One of First Round’s earliest childhood memories involves a trip to the circus. An intoxicating whirl of greasepaint, animal dung and ever-so-slightly scary clowns with exploding cars was a rather traumatic experience, not that First Round would have admitted that to its well-meaning auntie and uncle at the time. So the news that TPG Capital has acquired a controlling stake in illustrious French Canadian circus outfit Cirque du Soleil to help drive its global expansion strategy has brought back some decidedly mixed memories.
True, times have moved on, animals are now banned from most circuses and Cirque du Soleil would quite rightly regard itself as sitting on a higher artistic plain to the ‘visual spectacular’ that First Round endured on a South London common. Still, the partnership does throw up some intriguing possibilities. While the Texan firm has a controlling stake, minority positions have been bought by Chinese private equity group Fosun and the Cirque’s fellow French Canadians, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec.
The pension fund is probably a good match in Canada’s proudly Francophone province, and the Chinese have a long history of acrobatic prowess, but it is the prospect of TPG’s involvement that most excites First Round.
The juxtaposition of tough-talking Texan businessmen collaborating with the Cirque’s artistic directors on the latest stage acts and tour schedules is just too good to ignore. Even better that the spandex and glitter brigade are French speakers. First Round can’t help but wonder what kind of shows might come about as a result of TPG’s input.
Cirque du Soleil’s management has admitted that funding its growing list of global tours had placed a severe financial burden on it, and in that sense turning to a bunch of financially savvy Texan private equity operators is probably exactly what it needs right now.
But just remember, if the Cirque’s performers start to sport cowboy boots and Stetsons, and a bucking bronco mysteriously finds its way onto the stage, you’ll know where you heard it first. First Round waits with baited breath for a circus act it might actually pay to see.