Cirques Away

Neil Goldberg has a lot to enjoy these days: a well-established business based out of climate-controlled Florida, a good relationship with promoters like Live Nation and – for the last three years – no Cirque du Soleil in his life.

Goldberg is founder of Cirque Dreams, which produces theatrical shows that have traveled across the globe. It includes the Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy, a touring show that debuted last year at Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza, and Cirque Dreams Coobrila, which has a permanent residence at Six Flags Over Texas. Goldberg has spent the last decade promoting his shows in diverse markets like Dubai, Malaysia, Uruguay and Hong Kong.

But his hands were tied in the U.S. until 2004. Goldberg, who has a background in theatre arts, business and Broadway, started his company in the early ’90s after building a private and corporate events organization. In 1989, IBM recruited him for a corporate event. The company wanted a cirque theme.

Goldberg did research on the cirque tradition, produced a show that got rave reviews and decided to keep going. He established an entity called Cirque Productions and, by 1996, debuted "Cirque Ingenieux."He also made an appearance on "The Today Show."

Then things went south. Cirque Productions was eventually hit with a trademark infringement lawsuit by the deep-pocketed Cirque du Soleil. According to the Canadian company, "Cirque" was infringing on their properties.

"Imagine the New York Times going after Pollstar," Goldberg said. "We knew what we were doing here was right, but how long could we stay in the game? It went on for six, seven years. It affected the company, it affected me personally."

Presenters knew a legal situation was pending, which slowed booking in the U.S. Cirque Dreams began operating overseas, all the while dealing with the lawsuit back in the States. A federal court dismissed the complaint in 2004, ruling that "cirque" is a generic term that just means "circus" in French.

Goldberg speaks no ill of Cirque du Soleil, saying "everything happens for a reason" and even joking that maybe there will be a day when the two companies will collaborate. Right now, he’s focusing on the future, which is looking sunny.

"Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy" has 90 dates coming up – varying from one-offs to weeklong residencies, which Goldberg attributes to the product, not to the removal of tortious interference.

"Number one, it’s really unique; you can market it," he said. "We have a four-pack promotion for $100 that’s attractive to families. Try going to Vegas and seeing a show like this, where similar packages are $400 and up. And we’ve found a great audience in the senior market that has limited income."

Likewise, Goldberg says the show is appealing to promoters because, unlike some Broadway shows that could ask for weekly subscription prices of $250,000 to $350,000, Cirque Dreams sells for $150,000. One-night visits are $25,000.

"We have backend deals like the rest, but it’s breathable," he said. He added that ticket prices are in the $25 to $65 range, which balances out the gasoline burned getting to the venue.

Cirque Dreams first worked with Live Nation at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre a few seasons ago. In eight shows, it sold more than 20,000 tickets and grossed more than $750,000.

"That’s when I think we really got their attention," Goldberg said. "It’s not that we sold as many tickets as we did; it’s how many we sold from the moment the show opened to the moment it closed. Many shows in the touring theatre genre, from what I’m told, get their ticket sales before the show rolls in."

Goldberg said he spends much of his time visiting the various markets, educating the public on what his show is about. Likewise, he spends time cooking up marketing plans.

The latest is a "Jungle Fantasy" costume contest. In markets the show visits, elementary school students (as well as seniors and everybody else) are encouraged to design a costume for the show.

Within as little time as 48 hours, the Cirque Dreams team will have the winning costume in the production. Meanwhile, Cirque Dreams works with a local sponsor. For instance, while in Palm Beach, Bloomingdale’s gave the winner a $500 gift certificate.

Goldberg said he’s learned one thing over the past 15 years or so – that the first two words out of everybody’s mouth is, "What’s next?"

"You can wait for your client to say it or you can participate and bring it to their desks."