No Big Apple Circus at Lincoln Center This Coming Fall

The Big Apple Circus has entertained New York families since 1977. | NAEISHA ROSE
The Big Apple Circus has entertained New York families since 1977. | NAEISHA ROSE

BY GINA MARTINEZ | Big Apple Circus, a beloved non-profit that entertained families for decades, won’t be coming back for the 2016-17 season after not meeting its $2 million fund-raising goal.

The New York staple has entertained families since 1977 with annual performances at Lincoln Center as well as in Cunningham Park in Fresh Meadows, Queens.

The circus was founded by jugglers Paul Binder and Michael Christensen, who brought their act from Britain to the US. They started the non-profit as a mission to entertain and improve the lives of millions.

Throughout the years, Big Apple performances presented acrobats, clowns, and animal acts that featured dogs and horses instead of the wild tigers and elephants found in most circuses, including Ringling Brothers.

Big Apple focused its efforts on helping young children through entertainment. Besides setting up their red-top tents that seated up to 1,700 for shows, Big Apple brought the circus to more than 250,000 children in hospitals around the country, with its members performing “clown rounds” in pediatric wards.

Financial struggles began in 2008 following the national recession. Wall Street had been a huge benefactor, providing up to $1 million a year in funds, which helped to keep the circus going. Events like Hurricane Sandy as well as the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which hobbled ticket sales when the circus was visiting Beantown, and a crippling ice storm in Atlanta, when the company traveled there in 2014, all conspired to balloon Big Apple’s deficit.

An online campaign raised some money, with donations ranging up to $50,000, but the Big Apple principals hoped that an emergency fundraiser would get the attention of big donors. To their surprise, no one stepped up. The circus raised only $900,000, far short of its $2 million goal, which would have allowed Big Apple to continue staging their shows in New York.

In a statement, executive director Will Maitland Weiss, said the 2016-2017 performances would have to be canceled but the funds raised will go to already running community programs like Clown Care, which sends clowns to pediatric hospitals across the country to lift the spirits of young patients undergoing treatment.

Weiss promised to continue the circus’ charitable work and hinted at the possibility of returning.

“Our deepest thanks go out to the many people who sent donations and voiced their support for the circus,” he said. “While the response was heartening, we ultimately did not raise enough cash to go forward with rehearsals and ticket marketing in August. However, we will continue operating Clown Care and other community programs and hope to be able to return to performing under our Big Top in a later season, including offering our specially adapted performances for children and families affected by physical and/or cognitive challenges.”