Big Apple Circus Seeks ‘White Knight’ To Save Season

Big Apple Circus’ 2016-2017 season is on hold following years of rising costs and bad luck. The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based nonprofit circus lost an estimated $250,000 in 2012 after its performance venue, Manhattan’s Damrosch Park, was closed following Hurricane Sandy.

Ventures outside the five boroughs were, too, met with six-figure losses in revenue as they coincided with community emergencies. A 2013 visit to Boston, Mass. overlapped with the Boston Marathon bombing. The following year, the circus came to Atlanta, Ga. only to be met with ice storms that shut down roadways.

Special-circumstance losses have combined with the rising cost of transporting the 70 trailers that carry the circus from location to location and a $1 million loss in annual corporate revenue that began with the 2008 recession. Circus leaders are in search of a “white knight” donor capable of a seven-figure donation, according to Will Weiss, executive director.

Big Apple Circus leaders launched a $2 million fundraising campaign in June in an attempt to preserve the season. Roughly $900,000 has since been pledged, with about two-thirds of those dollars realized. The decision to put the season, which traditionally kicks off in October, on hold came late last month, just weeks before rehearsals were scheduled to begin.

Community programming will continue in full during the postponed season. “The show in the tent is half of what Big Apple Circus does,” Weiss said. “For many, many people, that’s all they know of Big Apple Circus. We do that and programming outside the tent.”
That programming includes after-school programs and visits to pediatric hospitals and older-adult homes that run year-round. The circus’ annual budget would drop from $17.5 million to $2.5 million if it functioned solely as a provider of community programs, Weiss said. The goal, however, is to get back under the tent.

“We are going to try to find a white knight, but we also – and this last point is important – the answer isn’t to have somebody give a million dollars and next year we have to find somebody else to give us a million dollars,” said Weiss.

The current goal is to secure a major gift to get the circus back up and running. Afterward, plans will be to change the circus’ travel system between its season opening at Lincoln Center and closing in Cunningham Park, Queens.

Rather than trucking the tent from location to location, circus officials plan to bring shows inside during the winter months – transporting performers to small arenas across the country. The move, which will be instituted during the next active season, would allow for more and shorter runs. The strategy is anticipated to save the circus – not coincidently – an estimated $1 million annually.