CUNA Corner

‘The Spark’—An Inside Look at Cirque du Soleil’s Creative Process

The company’s culture and philosophy come to life in one man’s semi-fictional odyssey as a performer in training.

June 14, 2013
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Stuffing the magic and intrigue of the Cirque du Soleil experience into yet another how-to-revolutionize-your-industry game plan for budding business leaders—now, that wouldn’t be very creative or innovative, would it?

Lyn Heward didn’t think so, either.

Instead, the former creative director for the revolutionary entertainment company invited journalist John U. Bacon to immerse himself in Cirque du Soleil’s culture and process at its Montreal headquarters for several months.

Bacon then crafted a semi-fictional tale in which Frank Castle, a highly successful sports agent with a soul-sucking case of burnout, takes a sabbatical and rediscovers his passion through invigorating interactions with Cirque du Soleil performers and support staff.

“The Spark: Igniting the Creative Fire That Lives Within Us All,” published in 2006, “is not only a whirlwind tour of Cirque du Soleil’s operations and activities, it is above all an intimate encounter with its employees who live each day creatively,” Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté writes in his foreward. “And although it tells the tale of one man’s voyage of self-discovery, ‘The Spark’ unveils a variety of simple ways by which anyone can become more creative, see greater possibilities, and create his or her own vision for the future.”

Heward will share her insights on the creative principles that have made Cirque du Soleil a worldwide phenomenon in her keynote address at CUNA’s America’s Credit Unions Conference, which runs June 30 to July 3 in New York City.

Diane McKee—Heward’s embodiment in the book—throws Castle this lifeline through a serendipitous meeting at a Cirque du Soleil rehearsal in a Las Vegas casino. She offers him a ticket to that night’s show of Ká, one of the 19 performances the company stages on every continent but Antarctica, and he’s immediately enraptured by the fusion of acrobatics, dance, acting, and art, performed with strength and grace.

Castle requests an inside look at what makes Cirque du Soleil tick, and his new friend McKee grants him that wish—with the caveat that he must pass the same physical and mental tests that all performers endure before becoming full-fledged members. She cautions that this won’t be a guided tour, but rather a journey he must help shape.

The semi-fictional approach allows Heward and Bacon to impart Cirque du Soleil’s philosophies through characters that are an amalgamation of the more than 3,000 people who work on its productions, a reminder of the company's principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Some of those nuggets include:

  • “The trick is not trying to solve the problem before you’ve figured out what it is.”
  • “Every accident is just a creative opportunity in disguise.”
  • “True creativity requires collaboration … even conflict and confrontation.”
  • “Constraints on time, money, and resources can be incredible motivators.”
  • “You have to learn to take the right risks—risks that will allow you to fulfill your vision.”
  • “Creativity is, first and foremost, all about courage—a willingness to take risks, to try new things, and to share the experience with others.”
  • “Picasso did not ask for approval from the legal department before he started painting Guernica” (referring to the danger of too much bureaucratic red tape).
  • “In this business—in all businesses—people will rarely work harder than the boss.”
  • “It’s amazing how much we fear the unknown—even when the unknown carries with it the possibility of success.”

The chief takeaway from “The Spark” is that every one of us is creative, regardless of our line of work or job title. But there is no single formula for creative success; each of us must unlock the power of our imagination in our own way.

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