Monte Carlo Sidebar Vol. VII, No. I

In addition to the excitement of the actual competition which is spread over four days, with each program working twice, there are a number of other pleasures involved in the annual trip to Monaco and the Monte Carlo Festival. While there is a festive atmosphere promoted throughout the principality during the run of the festival, meeting friends from around the world who are part of the unofficial international circus press corps fills the days with conversations rife with opinions, news and gossip.

During the week both the European Circus Association and the World Federation of Circus also conduct their annual meetings. In addition to my friends in the press there was also a contingent from the United States, many of them connected to the World Federation of Circus, and who have become a source of information from areas back home about which I don’t always hear very much.

Among the Americans were Wayne McCary and Bruce Hawley, co-chairpersons of the Worldwide Circus Summit of 2019, and Don Covington the Summit’s program director. Rodney Huey, who was an important force in the recent Smithsonian Circus Festival was there in conjunction with his work for the World Federation.

McCary told me that for the past couple of years he has been contracted to replicate his Big E Circus in Salt Lake City, Nevada. The venture has proven quite successful and McCary is convinced that if the quality of the acts is good such limited engagements can be successful most anywhere. In fact he has had inquiries about doing just that elsewhere.

I also had a chance to talk with John Le Mare from Australia for quite some time, and he informed us that the traditional circus in Australia is doing very well, especially those with exotic animals and acts that appeal to kids, like motorcycle thrill acts. Also popular are those circuses which serve liquor, with something like a cabaret feel to them.

Zsuzsanna Mata, executive director of the World Federation of Circus insists that the circus is not in crisis, not even in America, she adds pointedly. She, too, like McCary, says the important ingredient to any circus’ success, is the quality of the acts. They must be first class. Of course the experience varies from country to country, in accordance with the audience expectations. The European Union’s official recognition of the circus as an essential part of its culture has been enormously important in protecting the circus in Europe.

The Federation, she says, is important because every art form needs to have an organization to represent its interests. It provides a vital opportunity for networking and exchange of ideas.

Next year the Federation will be ten years old, but there is still tremendous potential for it to develop and expand its influence, especially in the realm of having the circus recognized as an indispensible cultural experience. Three countries have already put circus on their inventory of intangible cultural heritage.

An important point Mata makes is as in all art forms there are many different genres or forms of circus. So while some may be in decline, others forms are flourishing. That is certainly true in the United States where the traditional touring circus is struggling, while the youth circus movement and small independent troupes are increasing faster than anyone can count.

The news from the United States is that the Circus Fans Association of America will once again be sponsoring a Worldwide Circus Summit to be held July 9 – 13, 2019. As its predecessor it will once again be held on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Massachusetts. The gentleman noted above brought news of that event to the international contingent in Monte Carlo.

The circus in residence at the Summit will be the Zoppè Family Circus, Giovanni Zoppè’s labor of love which attempts to recreate the feeling of an Italian family circus, much like the one from which his father came to the United States. The show will be set up directly across from the exhibition hall, which will be the event’s main venue. An old-fashioned sideshow and outdoor acts will provide other entertainment.

One of the most hopeful signs for the circus’ future came during the festival’s free public matinee. It was attended by Prince Albert and his young twin children. The children got a chance to feed some of the animals in the Richters’ display and the look of delight on their faces as well as that of their father suggests that the circus will have a strong advocate in Prince Albert as well as his sister Princess Stephanie who is the principal force behind the annual festival. After all they are honoring their father who began the tradition of the festival and was a devoted fan of the circus and a staunch supporter of animals in the circus.