05/13/2015 02:52 pm ET Updated May 13, 2016

Moving People and the Tao of Ice Cream: Live Performing Arts in the Next Decade


What do the future of live performing arts and the sale of ice cream have in common? Each spring, as Montreal re-emerges from under its oppressive snow banks to play at summer for a few weeks of the year, one of the rituals that marks the beginning of the summer season is eating ice cream outside for the first time, savoring the icy sensation on your tongue as if it were a promise of eternal warmth.

Reflecting on the future of the performing arts is at the heart of what we think about every day and it sometimes makes us think fondly of the small neighborhood ice cream vendors.

It was while walking one Sunday with our respective families, in two different parts of the city, that we had an apparently simple epiphany seeing the long line of people gathered in front of an ice cream shop that recently became popular in Montreal: if it's really good and delicious, we are all prepared to stand in line to taste it again...

The impressive queue, stretching almost 100 meters, of people waiting happily on the promise of this ice cream seemed to sing out telepathically in unison: the long wait is nothing compared to the promise of a unique and authentic experience! In other words, there was something intriguing in the fact that a few years before this ice cream shop opened, there had been another ice cream business that had gone belly up, and yet since the opening of this new shop, the spot had become a local foodie sensation. The reason? We think that answering this question will give us some clues to help us try and anticipate what the future of the performing arts will look like.

Thinking intuitively about the future means first and foremost stepping back and accepting the past, at least the recent past. The live performing arts, at their most basic, involve a performance that is not dead, a performance in which the life that is seen and felt is engaging, elicits a reaction, inspires, provokes laughter, seduces, essentially touches and affects. For over 30 years, we have sought to connect with audiences at the street level, that is, where each of us is most accessible and where contact can be the most direct.

Through the life and energy a person feels when they discover the circus arts, we have offered these many years to let the audience feel all the love for life and courage that acrobats and circus artists can evoke in all of us. Just consider the daring feats they attempt onstage. Having influenced most aspects of the performing arts over the past 30 years through visually innovative, memorable, unique shows, how does this passion for the performing arts continue through us today, and especially, in the not-so-distant future?

What do we dream of accomplishing over the next 10, even 15 years? That is, how do we see the world of the performing arts growing, evolving and transforming over the next decade?

We think the most important indicator seems to be the consumer, who we prefer to call the traveler, and who today has an increasing appetite, far beyond a mere fad, for experiences, instead of the same old conventional offerings. The era of experience, of a performance integrated into a coherent whole, will become a strong, inevitable and transformative trend.

Today, all of us already want to feel more addressed, considered, seen and recognized. Spectators have evolved from admirers of often opaque, difficult-to-understand artistic conventions, into amateur critics of what they see in their social circles today, and they increasingly play the role of participants who are more or less creators of their own performance experience.

And this experience will begin long before the spectators find themselves at the physical performance site. The live performing arts will become a catalyst for sensation and identity where the boundary between the audience and performer will take on unusual and unexpected dimensions. In short, new forms of imaginary co-expression will emerge and will have an impact not on a small circle of insiders (as is the case currently with atypical forms) but on large segments of the population.

Beyond this evolution, this transformation of the role of the spectator at the heart of the performing arts, we see the following non-exhaustive list of possible avenues of investigation:

Creative teams undergoing a profound transformation

Creative teams in the performing arts will have a different makeup. As is the case in high-end and avant-garde design teams today, creative teams in the performing arts will count among them both artists from the stage and live performance, and from fields completely removed from the world of performance, such as anthropology, nanotechnology and psychology, to name only a few.

Having one's heart in the right place

It may seem obvious, but the less people are moved and engaged by the proposition, the less they will come. In other words, the debate about the creative relevance of a project, its ability to dialogue or converse with one or many cultures, will become crucial. Cultural observers, whether inscribed in an advanced academic track or those dedicated generally to more popular and accessible culture, will play an important role in creative teams in the performing arts.

From passive voyeur to active curator

Whatever the form, experience is primarily based on passive voyeurism. Today, humans are looking for meaning and control along with pleasure. They want to feel involved, addressed, included, even sitting in front of the orchestra. In 10 years, we will give them tools so they can become curators of their own experience.

Immersion will be a commonplace, but not the way we understand it today

Immersion, it's the new buzzword. It is related to the desire to feel close to the action and therefore share with those who are around us or who are tied to us. Not all immersive experiences are remarkable, but performing arts that do not aim for immersion (not only onstage, but also in marketing approaches to connecting with their audience) will succeed less and less. Even though immersion suggests the range of strategies for spatial scenography and sculpting experience in order to facilitate entry into an imaginary or fabricated world, we mustn't forget that fundamentally, immersion recalls the very ancient practices of dramaturgy and the well-crafted story. Who among us has not had the most immersive experiences reading a gripping and suspenseful novel, without there being the slightest image in the text? All this to say, the most striking immersive forms are those which celebrate the almost unlimited imaginations of the spectators or travelers.

Content creators as well as curators

The participants of tomorrow's most popular entertainment will greatly contribute to creating its content. Even more radically, tomorrow's users will create more and more content, including in live performing arts. They will play the roles of author, participant and evaluator-tester during the creation stage.

An increasingly cutthroat environment!

We've said it, the circus arts in general have influenced a whole generation of producers, creators and artists in the performing arts. The bar continues to be raised in exceptional live performance every day, with a multitude of entities mutually inspiring each other. In the future, "entertain them or die" will become the the benefit or peril of those who do not adapt quickly enough to this state of things. The public eye is becoming more refined due to the quality work done by a whole generation of generous and ambitious artists. The job of attaining this profound and moving simplicity will not only fall to creators, but also to producers if they want to truly succeed in the future and stand out from the ever-widening pack of proposed content.

New ways of accessing live experience will emerge

The shock experienced by the music, television and film industry will also affect the performing arts, meaning that the current control model (ticket sales) will be short-circuited by both new and ancient models of access to the performing arts (property development, public donation after consumption, governments, associations, etc.).

The technological paradox

The current technological growth in our era will obviously affect performances in the performing arts by taking more and more invisible forms within artistic creations. Robots will take us by surprise by occupying an unexpected place alongside humans as live performers and artists.

More love between music and the performing arts

The music world will experience a new golden age through the creation of worlds that express in surprising and imaginative ways the universe created in music. The meeting of music and the live performing arts will lead to a great convergence in forms that has yet to be discovered. This disruption will change the format of mass entertainment to the same degree that certain dominant technologies have already done so today.

Unprecedented alliance and integration of art, business and the means of production

The future belongs to creators and organizations who will succeed in overcoming the interminable dispute between audacity, artistic relevance, business creativity and a truly ambitious capacity for production.

A revolution in the way of stage and theatrical environments and space in general is created

With the advent of 3D printing and a number of revolutions in architecture and construction will change the standard of what is possible onstage and beyond. This revolution will serve to increase the immersion factor in projects in the future.

So what is the connection with ice cream? Why is this local ice cream shop so successful and why the reference to the tao of ice cream?

By examining the experience of this ice cream shop a little closer, certain observations stand out. For one thing, this establishment has tangibly understood the importance of creating and serving an authentic and original product. When you step inside their small business, you can also sense the team's roots and passion for what it does. Finally, the history of how the business was created has become somewhat of a local legend. The whole thing is the result of an immense risk the young entrepreneurs took to go into business.

Beyond the role that the Cirque du Soleil has played in the evolution of the performing arts for over 30 years, a vision for the future of the performing arts at the Cirque du Soleil means celebrating a culture of immersive performance before its time, that brought the spectator to the sacred space of the stage in 1984, and even before, in the middle of the street, face to face with the person we wanted to surprise and move. After all, we are originally eaters of the sacred fire and travelers determined to disturb the audience's sorrow.

In this way, the performing arts of the future will of course use emerging technology in unexpected ways, will use incredibly diverse, multiform creative teams and will integrate creative and artistic content that comes from spectator-actors. However, beyond these already-perceptible elements, the performances that will profoundly mark hearts and minds will be those that find every more radically innovative ways to reach out to the other not only to surprise, but also and especially, to move. In a way, the performing arts of the future will be able to develop a strong perspective on the world that gives meaning.

For the Cirque du Soleil, this shows through in our commitment, that of the creative teams and the artists that make them up, to do our part to share with the whole world imagination that is firmly grounded in the championing of humans searching ever more boldly for inspiration, beauty and harmony in the world. The future of the live performing arts over the next decade will therefore come through audaciously and courageously positioned projects, which are the result of a very ambitious and rigorous artistic and business process.

Is it possible that during the summer, we Montrealers are sublimating our love/hate relationship with the snow through ice cream? When we discover a place that surprises us, we return to it with our family, our friends, those we love. Beyond all the food preparation and the history of the business in question, it's the artisans' passion transmitted through the ice cream that draws and touches us.

It's the same sacred fire that causes the hearts of the creative teams here to beat. The future of the performing arts is both complex, unpredictable and profoundly simple. In 10, 15 or 20 years, spectators and spectator-actors as well as spectator-creators will ultimately all be looking for the same thing as the spectator in Antiquity: to be deeply moved, in the most intense and authentic way possible. The truly remarkable performing arts of the future will be simply and profoundly good, not only by accident but through hard, systematic and deliberate work to move people, deliciously.

This post originally appeared on HuffPost Québec and was translated into English.