High Wire Act: Cirque du Soleil Blends SAP Applications with Proprietary Programs to Make Sure the Show Always Goes On

  • by Alan Joch
  • October 6, 2010
Management
Cirque du Soleil has thousands of cast members in dozens of shows performing in cities all over the world. While performers are executing astonishing acts on stage, costume designers behind the scenes are carrying out impressive feats of their own by suiting up that incredible number of performers. See how the company moved from manual processes for ordering and managing costumes to SAP solutions to gain insight into costume demand and improve capacity requirements planning.

Cirque du Soleil thrills audiences throughout the world with imaginative performances that blend equal parts of circus-act excitement and flamboyant street theater. It’s a winning combination that has helped the organization grow to almost 4,500 employees and become a fixture in entertainment hotspots like Las Vegas, Orlando, Tokyo, and Macao.

But the real heart-stopping action often takes place behind the scenes, where thousands of backstage employees work feverishly to create the 20,000 custom costumes used by the troupe’s 1,300 performers. Working with an annual budget of more than $25 million, the wardrobe staff carefully creates custom-fitted costumes. The process includes more than 150 physical measurements of each performer and uses high-tech three-dimensional scanners to produce a precise a composite reproduction of each artist’s head to make sure hats and wigs fit perfectly. All that upfront work means there is typically a three-month lead time from the creation of the purchase requisition until the costume is delivered — and that’s not including the time required to develop new costume concepts. 

“We operate an engineering business, but instead of making boats we make costumes,” says Olivier Gariepy, senior business analyst with Cirque du Soleil.

Design and production complexities aren’t the only things that resemble a large-scale engineering operation. Equally challenging is forecasting the annual requirements and managing the inventory of all the specialized fabrics, sequins, and other specialized materials that go into the costumes.


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