This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Neil Goldberg, founder/artistic director, Cirque Productions.
With a considerable flair for blending theatrical concepts with eye-popping entertainment, Neil Goldberg is the genius behind Cirque Productions, which produces European cirque-styled, Cirque Dreams-imprinted theatrical shows.
Among its productions over its two decades history have been: Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy, Cirque Dreams Holidaze, Cirque Dreams Illumination, Cirque Dreams Coobrila, Cirque Dreams Pandemonia, Cirque Dreams Rocks and others that have dazzled audiences at performing arts theatres, theme parks, casinos and customized events throughout the world.
With a degree in scenic design and a considerable background in theater arts, and business, Goldberg--backed by his team of coaches, choreographers, musicians, and designers--works his magic from Dream Studios, a 25,000 square foot, state-of-the-art rehearsal, design, development and wardrobe manufacturing complex in Pompano Beach, Florida.
After attending C.W. Post College in Long Island, New York in the late ‘70s, Goldberg attained his first full time job as a designer in New York’s garment industry with United Merchants & Manufacturers. He went on to head up the company’s southern regional based out of Florida.
After United Merchants & Manufacturers went into Chapter Eleven, Goldberg launched several full service entertainment, theatrical and destination management and event companies.
In 1991, IBM hired Goldberg to produce a variety show for an international conference. The research for this event, named Cirque du Monde, led him to create his first cirque production, and inspired him to launch Cirque Productions two years later. Almost immediately, Goldberg was hired on to create similar productions for Coca-Cola, General Electric, General Motors, Marriot Corporation and others.
Cirque Productions’ first public theatrical show, Cirque Ingenieux, was launched at Bally's Casino Hotel in Atlantic City in 1996.
Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy, which had debuted at Atlantic City's Trump Plaza, and which had been performed in more than 150 American cities, debuted on Broadway in 2008.
In 1999, the entertainment giant known as Cirque du Soleil filed suit against the Cirque Productions for trademark infringement due to its use of the French word "cirque."
In 2004, the lawsuit was resolved after a federal court ruling in Cirque Productions' favor declared that the word "cirque" was generic.
How many productions will Cirque Productions present this year?
This year we will have 8 different productions out throughout the year. We may have four or five simultaneously. But throughout the year we will have 8 different productions in 2014.
Cirque Productions launched in 1993 with 5 employees. How many people do you employ today?
Well, at the corporate office in Pompano Beach, there are 30 people. Those are administrative (staff), designers, and choreographers. Of course, all of the performers are employees.
An average of 20 plus performers per production based on the scope of the show?
Approximately 25 performers. Some shows will have 20. Some have 30. I would say approximately 25 (per show). It’s a lot of performers.
What staff goes on the road in support?
An average of 10 support staff. It usually is a department head. I will send a leader or a manager or an expert in all of the respective (artistic) fields that we will have and then have support with local hires regardless of where we go.
For example, we are about to enter into an agreement to do a show in Bahrain in the Middle East. We are in discussions. We haven’t finalized anything yet. I just finished a conversation with them today where we would bring a wardrobe manager, and they would support us with three local seamstresses. We would bring our lighting designer and operator, and they would support us with four master electricians. We would bring our head carpenter, and they would provide us with up to two dozen carpentry hands to load up the show, to set up the show, and to operate the show. The point is that it is, basically, the same (support) whether I do it (a show) here in the United States or if I do it half-way around the world.
With rising travel and accommodation costs do you travel light in America?
I wish I did. The answer in no. it is one of the challenges of doing business today. It’s as simple as the excess baggage charges (with airlines). You take any typical Broadway production, and there’s a basic business model. That the actors or the staff are hired. They are paid a salary as employees and all of the expenses are paid by the producer. Years ago, there was not $25 per bag fee. There was not the apparatus with some of these performers that we now may travel with. We can pay up to $300 and $400 in excess baggage fees. These are (expense) numbers that we have to absorb. I try to cut costs internally and to operate as efficiently as I can because with the state of the economy today, we are really not in the position that we can pass increased costs onto the buyer.
You don’t go out with one truck anymore?
No. We used to go out with a 54-foot truck. We now try to find out how we can very creatively travel. It’s one of the advantages of having the studio, and being able to design in-house. We actually have a bed in the studio laid out to the exact specifications of a 54-foot trailer. As we are building everything, wardrobe is communicating with carpentry; and they (the departments) are all negotiating for space on the truck. We try to do things as efficiently as we can, and try to get it on one truck. Again, this is about cost saving. Gasoline alone has just soared. It’s very hard to pass these expenses onto buyers today in an economic climate that is so competitive.
How many trucks do you generally go out with?
I have never gone out with more than two trucks. With our business model, I can’t have any more. It would force our buyers to pay a higher guarantee and/or charge a higher ticket price. I’m more concerned about the ticket price. I feel that our brand has resonated with fans and audiences around the world for a quality experience at a moderate ticket price. I don’t want to lose that cachet.
What do you consider a moderate ticket price?
Our average ticket price is around $45 or $50. But it’s not the average (ticket price) that I’m concerned about. It’s being able to have a ticket that starts in a $20 or $25 price range. It may not be the best seat in the house, but the spectacle of these shows is so large that sometimes the further away you sit the better the experience is. It’s really important to me that for college and university kids and young people that there is a ticket price that is affordable for them; even if they are sitting up in the mezzanine or the balcony, in order for them to be able to appreciate the experience.
The 25,000 square feet Dream Studios is both corporate headquarters and a state-of-the-art production facility
Yes. It is kind of my own Disney World.
When did you open Dream Studios?
I bought the building 8 or 9 years ago. It was previously a warehouse. It took me a year to gut and renovate the interior and to make the front part of it into a two-story office and have administrative suites while keeping the back part for production. There’s 5,000 square feet which is for a fully operating wardrobe, display, and manufacturing completion process. Everything is done there.
Obviously, there’s a rehearsal hall as well.
We have a 10,000 square foot rehearsal space with a 28 foot high ceiling. We have kind of got it mapped out in a way that it is equivalent of presenting in any proscenium theatre or stage that we would perform in the world. It saves us in time and expense. Actually, it saves our presenters time and expense too because we can put the shows together here.
How did the shows for Cirque Productions come together previously? It must have been challenging without your own studio.
I don’t know if it was challenging because it was pretty much the way that most New York Broadway theatre touring companies work. They don’t have production facilities. They hire a casting agent, and they cast. They go to rehearsal studios and they rent space. Then they will go and rent a theater.
Dream Studios was designed to your specifications, and needs. There can’t be that many comparable rehearsal halls readily available.
No there’s not. That’s why other productions that do similar things through the year come to us, and ask if our facility is available to be rented. I just never had the time because we have always, fortunately, had something in production. There is always something going on in our studio.
Your wording of “cirque”-- from a French word for "arena"--is very deliberate. You don’t use “circus.” Was the European cirque-style concept behind your thinking in putting the company together?
Yeah. That is how I got started with this. I had this entertainment production and party designing company that was quickly becoming one of the Top Five companies in the field in the country.
So it’s true that you were a corporate meeting, and event planner. That you were hired by IBM to create an entertainment concept for their launch of a new brand. And that led to similar shows for General Electric, General Motors and other corporations.
Yes. That’s what inspired me.
What was that earlier party planner company called?
We abbreviated it as PBNEE. That stood for Parties by Neil, and Entertainment Etc. We were working for General Motors, General Electric, and Coca-Cola. All of the big brands.
How did the IBM event come about?
IBM hired me to create and produce a show for one of their high-end incentive programs. This incentive program brought in people from all over the world. Multiple cultures. And that was their mission. That was the criteria for me to create a 45 minute entertainment experience that had no spoken word because the audience was comprised of people who spoke a variety of languages. That was visually appealing, and that was relatable to everyone sitting in the audience. So they afforded me the opportunity to go to Europe to see what kind of artistry I could bring in. That represented their German contingency. That represented their Italian and Spanish contingencies. That is where I first learned about the genre of cirque in Europe.
You did a lot of research?
We weren’t using computers at the time so I spent time at the library. I pulled out books, and I asked a lot of questions. That’s when I found out about Jules Verne in the 1800s and the whole evolution of all this. I remember coming back to these folks at IBM and saying at one of our meetings, “I have found a magic act from Italy. I found a dance couple from Spain. I have found some jugglers and a stilts walker from Russia.”
I had also discovered that there’s a genre that exists in Europe which we call circus, but they (Europeans) call cirque. It didn’t, as much as in the United States, incorporate animals. For shows in Paris, people would get dressed up. When my parents took me to Broadway show 25 years ago, you used to wear a jacket and a nice shirt. It’s a whole different thing today. But in Europe they still get dressed up. It’s a big night out.
It’s like going to the opera.
Exactly. I sold that whole (cirque-style) concept to IBM, and came up with a title specific for that one particular event, Cirque du Monde, which means “Circus of the World” because that’s what we were creating. We were representing different cultures of the world. We did that and it was so rewarding and fulfilling. IBM was completely over-the-top happy with it.
And the coin dropped in the slot for you.
Of course. I was so fulfilled with what I did. I loved creating this experience. So I went to all of my big clients like The Marriott Corporation, Matrix Hair Essentials, Coca-Cola, and General Electric and I said, “I just did this for IBM.” Within a year, I had 8 commitments from major corporations saying, “Yeah, let’s do that at our next big event.”
These corporate clients weren’t concerned about others wanting the same show?
One casino may not want to have what a neighboring casino might have, but corporate America doesn’t care because it’s all different. It’s usually (for) their employees, their colleagues, their business associates, and partners.
In 1999, Cirque du Soleil filed suit against Cirque Productions for trademark infringement over the use of the word "cirque.” In 2004, the lawsuit was resolved. In the interim, how harmful was their suit to your business? Were people hesitant to hire your company before it was cleared up?
Sure. I have a great respect for what Cirque du Soleil has done to transform circus into an art form. That being said, it (the suit) was hurtful to me personally because it was sort of a David versus Goliath kind of thing. At the time I was this little company--a blip on the radar--doing my thing. They were gargantuan and growing fast.
When you produced your IBM show, you didn’t know that Cirque du Soleil existed in Montreal, Quebec?
Correct. From a business standpoint, it (the suit) was challenging because I was on the cusp of really starting to evolve my (Cirque Dreams) brand and get my shows into performing arts centers, and casinos.
Unfortunately, having such a large legal issue out there pending at the time—it had a fair share of media attention—I understood, as a businessman, (the reaction). Would you sign a contract with a company that you knew was in a lawsuit with a major company that could potentially have an adverse outcome? Then you would have no product. So it was challenging.
Despite the Cirque du Soleil suit, Cirque Productions continued to be successful.
Well, corporate America doesn’t operate that way (avoiding companies in lawsuits). Corporate America was not concerned. They weren’t even aware of it (the suit). They were only concerned with what I was doing. But that (corporate) was a very significant part of our business during that time period. Fortunately in the 1990s, the economy was much healthier. We had businesses that had incentive programs and who were rewarding their top executives. That’s what kept our business going.
You stayed below the radar.
Exactly. We stayed below the radar with a grey cloud over our head. I persevered and continued to maintain my business and the integrity of what I was doing, and I kept my head up high. But they say everything happens for a reason. When the case was finalized, and the decision was handed down, and everything was resolved and settled; the floodgates opened from the performing arts and theatre and casino communities. That is when we were really able to spread our wings because everybody was watching and paying attention. Everybody had their own opinion of what they thought of the whole thing (the suit).
How difficult was it early on finding international performers for your productions?
At the time, it was relatively easy. The challenging part was the documentation, attaining the visas and working out arrangements with the governments to be able to get over there, and have access to the schools. I wasn’t necessarily staying in mainstream areas, and going to the Moscow Circus, which is dead smack in the middle of Moscow. I was going into the suburbs to see some of the specialty programs. That was the more challenging part. I remember that it was a bit intimidating in some of these places. Getting off of an airplane and seeing armed guards with machine guns, and rifles standing in the airport. I’m very American-looking so I stood out.
You recruited from institutions like the Moscow Variety Arts & Circus College, the Mongolian State School of Contortion, and from schools in Beijing.
Beijing was interesting. The first time I went to Beijing in 1995, I was invited by the government through some contacts that I had made. They were very interested in what I was doing. The invitation was two-fold. It was to give me access to some of their schools, and training programs; and it was also to tour me around, and show me some venues and theatres to potentially develop a show that would play and perform in Beijing. That was quite interesting. I had an entourage with me all of the time. For every one of me, there was 15 of them. I think I brought five people with me. Some coaches, a choreographer and a costume designer. There must have been 40 or 50 people as an escort.
What types of performers are looking for today?
My philosophy then is the same as it is now. I really have two criteria: unique and inspiring. Not necessarily in that order. If I see something that is just so inspiring it doesn’t really make a difference to me what that discipline is. They can be blowing glass and stretching it or pulling taffy and stretching candy or doing acrobatics or song or dance. Just movement. Just being creative.
What we refer to as that “wow factor.”
It is. It is that “wow factor.” But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that. When I go over there and I look, I don’t necessarily have to be wowed as much as I have to be inspired. If I am inspired, I know I can take that inspiration, and I can transform it to a wow.
Are the Cirque Productions’ performers mostly contortionists, jugglers, and dancers?
It really depends on the show. In a show like Cirque Dreams Rocks, I will have musicians, singers, and dancers. Acrobat is a really broad word today. I refer to my artists as performance artists. I don’t even like to use the word juggler because it creates an impression of someone who has three or four balls or apples, and they are just juggling. Yeah, I have jugglers in the shows, but what some of these young performers do today re-invents what these words are.
Give me an example.
I have one kid working for me, Alan Sulc from the Czech Republic who is 21. I found him in Poland. He was a River Dancer, a step dancer. That’s what he started doing. Then someone put a couple of bouncing balls in his hands, and over the years he has put this all together. The guy is River and step dancing on a small platform—like a tap dance platform—at the same time that he is juggling 7 balls. You look at this. It’s not about the balls. It’s not about what he’s juggling. It’s about the whole package. That’s the kind of artist that I look for in whatever they do. Whether they are walking across the stage on a wire. Whether they are contorting their body. Whether they are flying through the air or being suspended from an apparatus. Individually what they do, for me, the artist needs to tell a story. And that’s what my studio does. If I don’t find an artist that has a great story to tell, but that he has great skills, we bring him to the studio, and we create that story.
Have you ever been impressed enough by a street performer to hire them?
I have. In the ‘90s, I engaged some street performers that were doing this percussive thing with garbage cans before the whole evolution of “Stomp” (created by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas in Brighton, England in 1991). I think “Stomp” evolved from street performers because so much of what they were doing percussively you would see on the street.
Are you influenced by acts in other theatrical productions?
It’s just not another production. It’s everyday life. It’s a store window display. I remember passing by a chain link fence, and seeing that somebody had put cups into the links, and created a design out of it. I remember saying to myself, “Wow, that’s so creative, and so different.” Those are the kinds of things that inspire me. Every day life. You just don’t know when you are going to turn and see something that is going to spark your imagination to another entity.
Many people have found the windows of Macy's flagship store at Herald Square in New York to be inspirational.
Christmas Time? The (annual) Flower Show? The (store’s) interior? You saw Macy’s. It’s a department store but if you look back for I don’t know how many years how much Macy’s has inspired the arts without people realizing it. It evolved into the parade. What the store looks like from the inside is just amazing. It’s psychological because people are going there to buy clothes, not realizing that they are going to be artistically influenced.
What have you learned since staging your first public theatrical show, Cirque Ingenieux, at Bally's Casino Hotel in Atlantic City in 1996?
Oh my God! What I have learned in the evolution over 20 years. First of all, my support system today is amazing. I have some of the most talented and creative minds and bodies alongside me. We just finished teching and opening our Cirque Dreams Rock Show that is going out on tour for a little bit. I said to myself when we were done, “If I didn’t have all of these people around me…..How did I do this 20 years ago?” I didn’t have the designers or hardly anyone. Twenty years ago, I went into Bally's, and they said, “Okay, here’s our lighting programmer. Tell him what you want.” And I sat there all night long, and I told him what I wanted.
That was a ballsy move, going into Bally's Casino Hotel.
It was ballsy. Joe Jimenez was the marketing guy there then. He’s the one who made it happen. He went on to become a powerhouse in the entertainment industry (holding marketing and operations posts at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Caesars Atlantic City, the Atlantic City Hilton, Foxwoods Resort Casino and elsewhere). We were doing an event for Sandoz Pharmaceuticals in Washington, D.C., and somehow Joe Jimenez found out about it, and he got into his car from Atlantic City and drove to Washington for three hours. He handed me his business card that night—this was 20 odd years ago—and he said. “It’s very nice to meet you. Here’s my business card.” I took the business card, and put it in my pocket. How many times do we hear that? I’m going through my pockets the next day, and I see his business card. Of course, I follow-up like a good businessman would do. He said, “I like what you are doing. How would you like to take a version of that show and do it in my casino this summer?” I had all of four or five months to take what he had seen as a private corporate show which was probably 45 minutes into a hotel ballroom….
And create a full show.
Right. Of course, I was excited. Listen, you know what else, Larry? I was 20 years younger and saying, “I can wear the lighting designer hat. I can wear the rigger hat. I can wear the costume designer hat.” I did all of this stuff myself with the help of very few people.
How many performers did you hire?
I think that there were about 25. It was a really large space. Of course. I went to look at it immediately. It was a bingo hall at the time. They built this enormous stage for us. Joe is a smart man, and he guided me. I don’t think that I went to him and said that I wanted 25 performers. I think that he probably said to me that is what he wanted. I don’t recollect, exactly. I’m still friendly with Joe. So knowing Joe, I think that he probably said to me, “You are going to have to put at least 25 people on the stage to make this look right.”
Casino clients weren’t coming to see shows in Atlantic City back then. They were coming to gamble. So "Cirque Ingenieux" had to be something very unique to attract audiences.
I know. And 20 years ago, it (casino entertainment) was a lot different. Even though Cirque du Soleil was up there and stuff. Twenty years ago, it was basically Cirque du Soleil and me. That was it.
In 2010, you took Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy into the MGM Grand Theatre at Foxwoods, Connecticut.
Well ironically I went into the MGM in Foxwoods because of Joe Jimenez; he was there (as senior VP). It’s funny how you go full cycle in this business. Many, many times, it’s about relationships. Twenty years ago, Joe was by my side (at Bally's) and probably micro-managed everything that I was doing, which I am totally grateful, and in debt for. Twenty years later, my relationship with someone like Joe is that he would just pick up the phone and say, “Neil, just do it.” There’s that trust factor, and I know how to do it.
We go back to audience expectations. “Joe, if we want to make this different and if we want to make it first-class, is there a budget for me to bring in a recognizable name to play the role of a show that I have put on Broadway?”
And he said, “Yes. I think that we can work that out.”
So we engaged Debbie Gibson who played the role of Mother Nature. This was a first-class Broadway production.
["Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy," debuted at Atlantic City's Trump Plaza and then embarked on an extensive cross-country tour in 2007, performing in more than 150 American cities. The show debuted at the Broadway theatre in 2008, and was re-launched on July 27, 2010, at the MGM Grand Theatre at Foxwoods, Connecticut, for a limited engagement.]
The first time you had a celebrity starring in a production.
It is. That was a joint decision between myself and Joe. We were sort of strategizing. We just brainstormed, “How can we escalate the experience?” I said, “I don’t believe that anyone has ever put a recognizable name or a celebrity into a show of this style, and in this genre. If we do that it’s going to bring a lot of attention and, eventually, will resonate with ticket sales.” It was one of the best-selling shows of any summer that they have had at MGM. The floodgates of publicity just opened. The cast and Debbie were invited onto the “Today” show, and a lot of the talk shows. There was a lot of national attention because it was something different and unique which is what we look for in this country, and in this business.
C’mon. Who would turn down a chance to play Mother Nature as Debbie did?
Right when she turned 40. The stars were aligned for her as well. It was a good time for her. She was trying to share the fact that 40 is fabulous and here I am. I can still do this. She was onstage with 20 and 21 year-olds. She was front and center. She wanted to do everything. Very physically fit with a great attitude.
Today, there are now so many venues that weren’t available when you launched Cirque Productions. Your shows can play theme parks, casinos, performing arts centers, and be presented in the corporate world. There are all kinds of different platforms available to you today.
They are. We have a separate division of our company that deals with special events.
Does that include corporate?
Yeah. For example, recently we were hired by a big pharmaceutical company which has FDA approval of a new drug, and they had a rollout, and they wanted to have a celebration for their company. They were looking for a show that they could bring into their hometown performing arts centre. So we remounted Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy for one day. We rolled everyone in.
We have a division of our company that caters to corporate America for new product reveals, special events, and grand openings. Of course, we have our theatrical division which does all of our tours. It is rare that our theatre shows would be applicable to theme parks so we have a special division for theme parks because those are a different model. Our theatre division does casinos as well. A lot of the casinos are very, very interested in the shows that we are taking around the country, and world.
Cirque Dreams Coobrila was first presented at Six Flags theme parks. Do you have to work within the environment of each park, and tailor a production to the park?
Of course. That was designed from scratch, and in partnership with them. We have since done Cirque Dreams Splashtastic with them at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, which is currently performing again summer of 2014.
How did Cirque Dreams Coobrila develop?
We had done a show for Six Flags in Dallas in one of their signature parks a few years ago. It was an outdoor amphitheatre. The venue had been sitting vacant and idle for three or four years like so many large venues around the world. They were looking at revitalizing it, and opening with something new. We spent a year in the space looking at how the seats could potentially be reconfigured, and how people would be looking at the show. You have to take into consideration the point of view of the attendee. Also an attendee in a theme park is much different than an attendee in a theatre.
In what way?
Well, in a theme park people are paying an admission price to the park. So there is an expectation of seeing something that is all inclusive.
And those audience members may be casual viewers.
I was just about to say that. With a much shorter attention span. Casinos people have the blackjack tables, and the slots on their minds; in theme parks, they have roller coasters on their minds.
Was it your relationship with Broadway-based theatrical agency Alan Wasser Associates which made it possible for Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy to land on Broadway in 2008?
For about 8 years, they were representing us. Funny, when I first when to AWA, I had to sort of beg on my knees and say, “Please, please, please, I want a New York agency to represent me. What I am doing is theatre.” They said, “Well, it’s not the kind of theatre that we do.”
Well, there had never been a circus type show on Broadway.
Yes. Never been one on Broadway. I had a couple of very successful years with them (Alan Wasser Associates) representing me prior to putting a show on Broadway. So we had the support of not only Alan Wasser Associates but many legitimate and respected Broadway producers and presenters participated and invested; giving me the opportunity to navigate through the challenges of putting a show with acrobats on Broadway. There were a lot of compromises, discussions and negotiations with unions, and with Equity (Actors' Equity Association) and with musicians. I very very carefully negotiated my way through all that to meet everybody’s’ needs. Made great alliances. It took a year. When I say a year a year, a day did not go by that year that I was not involved in a meeting or a discussion or a negotiation to get this production to be able to happen.
Broadway has always interested you.
Helen Keller and “The Miracle Worker” (a three-act play by William Gibson adapted from his 1957 Playhouse 90 teleplay of the same name based on Helen Keller's autobiography, “The Story of My Life”). It was the first play that my mother took me to see when I was 6 years old. Of course, I got bit by the theatre bug.
You went on to attain a degree in scenic design at C.W. Post College in Long Island, New York.
Correct and immediately moved into the city. I was hired as a stage hand. I was backstage painting scenery. I was doing little bits here and there.
For what productions?
I worked on “Mame” with Angela Lansbury and worked on “Fiddler on the Roof” with Zero Mostel when he was on Broadway. I don’t know if anyone knew I was there, but I was happy. I may have been invisible at the time, but I was there. To pay my bills I got a job in the garment district as a textile designer. I would sit all day long and I would color up prints, and patterns. I would meet with fashion designers.
A lot of that (experience) gave me my inspiration and direction for the costumes that we put into our shows today. We are pretty well-known and respected for our costumes because they are outstanding and outrageous. So I was doing that, and having a lot more success, and making a lot more money than painting and building scenery. I got a great opportunity with United Merchants and Manufacturers. It is no longer in business, but it was the largest in the world at the time. They offered me an opportunity to relocate to Florida to get little bit closer to the textile mills in the South.
What part of Florida did you move to?
North Miami Beach.
A tough neighborhood.
It’s a tough neighborhood now. The reason I went there was that I was still moderately connected to my Jewish Orthodox roots and there was a young Israel synagogue there. That was one of my criteria to where I wanted to live at the time.
What part of New York did you grow up in?
Oceanside on Long Island on the South shore. I was raised strictly orthodox. I went to Yeshiva, always ate kosher, and always observed the Sabbath. I had a very strict heritage upbringing.
From 1982 and 1992, you operated a number of companies, including Parties By Neil, and Entertainment, Etc.
I moved to Florida probably in 1980. Then United Merchants and Manufacturers went Chapter Eleven. I didn’t want to go back to New York because I had fallen in love with the Florida lifestyle. I decided that I wanted to get back to some theatre stuff or being creative or entertainment. There were so few options down in Florida at the time. Throwing big parties seem to be a big deal down there. There used to be a social section of the Miami Herald that used to write that so and so flew into town or so and so had 10,000 roses, and draped the ceiling of the Breakers Hotel, and was paid this much money. I am saying to myself, “I can do this with my eyes closed.”
Your party planning activities included productions for Super Bowls in 1989 and 1991, the 1984 Miss Universe Pageant, and offering customized entertainment for celebrity and corporate clients.
Yeah, I got very entrenched in corporate America. You meet people and you do these private events. You never know who is sitting in the audience. I would do stuff for the NFL, and the NBA. Just through my party designs and productions that I would create, I had all of these opportunities handed to me. I had corporations that were taking me around the world with them. I would take 150 people down the Amazon River for a 50th birthday celebration. I redecorated the interior of a 727 (airplane) in a thematic design. Yeah, I have done a lot. My career was just a crazy road map. But I think the variety of what I have done really plays into the evolution of my career.
In 2012, Cirque Productions teamed with Armed Forces Entertainment to bring the first Cirque Dreams World Tour to American troops and their families at 17 U.S. military bases in 10 different countries around the world.
That was a passion of mine. They did not come to me. I went to them. This was an idea that I came up with, and it took a couple of years and many trips to Washington, D.C., and to Hawaii to meet with sergeants and colonels.
I can't imagine the first meet with military brass going, “You want to do what?”
Yeah, but I’ve gotten that my entire life. I’ve gotten used to it (that reaction).
So you take no as a maybe.
No is always a maybe.
And maybe is a yes?
If you are passionate about something, and you persevere you are going to be successful on some level. You may not ultimately get exactly what you wanted the way that you wanted it, but you are going to get something. It’s up to that individual to make it fulfilled.
I have an idea for a production.
I am always all ears.
“The Roots of Cirque” by Jules Verne as a theme.
I love that idea. Jules Verne is one of my favorite authors. Probably my most favorite authors. I did a lot of research like you. I am impressed by how thorough you are, and what you know. But did you know that Jules Verne produced and built a building in the late 1800s called Cirque Municipal? Then you take “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and his imagination. So no doubt. Who can we get to play Jules Verne because I agree with you? I think that could be really interesting. I think that it would have to be someone who is eccentric. I would probably look to the magic and the illusion community if I was going to cast that particular part.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario.
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