns set to unique vocal and instrumental arrangements, is expected to draw more than 85,000 people to Hartford and pour between $1.5 million and $2 million directly into the region’s economy.
The lion’s share of the Canadian-based company’s expenditures — about $650,000 — will be on housing, transportation and food for its 126-member cast and crew, and their families. Another big budget item will be its marketing and advertising costs, estimated to be about $300,000.
For example, the company is renting 70 corporate apartments in downtown Hartford and Manchester, said Reggie Lyons, Cirque du Soleil’s publicist. It also provides lunch and dinner for its cast and crew six days a week, Lyons said, so the show tours with five chefs, who prepare about 450 meals daily from trailers that house a commercial kitchen, walk-in freezer and portable cafeteria that seats 70. The cost for food purchased locally is estimated to be about $80,000, according to Cirque du Soleil’s estimates.
Local buses also have been hired to provide transportation from the apartments to and from its yellow and blue-striped tents on Market Street at a cost of about $50,000.
When Cirque du Soleil comes to the region, it supplements its work force by hiring temporary workers, employing about 150 people locally to help set up and tear down its big tents. Another 50 people — paid about $9.50 per hour — are hired part-time to serve as ushers and to work at its concessions.
Hartford police and fire department personnel also get a piece of the action. Based on its previous Hartford runs, Cirque du Soleil can be expected to shell out about $40,000 for off-duty police protection and more than $20,000 for off-duty fire department personnel during the next month. For example, four off-duty police officers are paid more than $400 each per gig.
“I think it is a purely win-win,” said Economist Fred Carstensen, director of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis at the University of Connecticut.
Pointing out that Kooza is Cirque du Soleil’s third engagement in Hartford, Carstensen said it gives companies an opportunity to tout the region’s cultural vibrancy when recruiting new staff.
“Things like Cirque du Soleil and the Travelers PGA Tournament give the region more visibility and something to advertise,” he said. “This is exactly the kind of event that our political leadership should appreciate and pay attention to on a regular basis. This is how you compete in the modern world.”
The impact of the show on the region’s economy, reputation and enhanced visibility, is not insignificant, he added.
The show’s economic impact is expected to rival the $1.6 million the region enjoyed three years ago, in 2005, when Cirque du Soleil had a three-week run of its show, Varekai, which attracted nearly 80,000 people.
Due to the high demand for its current show, Kooza, which will premier April 1, Cirque du Soleil extended its current stay in Hartford from three to four weeks and added four more shows, raising the total to 36.
Hartford has been a successful location for Cirque du Soleil. In 2003, when the touring show first came to the city, it was the second best-selling new market for the company, closely following Calgary for the highest percentage of tickets sold. Its first-time launch in Hartford drew over 75,000 people.
In 2005, Cirque du Soleil officials said that more than half of its $3 million in ticket and concession sales would be reinvested locally, estimating that $1.6 million was spent in the region during its Hartford performances.
Lyons, Cirque du Soleil’s publicist, points out that there is also an indirect economic boost to the local economy.
Some restaurateurs expect at least a 10 percent bump in business when Cirque du Soleil comes to town, based on their previous experience with the touring group.
Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez appreciates the opportunity to showcase the city’s assets and restaurants.
“Residents and visitors alike get to sample our restaurants and people who haven’t been to Hartford in a while can see our revitalization and renaissance with their own eyes,” he said.“What is also wonderful and unique about Cirque du Soleil is that the performers become part of the fabric of our community. By some of the members living here, even for a short time, they add feet on the street and that adds to the vibrancy of our city.”