Without the funds, autumn performances at Lincoln Center will be cancelled and the circus will be closing its doors to hundreds of thousands of families.
“Our acrobats may be leaping their last dazzling leap,” Will Maitland Weiss, executive director, said. “Our aerialists may never again make us gasp in wonder as they glide through the air with the greatest of ease.”
“And this may be the last laugh for our clowns, who have brought joy to audiences young and old for so many years,” he added. “The Big Apple Circus is in trouble.”
One of the reasons why the circus’ finances have seemed to collapse is due to crises occurring at some of the locations where they perform. For instance, Hurricane Sandy, the Boston Marathon bombing and the Atlanta ice storms all occurred where the circus was due to perform. And since the 2008 recession, the circus has seen a steady dip in private performances where the tent was bought out for corporate events.
The circus has launched a fundraising campaign where supporters can donate. The website, savethecircus.org, takes supporters to a Generosity page by Indiegogo. In the campaign’s first five days, 250 people raised nearly $25,000. Donation levels range from $5 to $2,500.
With the funds, the circus will make changes such as developing a new business plan that includes a more economically viable touring model. The company will also enhance their model with new food and merchandise selling strategies.
"Our ticket sales in New York City, including Lincoln Center and Queens, where we are performing right now, have remained steady, so we know our audience is still there," Weiss said, adding that ticket sales only cover a portion of operating costs.
For the Big Apple Circus’ 38th season, they returned to Cunningham Park with The Grand Tour, a new show that transported audiences to the beginning of the modern travel era. Clowns, jugglers, acrobats, and aerialists from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America performed alongside the seven-piece Big Apple Circus band as they told stories of ships, planes, automobiles and trains.
Many shows have involved local officials in their shows within the past. Council Member Barry Grodenchik was invited to help raise the big top when the show opened on May 11.
"I am delighted to have been invited to participate in the Big Apple Circus, which has been bringing excitement and joy to Cunningham Park for decades,” Grodenchik said. “On top of that, the organization runs fantastic community programs throughout New York City to help empower students through the circus. It is truly a New York institution in the best possible way."
Besides shows such as Circus of the Senses, where children and adults with vision or hearing impediments get to enjoy a modified performance with interpreters while also getting a chance to meet performers, the circus has a program called "Big Apple Circus Embraces Autism.” Performances are done with modified lighting and sound and there is a staffed calming center for children on the autism spectrum.
Additionally, the Big Apple Circus held its 29th annual benefit performance at Cunningham Park. Proceeds went to Outreach, one of New York's leading non-profit organizations that provides treatment and guidance to young people battling addiction.
The Big Apple Circus’ show at Cunningham Park, which was created by Joel Jeske and directed by Mark Lonergan, will take place until Sunday, June 12. If the circus does raise $2 million, the next performances will begin in October at Lincoln Center and will run until January 2017.
For tickets to the Queens show, visit bigapplecircus.org. To donate to the fundraising campaign, head to savethecircus.org.