Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the version published on February 6 because of late-breaking developments.
PROVINCETOWN — A proposal by Truro promoter Eric Martin to mount a Cirque du Soleil-branded show at Motta Field this summer was rejected by the Montreal-based circus corporation on Monday, before a group of neighbors, business owners, and other citizens packed a Tuesday evening meeting of the recreation commission to complain about the plan.
Cirque du Soleil spokesman Sophie Desbiens confirmed on Thursday (after this week’s Independent went to press) that “this decision to not go forward with the project was made after going through our regular feasibility evaluation and prior to that coming out in the news.” The possibility that the circus was coming to Provincetown was first reported by the Independent last week, though discussions between Martin and town officials had been going on for months.
Those who appeared at the recreation commission meeting Tuesday were upset that plans for the summer-long show to come to town might have been developed without concern for neighbors and the many performing artists who make Provincetown their base.
Martin’s company, 66Days LLC, which he formed in November 2019, had been negotiating with the commission for the rental of Motta Field, a large grassy park on a quiet hill, since September of last year. The fact that negotiations had been proceeding in secret was a sore point for many people who objected to the plans. Martin told the Independent that details of the plan could not be divulged because of non-disclosure agreements.
It is still not clear which of the various town officials who knew of the plan had signed such agreements. Members of the recreation commission denied this week having signed them. The minutes of the commission’s meetings over the past several months refer only to an “event” at Motta Field, with no mention of Cirque du Soleil.
In spite of having learned that the circus deal was off on Monday, Martin waited until Wednesday to post a letter online saying that the production had been cancelled because of local opposition. Desbiens specifically contradicted Martin’s claim on Thursday. “The reaction of the community … did not influence our decision as we had made it before all of this came out,” she wrote in an email.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Ken Horgan, an owner of the Pilgrim House and an organizer of a letter from the entertainment and performance community to the select board, said the letter now had 127 signatures and counting.
“I’m not here speaking for my business,” Horgan said. “I’m speaking for the small artists who write their own shows. They make Provincetown unique, and this is going to be a giant suck of ticket revenue away from those performers.”
Matt Farber, the manager and producer of the AirOtic aerial gymnastics show, said in a letter of his own that he would not bring his show back to Provincetown if Cirque du Soleil were here, and that “replacing an original Provincetown act with a show that can be seen anywhere in the world is a mistake.” He called Cirque du Soleil a formula business, which, he said, was “antithetical to the spirit of the town.”
Residents of Winslow Street also turned out in force, asking how their narrow residential street was supposed to accommodate up to 1,250 people leaving a show every night. Paige Perry raised issues of traffic congestion, noise, and garbage discarded by pedestrians after the show.
“Those of us that choose to make this community our home should not be subjected to all of these concerns,” she said. “Ask the petitioner to find some other more suitable commercial space.”
Members of the recreation commission tried to clarify the story but wouldn’t offer many more details. “No one on this board signed a non-disclosure agreement,” said Commissioner Cathy Nagorski.
“I am really concerned with the transparency issue,” said Robert Enos II, another commissioner. “As far as the abutters, this absolutely is a surprise. 66Days told us that he had already approached and notified the abutters.”
“Nothing has been completely finalized,” said Commissioner Heather Rogers. “We just approved Motta Field to be used.”
“We did think about many of these other aspects you’ve all raised,” said Commissioner Brandon Quesnell, “but we also wanted to stay in our lane. Our concern is rental of the field. Noise, tents, traffic — all of those issues are taken up at licensing.”
Indeed, the circus would have had a dense regulatory schedule ahead. Five more public hearings would have been required — one at the zoning board of appeals, one at the planning board, and three at the licensing board.
Few new details about 66Days’ plans emerged at the Tuesday meeting. Members of the recreation commission said there were potential upsides for the town that it would be premature to discuss, in the absence of any written agreements.
According to posted minutes, Eric Martin told the commission in September that area businesses would see a 30- to 40-percent increase in revenue when his show came to town. The show was planned for June 30 to September 16, however, which is already the busiest time of tourist season, when waits for restaurants and cocktails are at their longest.