Editor’s Fanfare Vol. VIII, No. 3

There Is One Way to Keep the Circus Afloat

I have one word for you this session. And that word is Diversification. Diversity is the key to survival, particularly for those trying to keep a circus going.  It is just about impossible to live solely off income from a circus, even with concession sales and pony rides.  What is needed are other sources of income.  All of the following circuses have gone down this road, some for much longer than others, but always with at least some degree of profitability.

It all started, I would say, by multiplying units.  Give Irvin Feld  credit for that far reaching decision.  Eventually diversification meant moving into other forms of entertainment.  Irvin Feld, once again leading the way by partnering with Disney, closing the company’s  other ice shows and putting Mickey and Goofy on ice instead.

Subsequently Kenneth Feld tried various other kinds of entertainment, mainly those that could play split weeks in theaters. These enjoyed only partial success in terms of longevity and popularity.  Once it became evident that a circus with elephants would have diminishing returns and finally succumb to a changing culture, Kenneth put more and more emphasis on his latest interest, auto thrill shows.  The best part of these entertainments was that they played huge football stadiums whose seating capacity was far greater than arenas, thus boosting potential income exponentially.  The Feld’s latest venture is a new arena show, Marvel Universe Live.  Since the Marvel dramatis personae is as predictably popular as the Disney characters it stands a good chance of being a huge success.  Another somewhat sporadic and unpredictable income producer comes from renting out rehearsal space to other big touring shows in its new headquarters in Palmetto, Florida.

Of course the very model of diversity, almost from its beginnings has been Cirque du Soleil. The various entertainment entities in which it has had its hand are a mind boggling mix of almost every imaginable form of entertainment.  In addition to its numerous touring shows, it has permanent installations in Las Vegas, Orlando, Russia, Mexico (with a dinner theater)  and MaCao.  It has also tried to install shows in Hollywood, on Broadway and dabbled in theme parks, cruise ships, and custom-tailored corporate shows.  It has made excursions into Club Med and the NFL.  It recently acquired the Blue Man Group that has several installations around the world and has been running for just about forever in New York.  Most recently it has staged an ice show.  Its top administrative personnel warn that the speed of change in the business world today is so fast that you have to change or “pivot” or get left behind.

The 7 Finger group headquartered in Montreal, Canada has done just that by signing a pact to provide shows for a cruise ship line.  It, too, is always ready to provide custom made corporate shows.

Circus Sarasota in recent years has taken the Sailor Circus under its wing and as a way of announcing its expanding ambitions has changed its name to the Circus Arts Conservatory. The latter word is given more prominence in its promotional materials than the word “circus.”  Much of the CAC’s expansion has been involved with its social and outreach programs .  These programs have been instrumental  in boosting their fund raising efforts.  In addition, however, although its hometown season has struggled to expand and touring efforts have not been a success, there has been some expansion of its performance oriented programs.  Playing a limited engagement after the circus season the show now stages something called Cirque des Voix, a partnership with two other cultural entities.  In addition Sailor Circus now stages two annual productions.  The CAC is also involved in the Summer Circus at the Ringling Museum, and runs its own summer camps.

The Big Apple Circus has only recently dipped its toe into the waters of diversity with an intended arena tour, but it remains to be seen if this proves a successful addition to its tent tour. For some reason the Big Apple is a late comer to this world of diversification.  Paul Binder had wanted to create a second unit for years but could never find the funding to get it off the ground.  The best they came to expanding their performance reach was with an ill-fated stage show prophetically called Oops.

Beside supporting the bottom line, Diversification, obviously, can also be fraught with danger.