With all productions halted by COVID-19, Cirque du Soleil lays off 95% of workforce

Calling it "the most difficult day" in the Montreal-based entertainment company's history, Cirque president and CEO Daniel Lamarre has announced a second round of cuts in two days, hanging on to a skeleton staff.

Second round of cuts in 2 days reduces Montreal headquarters to skeleton staff

An artist performs at the premiere of the Cirque du Soleil show Totem on Dec. 19, 2019 in Dusseldorf, Germany. (Joshua Sammer/Getty Images)

Cirque du Soleil has trimmed its staff to a skeleton crew, announcing cuts Thursday that bring total layoffs this week to 4,679 employees — about 95 per cent of its pre-coronavirus workforce.

"It is the most difficult day in Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group history," president and CEO Daniel Lamarre said in a statement released by the company.

"We're deeply saddened by the dramatic measures taken today, as the temporary layoff includes many hard-working, dedicated people. Unfortunately, this decision is our only option as we are forced to position ourselves to weather this storm and prepare for eventual re-openings."

Cirque du Soleil had announced layoffs of 2,600 employees on Tuesday — 1,200 artists and 1,400 technicians. For two days, the roughly 1,600 employees working at the company's Montreal head office were spared.

But the current environment, in which many countries have drastically limited public gatherings, left a company that depends on crowds with few options.

For weeks now, Cirque de Soleil has had to cancel shows, as COVID-19 began to spread across the world and countries began taking measures to deal with it.

Cirque du Soleil had 44 active productions before the crisis began taking its toll. The company cancelled all shows in China in late January. It shut down all operations after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic.

Cirque's statement emphasized the temporary nature of the layoffs and said insurance coverage would be maintained for laid-off staff, who will also have access to the employee support program.

A small team will remain in place to maintain basic operations "and prepare for rehiring as soon as productions are allowed to resume," the statement said.

Quebec's public pension fund manager, the Caisse de dépôt et placement, bought Cirque founder Guy Laliberté's remaining 10 per cent stake in Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group in February, nearly doubling its share to about 20 per cent.

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