Since 1984 Cirque du Soleil has considered the safety of its artists on all its show and training sites as an absolute priority. Deeply rooted in its corporate culture, the concern for the artists’ health and safety takes precedence over any artistic endeavor or business decision.
Cirque du Soleil has established working methods that ensure the artists’ work is done in highly controlled environments, day in and day out, in order to effectively manage performance risk. The company leaves nothing to chance, making sure that its equipment and work environments comply with the highest safety standards.
Customized training programs for a safe learning experience
From the moment a professional artist is hired at Cirque du Soleil right up to his integration in a show, that artist undergoes a comprehensive training program provided by expert trainers. A customized training and performance program and optimal working conditions are imperative for an artist to execute his act safely.
Prior to being integrated in a show, the majority of the artists Cirque du Soleil recruits must undergo personalized training for several weeks, even several months. Whether the performers are former high-level athletes or specialists already well versed in the circus arts, they will be trained on two levels: the acrobatic component teaches them to master all of the movements the act requires, while the artistic component helps them to develop their ability to express emotions in order to play a character.
Artist training unquestionably includes an important safety component. Particular interest is given, among other things, to teaching the various maneuvers involved in handling the equipment and safety lines as well as the proper positioning of the artist on the acrobatic equipment. The staff makes sure the artist is brought through his training safely. Close to 100 trainers hailing from the four corners of the world are involved in artist training. These experts come from backgrounds as diverse as sports, acrobatics, dance, music and theatre. On the basis of their area of expertise, each one supervises the artists individually and accompanies them along their path every step of the way. In 2010, nearly 600 artists will benefit from custom-designed training in Montreal so they are adequately prepared to take part safely in any one of the shows.
Accompaniment by elite specialists as a means of prevention
In addition to these coaches and trainers, an interdisciplinary team of highly qualified specialists is made available to each artist, ensuring his physical and psychological well-being. The presence of these experts helps create a controlled and safe environment.
Two or three physiotherapists are on hand on each show site and approximately 10 are available continuously at the international headquarters in Montreal. These professionals provide care on a daily basis whenever required, and work with the trainers and physical fitness specialists to implement specific training programs designed to improve posture and flexibility or to correct weaknesses. Performance psychologists provide psychological support to the artists, assisting them in developing and integrating both mental and professional skills such as concentration and relaxation. In addition to helping artists manage certain difficulties such as fatigue, stress and the anxiety of being away from their family, they also help those with a sports background—more than 50% of Cirque du Soleil’s 1,200 artists—to adapt to the realities of the arts and entertainment world. A nutritionist is also on hand to respond to those who request nutritional advice or seek ways to maintain a balanced diet.
In addition to these specialists, there is a large team of experienced riggers and technicians whose jobs are directly related to artist safety: they are responsible for installing the equipment, operating the various technical systems, including automation and lighting, verifying the equipment, maintaining safety lines and harnesses, etc.
Cirque du Soleil is also constantly in touch with a medical network, available anytime and anywhere on the planet.
Safety protocols and detailed risk analyses
In the industrial sector (e.g., aeronautics), safety protocols and risk analyses are all part of a regular day. At Cirque du Soleil—where artists leap or are flung in the air and where complex automation systems are used to move huge set elements—, risk analysis and safety protocols are part of the landscape too.
Precise protocols and detailed performance risk management analyses are required for all of the acrobatic acts performed in every Cirque du Soleil show. Nothing is improvised; each acrobatic element is analyzed and scrutinized, whether it’s a piece of equipment used by an artist or an individual physical performance.
Each act is deconstructed in a series of individual movements that may entail risks. For each movement, experts identify:
- The potential risk accurately
- The source of the risk
- The person(s) exposed to the risk
- The probability of the risk materializing
- Its degree of severity
- The measures to be taken to reduce the risk.
This analysis grid is documented meticulously and extensively. It is developed in conjunction with all equipment and acrobatic performance designers in order to provide artists with the safest workplace.
In addition to the risk analyses linked to the various acrobatic acts, Cirque du Soleil has also developed a series of strict and comprehensive safety protocols that cover a wide variety of aspects related to its operations. Emergency and rescue procedures, acrobatic equipment certification and inspection and performance risk management are some of the processes that are governed by protocols. The scope of these protocols covers even the weather! In the case of outdoor performances, for example, weather conditions—wind, rain, humidity and cold—entail risk factors that must be taken into consideration.
Low incidence of injuries
A series of preventative measures thus ensure the health and safety of Cirque du Soleil artists. These include optimal training conditions and experienced staff qualified to provide proper training; experts in every field to see to the artists’ physical and psychological well-being; precise protocols and risk management processes that ensure equipment safety and reliability allowing the artists to execute their acts safely.
It is not surprising, therefore, that a comprehensive epidemiological study of the nature of injuries at Cirque du Soleil conducted between 2002 and 2010 by physician-scientists affiliated with five universities in Canada and the United States concluded that the incidence of severe injuries at Cirque is markedly lower than for National Collegiate Athletic Association sports such as football, hockey, soccer, basketball and gymnastics in the United States.
The staging of physical prowess is a crucial part of circus arts. But the safety of the artists must take precedence over any other consideration.