Las Vegas Sun

December 14, 2018

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Cirque du Soleil:

One Drop Foundation CEO Catherine Bachand: ‘There’s still much to be achieved’

‘One Drop’ Rehearsal-Miles Brown

Cashman Photo

“One Night for One Drop: Quest for Water” rehearsal with Miles Brown at Aria.

‘One Drop’ Rehearsal With Leona Lewis

Launch slideshow »

One Night for One Drop

One Drop Foundation

With eight Cirque du Soleil shows on the Strip, it’s not difficult to find performers willing to volunteer for the bosses’ charity. But to shut down the money-making spectaculars for an entire night, take over another theater and have them work as volunteers in off-duty hours for six months of preparation of a one-night-only extravaganza takes courage and commitment.

For three years now, Cirque du Soleil’s belief in founder Guy Laliberte’s “One Night for One Drop” has paid huge dividends. Since the debut in 2013, the three events have raised nearly $18 million total to support One Drop Foundation’s efforts.

Now for the fourth year, it gets even bigger, and for the first time the Cirque troupes move into our Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

British singer-songwriter Leona Lewis joins more than 100 Cirque performers and other Las Vegas show artists for the first time this year Friday, March 18, along with 4-foot-3, 11-year-old Miles Brown, better known as Baby Boogaloo on ABC’s hit comedy “Black-ish.”

Naturally, the stars, Guy, director Hassan El Hajjami (onetime of “The Beatles Love” at the Mirage) and all of the volunteer performers get the credit, but it’s the CEO of One Drop, Catherine Bachand, who does the work out of the spotlight of trying to ensure that there’s safe water for everybody in our world.

One Drop Foundation

I talked at length with Catherine before I left for Cabo San Lucas:

Here we are year four. It is quite extraordinary how it has grown in three years. Each year it gets bigger and bigger; you still don’t believe it is as big as it has become, and it’s going to be bigger this year than ever before.

Yes, it will be for sure. It’s the only show that Guy never sees before curtain up. He doesn’t check concepts, rehearsals or anything. It is left entirely to the performers. He’s always been thrilled with what has been accomplished, and I’m certain this year, too.

Draw the difference because you are not Cirque. You are One Drop. How did this relationship with Cirque come about, and why are they the best partner that you could have ever prayed for?

Actually, we work from Cirque. Guy, the founder of Cirque, also founded One Drop in 2007, and our approach as much as what we do in the field with our water-access programs and what we do in terms of fundraising and awareness, is inspired by social art. We have a common DNA.

What have you achieved so far with One Drop? What remains to be achieved with One Drop?

Oh my gosh, we are tackling the century’s greatest and most-challenging, compelling issue, so there’s still much to be achieved. Today, there are close to 700 million people who do not have access to safe drinking water and more than 2.5 billion people who do not have even basic sanitation. So it’s a major, major issue, and it’s definitely a break for economic development for so many countries, for their growth and for them to thrive.

One Drop still has a lot to go. The United Nations in 190 countries set sustainable development goals last September: The objective is to ensure that everyone has access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation by 2030. We definitely have to accelerate our impact. Now since One Drop’s inception, we will have reached by the end of next month 1 million direct beneficiaries with our water-access program. So it’s great, but we still have so much more to go.

Is it ahead of what you projected, or are you just about where you wanted to be?

We are ahead of what we projected. Our programs have grown in the past five years, so we are definitely growing our impact.

What is the happiest story from what you’ve achieved, and what’s the saddest?

One Drop Foundation

Click to enlarge photo

“One Night for One Drop: Quest for Water” rehearsal with Miles Brown and Robin Leach at Aria.

Click to enlarge photo

“One Night for One Drop: Quest for Water” rehearsal with Miles Brown at Aria.

I think the saddest story is the fact that the need is still so great today and the fact that every minute there is a child who dies because of the lack of access to safe drinking water. This is something that we can all do something about.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night thinking we are not going fast enough, so there is something very compelling. … It’s definitely something that’s always on your mind. This is not a 9-to-5 job when you decide to take on a challenge like this one. Obviously, when we go in the field, we see all these children, mothers, entire communities who can be doing so much more if only they had access to water.

I think the happiest story is to know that what you’ve done is sustainable. You know I always explain the difference between doing charity and doing international development. Our commitment is to deliver sustainable water-access programs. So not only do we see the joy in children’s faces because they see water running for the very first time, but you know that this will stay with them in their community for years to come, and that’s a very happy story.

Too often when we go to the fields in our sector, there’s anywhere between 30 percent and 75 percent of the infrastructure that will fail within 12 months. So it’s a huge issue in our sector to ensure that all the funds that we invest from all of our donors contributions are built to last.

How many places in the world are you now working?

We’re in more than 10 countries, and this year we will grow to around 15 countries. There’s a lot more happening, and there will be a big announcement happening later this year, but for now I’d say that we’re in more than 10 countries on three continents.

How much money has “One Night for One Drop” raised so far the first the years?

So we are at $17.6 million, a little shy of $18 million from just three nights.

Have you set a target for this year’s show March 18?

That’s a good question. The needs are so great, it’s never a ceiling, obviously. It’s always a floor number. I think our objective year after year is to raise more than the previous year. The first year was $5.3 million, then it was $6 million the year after that, then $6.3 million last year. So we really would like to go higher and bolder than that. Let’s say over $7 million, but $10 million would be very nice.

I always find it somewhat curious that Cirque is Las Vegas and Las Vegas is Cirque, but explain in your words why the water problem that we have here in the desert makes this the ideal place to solve the water problems of the world.

There are people in Las Vegas who understand the need for safe drinking water. Those that don’t take it for granted. I think it’s also a city that has done so much in terms of water sustainability over the years that they are absolutely in a great position to tell that story to the rest of the world and to act as a leader. I think it makes a lot of sense to be telling that story from the middle of the desert.

Sometimes it’s harder when you’re in Montreal and Canada where you have so much fresh water where people do take it for granted to tell that story in a way that people actually intuitively understand what it might mean to live your life every day without safe drinking water.

Do you like the storyline this year? It comes right from the director’s own time spent walking miles with his grandmother to get water every day for washing and cooking.

I do, very much so. This is his life story, inspired by his life. There’s nothing more powerful than people who have witnessed it and lived it. There’s something absolutely touching about that and inspiring for all us.

Have you seen any of this year’s rehearsals yet?

No, I haven’t. I’ve only see the clips my team has sent me. It’s actually a little bit by design. I remember last year when I did see the rehearsals, I was so nervous because obviously shows are not what we do at One Drop on a daily basis. But I know we have the project in the hands of the best people in the world to do that.

How does this grow from here? Does it always just remain as a Cirque undertaking, or is there conversation about expanding other people’s involvement in One Drop?

“One Night for One Drop” is very unique. I think the first reason why it’s unique is because it’s a gift from Cirque employees, performers and artists for the cause. So, year after year, they are the ones taking on this huge project and undertaking. They spend thousands and thousands of hours volunteering, practicing, creating all for the cause of water for all. So that’s a very unique piece, and that will never change.

There is only one place on the planet where we have the capacity to deliver an event on that scale, and that’s in Las Vegas. I think all the Cirque performers and artists and employees are contributing what they do best in life for the cause. There is no one else on the planet who can do what Cirque is doing for water.

This year we have also noticed that there is a lot of interest from other performers on the Strip as well from other shows, from different people. A lot of people see this as a wonderful way to show some of their other talents, so they have to a lot of people. They enjoy sharing the talent, and they also know that this is a wonderful springboard.

For instance, we have some performers from “Jubilee” participating. What better way with “Jubilee” closed to do this and show some of their talents that night? “One Night for One Drop” has really been embraced by the entertainment world in Las Vegas.

As CEO of One Drop, does the work that you do take you around the world? Is it heartbreaking when you go to a place that has never had fresh running water?

It definitely is, but usually when I go to the country where I visit the location, it’s because we are building something with the local community, so it’s as touching as it is inspiring to know that it’s not a situation of despair.

It’s a situation where we go and we mobilize these communities finding a solution to address the issue of access to safe water that’s sustainable for the rest of their lives. So it’s very inspiring work that I do. I think I have the best job in the world.

When you see water running for the first time, it’s obviously very happy. But just touch on how sad it is when you go into a place that’s never had water and people have to walk miles to get water. We can’t live without water, yet people are managing to live without it. How do you overcome the heartbreak?

I think it’s to get active. I think it’s something very important to communicate is that One Drop acts as a convener of the water sector. So we don’t have the pretention that we are going to solve this issue on our own.

Rather, we gather all the best organizations in the water sector, and we get them to work together and to collaborate so we can have a meaningful impact because the worst thing to feel is that you are solving the problem for 100 people, but you’re not able to solve it for the 100 people who live next door.

So with having a pragmatic approach, One Drop is really able to tackle 100 percent and make sure 100 percent coverage for entire districts. We work at a very large scale now. While we know we still have to grow that, and that we need the help of everyone, it’s very encouraging to see how much we can move the needle on water access together with our partners.

Do you know why Guy had this vision in the first place?

Guy always saw water as the source of life. As you know, he really started his career and his life having nothing. He witnessed a lot of poverty, so when Cirque turned 25 years old, he said that he had to figure out a way to leave a lasting legacy for humanity: “How can I leave something that would transform the lives of as many people as possible?”

If you look at the issues that the developing world is facing, I mean so many of them point to water and water access. If you think about food, security, education, peace and stability, health, everything starts with water.

And I think that’s why he said, “If there is one thing that I can do in my lifetime, I would like it to have a ripple effect and multiple impact on other aspects of people’s lives, community lives and entire countries.”

Water is such a source of inspiration. The show “O” at Bellagio, every time I say that I work for One Drop, people connect it with that show that’s been such a success over the years. Daniel Lamarre, the CEO of Cirque, says, “Cirque started on the streets touching people’s hearts, and now we’re back on the street providing water to people.” I think there is something that is profoundly human in the Cirque mission that we also find is One Drop’s mission.

For now, the attention should really be on the show and how we can use art to inspire people, to mobilize people. I always say that One Drop’s mission is to inspire change rather than impose it, and I think it’s true of what we do in Las Vegas.

But it’s also true of what we do in the field. There’s nothing more powerful than when the change comes from within. I think it’s a very simple way of explaining our unique approach to making a difference.

When you see situations like the migrants coming from Africa or Syria, I mean when something goes wrong somewhere on the planet, we are all connected by water in a way. It’s a very precious resource.

This year, we’re off the Strip and over at the Smith Center, which is very different and exciting for us. It will be a technical challenge, but that’s what makes it so great.

One Night for One Drop

Hopefully the new show in a new home will spur nationwide input, as well.

We do get a lot of attention. I believe in the three editions that we’ve had, we’ve surpassed 9 billion impressions worldwide with this event. That’s why it’s a powerful way to create awareness about the water issue.

Leona Lewis will bring a lot of exposure this year from around the world. We had so much coverage with John Legend last year. I think we need to also thank you because through the articles and the work that you do, it’s a way of bringing this issue to people that is not in a technical or scientific magazine. It makes it very understandable for people — consumer-friendly.

The same way that One Drop works in the field with what they call the self-medicine approach, it’s the same way you are. You are bringing this to the people who maybe normally will only read about entertainment.

“One Night for One Drop” is at Reynolds Hall in the Smith Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, March 18. For more details, go to OneDrop.org.

Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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