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The Sustainable Circus

| Thursday December 20th, 2007 | 0 Comments

Cirque du soliel seeks to be an If you haven’t been fortunate enough see one of the many productions of Cirque du Soleil, either in Las Vegas or one of their touring shows criss-crossing the globe, you’ve missed out on a real treat. In terms of production value, Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil upholds the highest possible standards.

The stated mission of the organization is to bring those same high standards to their sense of “global citizenship”. Recently, environmental advisor Sebastian Gautier announced that the Cirque intends on being “an agent of change” in efforts to lighten the environmental footprint of their global operations.

Efforts include a water recovery system at their Montreal headquarters, recycling of used circus tents for donation to children’s theaters (one assumes whole tents aren’t given to one single theater), and slicing scrap costume pieces into colorful bits and made into holiday ornaments that are sold in their gift shops (how cool is that? Souvenir sales from scrap!), though the question remains what happens to these material downstream. Efforts are also underway to use biodiesel for transporting shows. Simple things like having recycling bins on site at show venues become somewhat more complicated when you’re a world-traveling circus and need to coordinate with dozens of local entities, but they do currently have bins setup for two of their productions.

In terms of sustainability, there’s no business like show business.

Like No Business I Know…

For better or worse, show business is actually a business I know. Having worked either as sound engineer or musician since the late 70’s, I’ve unloaded plenty of trucks, setup plenty of sound systems, sucked a few thousand watts of power from local grids, packed it all back up, and moved on to do it all over again someplace down the road. On occasion, I may have thrown a beer can or two on the floor instead of in the recycle bin; heck, it was 3AM and I was tired. When you’re just trying to get a show up and then get out, it’s sometimes easy to ignore your better, greener intentions.  

Take that concept and put it on a global scale, and we get an idea of what an organization like Cirque du Soleil is up against. Cirque nonetheless demonstrates their ongoing efforts at stewardship and sustainability, realizing, I think, that it is an incomplete and continuing task. Instead of simply throwing the beer can on the floor and moving on, they pick it up, realizing they are part of the community.

I’m not always so generous with my fellow show-folk. I think there’s a tendency to let good intentions and common sense get ahead of reality. When Leo DiCaprio declared that the Academy Awards show last spring had “gone green”, I was skeptical. I felt the same way about last summer’s LiveEarth concert, linking arena-sized rock shows across the world in an effort to raise awareness about climate change. (Don’t get me started on singer Sheryl Crow’s unfortunate “joke” about toilet paper.)

There’s nothing wrong with raising awareness, per seI’m not that much of curmudgeon. It’s the assertion that such an undertaking, in and of itself, can ever been “green”. A business that relies so heavily on transportation, shipping, electrical power generation, waste, and toxic materials  should be careful when proclaiming their activities as green (care to guess how many 9–volt and AA batteries were used – and then tossed -to power the hundreds of wireless microphones and other onstage gadgets for LiveEarth? – one small example). Green-minded perhaps, but not green.  

So, while I don’t think Cirque du Soleil’s operation can be called entirely “green”, I am glad to see they have a corporate culture that promotes a sustained effort toward that goal. They pursue their better intentions, just like I didn’t all too often when I was younger and stupider.

A culture is stitched together on a human level by its artistic expression. It sustains our spirit and allows us to explore the limits of our imagination. It can, at its best, help us see how we are all part of the global community, and that we each have a stake in it’s fruition.

I don’t drink beer anymore. But if I did, you can be damn sure I’d find the recycle bin.

 


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