Cirque du Great Park?

The Orange County Great Park Corp. board today unanimously recommended that the Irvine City Council authorize the board's CEO Michael Ellzey to enter formal negotiations with Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil to bring its winter 2010 touring production to the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station base.

Council approval is very likely as all five council members sit on the Great Park board.

To say the vote was a forgone conclusion is an understatement: moments after the vote, the park's hired PR gun, Maryann Maloney, dropped on the laps of local members of the press two-page releases announcing, “Board Makes Move to Bring Cirque du Soleil to Great Park.” Included was a quote expressing the excitement of board chairman and Irvine City Councilman Larry Agran–before a board vote could have been taken.


Ellzey told directors that the success of the Great Park's summer entertainment programming, which the city claims drew 35,000 visitors, somehow reached Montreal as Cirque officials contacted him about the possibility of the park serving as host for the 2010 show.

A negotiated fee with Cirque would provide revenue that could be used to further develop the Great Park, where other than a small Preview Park and balloon ride most funds rolling in have gone to design the future park.

Large blue and yellow Cirque tents have previously been erected on the Orange County Fairgrounds and, before that, South Coast Plaza's parking lot. Irvine could still find itself in a bidding war with the fairgrounds to lure Cirque and the 2,600 visitors it draws to its performance tent for each show.

Should Irvine win the bid, board member and Irvine Councilwoman Christina Shea said the city should consider parking and entry fees for the Great Park to offset costs associated with higher traffic, manpower and wear and tear on city assets. She also expressed concern about liability issues. “We need to start thinking about the fiscal impact to this corporation,” said Shea, who added such steady crowd flows may step up the need for permanent restrooms–and the associated plumbing infrastructure–at the Great Park.

But Agran reiterated that the board is only recommending the city continue talking with Cirque, at which point some of Shea's concerns can be rolled into serious negotiations. “There is not absolute certainty it will come to pass,” he said. “I hope it will. I think it may.”

The troupe, founded by street performers in 1984, is now a worldwide entertainment brand with touring shows all over the planet, new productions being cranked out and staged initially in Montreal nearly year round and permanent extravaganzas in Tokyo, Las Vegas, Orlando, Florida, and Macau, China. Unlike circuses of the past two centuries, Cirque uses no live animals, instead employing freakishly costumed clowns, dancers and acrobats from around the world, many of whom bend themselves into pretzel-like shapes, to artful lighting, dream-like themes and live, original music.

Rod Cooper, the Great Park's operations manager and Ellzey's liaison to Cirque, assured the board the park has the room and parking for the “very quality production” during what would normally be a non-peak season. Should Irvine be chosen as the site, the circus would arrive in December of 2009 to set up before opening for 50 to 90 shows in January and February of 2010.

Ellzey talked of Cirque becoming a biannual attraction at the Great Park and left open the possibility of negotiating a long-term deal with the troupe. But board member and Irvine Councilman Steven Choi advised the city to see how the first run goes at the Great Park before entertaining a multi-year deal.

If the negotiations are successful, Cirque will draw visitors from all over the region who will also be exposed to the goings-on at the Great Park, said board member Walkie Ray. His colleague and Irvine's new Mayor Sukhee Kang went farther, saying Cirque would “bring global recognition to the Great Park.”

Board member Miguel Pulido, who is also Santa Ana's mayor and an apparent patron of past Cirque performances, said he would not be surprised if acrobats upon seeing the Great Park balloon would attach ropes to it for some high-flying stunts. “I don't know who writes their insurance for them,” Pulido joked. “… This is the type of thing that will make it a great park.”

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