Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Greatest Show on Earth

Having the courage to take chances is a huge part of pursuing your dreams.  It isn’t always easy to go against traditional thinking or the advice of loved ones, but sometimes taking a risk is exactly what leads to the life you want.

The first risk Guy took in following his passion was leaving home at age fourteen to become a street performer.  Growing up in Quebec, Guy had always been interested in performing, whether singing in the choir or studying Canadian folk dance.  But this was a much more serious commitment.  He was fascinated by the cultures of the world, and a pursuit that let him engage with different people on the streets every day was just what he wanted.

After a few years earning tips as an accordion player, Guy decided to try his talents abroad.  He was eighteen, and traveled to London with the money he’d saved.  He knew no one and had no place to stay, and spent his first night sleeping on a bench in Hyde Park.  Even so, he was invigorated at getting to see the world.  Throughout the next year, he continued across Europe, meeting other street performers and learning new skills.  During his journeys, he was taught fire-breathing, stilt-walking, juggling, and magic from veteran artists.  He grew increasingly versatile and confident, and never minded living hand-to-mouth.  It was an adventure, and he was grateful for the experience.

When he returned to Canada, he had every intention of pursuing a “normal” life.  He got a job and had plans to go back to school.  However, on his third day of work at a hydroelectric dam, the company’s employees went on strike.  This provided him with unexpected pay and free time, and Guy seized the opportunity.  Living out of a youth hostel, he joined up with a local stilt-walking troupe, and helped organize a series of local performances and festivals.  Soon, the troupe moved from their small town to the city of Montreal to pursue bigger opportunities.

The first such opportunity came when Guy learned of a plan to celebrate the 450-year anniversary of Quebec’s settlement by the French.  With hair down to his waist and looking like a hippie, Guy was nevertheless able to talk the conservative Canadian Government into a monetary grant, which his group used to organize a massive production for the event.  It was a huge success, bringing the spontaneous energy of street performance into a more organized theatrical setting.  It also made a profit, and helped Guy’s gang of street performers secure contracts for numerous other shows.  He was only twenty-four years old, but he was living his dreams... despite others telling him it was time to grow up and get a real job.

Guy’s optimism and belief in his vision served him well.  He had no reservations about booking performances even if he wasn’t sure how he would pay for them.  His willingness to take risks based on the troupe’s talent and the quality of their shows continued to pay off.  With that in mind, they decided to take their biggest risk yet.  Guy and his group spent their entire savings to take their show to Los Angeles.  He was certain that what they did could succeed in America.  The gamble was, if it didn’t happen, they wouldn’t even have gas money to return home.

The bet was another good one.  The show received rave reviews on their opening night in Los Angeles.  This foothold laid the groundwork for other successes, such as running multiple shows simultaneously, and staking out permanent show locations in major cities.  I first attended one of these while visiting Las Vegas, after a good friend suggested we go to the circus.  I remember asking, “They have a circus in Vegas?”

I soon discovered that Guy Laliberté had created something amazing:  an artistic and modern take on the circus, and one with no animals.  Cirque du Soliel began as one man’s dream, and through the years attracted legions of dedicated fans, including celebrities like Michael Jackson and former Beatle George Harrison.  Today the two most popular Cirque shows are Beatles Love and a tribute to Michael Jackson known as Immortal.

Cirque du Soliel has performed in more than 270 cities on every continent except Antarctica.  More than ninety million people have experienced their shows, which earn more than $800 million US dollars annually.  Last year, Guy Laliberté himself was ranked the eleventh wealthiest Canadian in the world.

It takes courage and risk to pursue your dreams, but if you embrace both, you’ll find that living your dreams can be the greatest show on earth!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

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