Big Apple Circus
|Founder||Paul Binder and Michael Christensen|
|Purpose||To spread joy and wonder of a classical circus|
|Big Apple Circus|
|Circus name||Big Apple Circus|
|Founder(s)||Paul Binder and Michael Christensen|
|Operator(s)||Big Apple Circus|
|Ringmaster(s)||John Kennedy Kane|
|No. of companies||1|
The Big Apple Circus is a circus based in New York City. Opened in 1977, later becoming a nonprofit organization, it became a tourist attraction. The circus has been known for its community outreach programs, including Clown Care, as well as it's humane treatment of animals. Big Apple Circus filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November 2016 and exited bankruptcy in February 2017 after its assets were bought by Compass Partners. The Circus will be renewed in October 2017 for its 40th Anniversary season.
Gregory Fedin and his then wife Nina Krasavina, both born and trained in Russia, started a circus school to train future "first" generation circus performers. They started the small school in a lower Manhattan loft.
The circus couple worked with Paul Binder and Michael Christensen to develop the Big Apple Circus following the European style "one ring" circus. In 1977, they located and secured an open ground area, in Battery Park, where the Big Apple Circus debuted. Headlining the early shows was a single trapeze, a dog act, tight rope walking, jugglers and clowns, double trapeze artists, and a host of other performers.
The Big Apple Circus began the 1980s with a special holiday celebration in honor of the circus and its staff. In 1981, the circus began performing at Damrosch Park of Lincoln Center for the first time, continuing until 2015. In 1982, the circus won a silver medal at a circus performing competition held in Paris.
By 1984, the New York School for Circus Arts/Big Apple Circus relocated to East Harlem. The New York School for Circus Arts, in conjunction with New York City Public Schools and ArtsConnection, established the Young Talent Circus Training Program. The circus program mission was to teach talented children of diverse economic communities circus arts. One of the goals was to nurture and develop talent into potential circus performers. A core group of young circus "talent" participated in a circus competition resulting in a "Gold Medal" award. Three years later, another group from the pre-professional circus program (located in the Harbor School for the Performing Arts in East Harlem) would compete in the II Rampe International Circus School Competition in Monte Carlo, Monaco.
In 1985, the Boston Pops teamed up with Big Apple Circus for what was touted as an extraordinary collaboration and live performance. Also in 1985 and for the next few years, BAC performers appeared as guest artists with the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center.
The circus celebrated its tenth anniversary in 1987 with a big celebration, as well as a new tent and seating system added. Topping the celebrations was a prestigious silver crown, which the circus won at the International Circus School competition in Monte Carlo, Monaco, where six of the circus' acrobats/jugglers showcased their talent.
During 1988 season, the Big Apple Circus participated in the first circus collaboration between China and the United States in history. "East Meets West" debut at the Lincoln Center Damrosch Park.
In 1989, NYNEX started to sponsor metropolitan New York tours to residents of the area and tourists as well. The tour included a trip to the Big Apple Circus' grounds. The circus and some of its performers were showcased on a Woody Allen movie, Alice.
By 1996, there was increased interest in Big Apple Circus and its performers in cities outside the New York/New England area. This was in part due to the circus' exposure in the Woody Allen film. In 1996, BAC traveled to both Chicago and Columbus, Ohio. Michael Christensen received two more awards, including one named after Red Skelton.
In 1993, the circus set a new attendance record. A new tent was purchased, and Michael Christensen was given a Parenting Achievement award by Parents magazine, to recognize his work with Clown Care.
1997 saw new attendance records set, as an estimated 170,000 people went to see the circus' "Medicine Show" production over a total of 114 New York City performances. Furthermore, Clown Care completed 150,000 hospital visits in one year for the first time in the program's history.
During 1998, the circus was able to break attendance records again, as it celebrated twenty years of operation with engagements at New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and in Boston. The Boston engagement was particularly pleasant for the circus' performers, as it was one of the longest stays in that city that they had ever experienced. TJ Maxx began to sponsor Big Apple Circus appearances in Chicago and in Atlanta by bringing the "Circus of the Senses" to those cities.
In 1999, co-founder Michael Christensen was inducted into Miami's Ambassador David A. Walters pediatric Hall of Fame, for his "contributions to pediatrics" by way of the circus and its different programs.
Once again in 1999, "Circus of the Senses" attracted a large number of special children, with 9,000 kids participating. The circus dropped plans for a second unit that was to play in theaters after less than successful financial results during a trial run. Additionally, the Big Apple Circus became a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in March 2000.
In 2001, the circus' best known performer, "Grandma" the clown (played by Barry Lubin), inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame. A new seating system was installed in the circus big top, and, after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the circus opened its "Dreams of a City" show, which was dedicated to the City of New York.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed November 1, 2002, as "Big Apple Circus Day". The circus celebrated its 25th anniversary with a documentary film about the creation and production of that year's show.
In "Carnevale!", actors and circus performers Pedro Carrillo and Alesya Gulevich entered the Guinness Book of World Records when, in 2003, they set records, at the same moment, in their different specialties: Carrillo skipped a rope on the high wire 1,323 times in a row, and Gulevich twirled 99 hula hoops at the same time. Another show, "Circus to Go," allowed Big Apple Circus to reach new communities, specifically in Western states.
On December 2, 2008, Britney Spears performed her hits Circus & Womanizer in a televised promotion concert on Good Morning America at the Big Apple Circus. The Big Apple Circus went on to become the opening act on her phenomenally successful The Circus Starring Britney Spears world tour.
In the 2008-2009 season, filming of a PBS documentary occurred. The documentary, titled "Circus", portrays the lives of not only the performers, but the crew as well. On November 2, 2010, PBS began to air the six-part event, told in chronological order.
In July 2016, it was announced that for the first time since 1981 the circus will not run for the 2016 holiday season. The Circus set a fundraising goal for $2 million in 2016 in an effort to maintain operations, but only half of the funds needed were raised. The circus filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on November 11, 2016. It was announced on January 13, 2017 that they will auction off their assets. On February 14, 2017, Big Apple Circus announced that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court had approved the sale of their assets to Big Top Works, an affiliate of Compass Partners, for $1.3 million. As part of the sale, the circus will be renewed for its 40th anniversary season and some community programs will continue.
On March 21, 2017, Big Apple Circus announced that renowned acrobat Nik Wallenda will be the headline act in the 40th anniversary season at Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park in New York City from October 26, 2017 to January 7, 2018. Additionally, the circus announced that following the New York performances, a national tour will take place.
Following the circus' emergence from bankruptcy in 2017, community programs "for low income children and those with special needs as well as other programs geared toward helping the community" will continue.
Founded in 1986, the Big Apple Circus Clown Care program is composed of over 80 professional clowns, trained extensively in hospital procedures, circus skills, and improvisation, who make rounds as 'clown doctors' at various pediatric hospitals around the U.S. It is estimated that the clowns make more than 225,000 visits to children every year "in both inpatient and outpatient units, including intensive care, emergency room, physical therapy, bone marrow transplant, pediatric AIDS, and hematology/oncology." The continuation of Clown Care programs were not included in Big Apple Circus' bankruptcy sale and have since been taken over by various local organizations.
Circus of the Senses
Started in 1987, Circus of the Senses is a circus performance specifically geared towards children and adults with vision or hearing impairments, as well as special needs. Sign language interpreters and sound augmentation for deaf patrons allow the audience to experience the circus as never before. In 1999, over 6,000 children took advantage of these performances.
Circus After School
Big Apple Circus' Circus After School program gives opportunities for "at-risk youth to develop life-enhancing skills such as teamwork, commitment, and responsible risk-taking through a structured program of learning and performing the circus arts."
Founded in 2001 as a spin-off of the Clown Care program, the Vaudeville Caravan brings clowns to nursing homes.
Circus for All
The Circus for All program provides Big Apple Circus tickets to low-income and disadvantaged children, families, and elderly.
Started in October 2008, Circopedia is an online circus encylopedia.
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