Cirque du Soleil showcases its sexy side

Zumanity may be one of Cirque's small shows, but targeted PR has helped make it a big hit in Vegas

Zumanity may be one of Cirque's small shows, but targeted PR has helped make it a big hit in Vegas

When it opened in September 2005, Zumanity, The Sensual Side of Cirque du Soleil was greeted by audiences with equal parts exhilaration and apprehension. While the production features the troupe's trademark extravagant acrobatics, contortions, costumes, and special effects, it also includes a number of significant departures.

One of Cirque's smaller shows, Zumanity is set in an intimate, cabaret-style venue with sections of standard theater seats, balcony-level stools, and front-of-the-house love sofas for cuddling couples creating an atmosphere for the show's provocative content.

Zumanity, Cirque's first adults-only program, is a very non-PG exploration of human sensuality, hosted by a celebrated drag diva and the only show on the Strip to feature a male-on-male kiss.

Like many Las Vegas attractions, this $15 million production could well be targeted to 30-something vacationers, the quick-getaway couple looking to add an "only-in-Vegas" kick to their weekend - and they're certainly welcome. But as a PR priority, Zumanity has focused on attracting a group it calls the "creative class," open-minded arts enthusiasts of which GLBT audiences are a key component.

Zumanity was "a new direction for Cirque; a risky move given its content: exploring sexuality, sensuality, eroticism," says Anita Nelving, PR director for Cirque du Soleil residence shows. "You must be of a certain mindset to enjoy the production."

While most Cirque shows are accessible to people of all ages and sexual orientations, "the gay and lesbian community has always been a big part of Cirque's culture and a key target market for us," she explains.

To extend word-of-mouth buzz among potential gay and lesbian advocates, Nelving says, Zumanity has made itself a fixture at GLBT events across the country.

For the past two years, the show has appeared at Gay Pride events in key markets including Las Vegas, LA, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. Cirque supports its on-site efforts with street teams, prizes, and sponsorships. At parade-side booths, Pride attendees can pose with cardboard cutouts of their favorite Zumanity characters.

Of course, traditional media relations play a key role in Cirque's GLBT outreach, too, Nelving says. As well as mainstream press, Zumanity targets national and local gay titles and Web sites for artist profiles, reviews, and fashion features. Cirque also works with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) and hotel partner MGM-Mirage to send GLBT-interested journalists to Zumanity as a first point of call.

And while social outreach has always been a key part of its philosophy - 1% of all corporate revenues are donated to charity - because of Zumanity's content, the show is especially supportive of AIDS-related issues, says Zumanity publicist John McCoy.

The production puts monetary and other resources toward AIDS awareness and fundraising, he says, by participating in events such as the GLAAD Media Awards, and hosting local chapters of the Human Rights Campaign and Aid for AIDS of Nevada.

This year, Cirque has added an extra component to GLBT outreach: The company will serve as presenting sponsor for Las Vegas' first Gay Days & Nights event, to be held from July 4-8.

"It's a [Vegas] first and we want to be there front and center," says Nelving. To that end, Cirque recently hosted a weekend trip for key GLBT media members to see Zumanity.

While each Cirque production will be doing something special for Gay Days & Nights, because Zumanity has "a different feel," Nelving says, it will host a Q&A cocktail reception, actually allowing audience members to mingle with performers over pre-show drinks.

"Cirque really got behind this," says Tom Roth, president of Community Marketing, Inc., which partnered with the LVCVA to create the Gays Days & Nights concept. And they were a great match, he notes: In GLBT focus groups across the US, the company "was mentioned by name everywhere. Without exception, Cirque rose to the top" among Las Vegas highlights.

Beyond showing up at events and pitching the media, though, Zumanity has done something that may make even more of a long-term impact on US audiences: introduced gay themes into mainstream theater. And with two shows a night, five nights a week, people from all walks of life are exposed to Zumanity's non-traditional themes of sexuality.

"It's still part of the Cirque family, the sexy show of Cirque," McCoy says. But "it [lets] people see there are more mature themes - and not just about homosexuality, but sexuality in general -in the world."

At a glance

Cirque du Soleil

President and CEO:
Daniel Lamarre


The Dragone Group, Normand Latourelle Productions

Key trade titles:
Daily Variety, The Hollywood Reporter

PR budget:

Mario D'Amico, SVP of marketing;
Cheryl Khaner, senior director of  marketing and PR, residence shows;
Anita Nelving, director of PR, residence shows;
John McCoy, Zumanity publicist

PR: In-house; Adv.: SpotCo., New York

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