Big Apple Circus

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Big Apple Circus
Big Apple Circus Logo.png
Circus name Big Apple Circus
Country United States
Founder(s) Paul Binder & Michael Christensen
Year founded 1977
Ringmaster(s) John Kennedy Kane
Traveling show? Yes

The Big Apple Circus is a circus that is based in New York City. Opened in 1977, it has become a tourist attraction as well. Big Apple Circus is a nonprofit organization.[1]


The 1970s[edit]

Gregory Fedin and his then wife Nina Krasavina started a circus school to train future "first" generation circus performers. Gregory and Nina were born and trained in Russia. They started the small school in a lower Manhattan loft.[1]

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 Paul Lubin (Single Trapezist), Ethel Jennier (Dog Act), a tight wire number, Michael and Paul (Jugglers and Clowns), the Back Street Flyers, Mia and Jessie (double trapeze) and a host of performers. Paul Binder and Michael Christensen in the late 1960s performed together in the "San Francisco Mime Troupe".[1]

During 1978 the circus moved from Manhattan. By 1979, two circus arts schools had been opened with money raised from the circus shows.

The 1980s[edit]

The Big Apple Circus began the 1980s a special holiday celebration in honor of the circus and its staff, that continued for 35 years.

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. [1] 1983 saw the circus begin to tour, as tours across New England began to be arranged. The circus also received an Obie award that year.[1][2]

By 1984, the New York School for Circus Arts/Big Apple Circus relocated to East Harlem (1 East 104th Street). The New York School for Circus Arts - in conjunction with the NYC Public School system and ArtsConnection - established the Young Talent Circus Training Program (Mr. Richard Levy's brain-child). 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. The New York School for Circus Arts technical and artistic faculty included: Mr. Philip Beder (trampoline, tumbling, acrobatics and gymnastics), Mr. Abel Shark (Back Street Flyer), Mrs. Irina Goldstein (trapeze, acrobatics), Ms. Rosalinda Rojas (aerial, ground acrobatics and choreographer), and Mr. Sasha Pavlata as guest instructor and circus specialist. In 1985, the famous Boston Pops teamed up with Big Apple Circus for an extraordinary collaboration and live performance.[3] Also in 1985 and for the next few years performers Michael Christensen (Big Apple), Deni LaCombe (Big Apple and Cirque Du Soleil), Carlos Guity (Big Apple), Rosalinda Rojas (Big Apple and NYSCA) appear as guest artists with the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center (Manon, Turandot and Macbeth). [4] One of the biggest steps in the institution's history was taken in 1986, when the circus opened the Clown Care unit unit, a group of professional clowns, trained extensively in hospital procedures, circus skills, and improvisation, make rounds as "clown doctors."[5][6][7]

The circus celebrated its tenth anniversary in 1987 with a big celebrations held during the year. A new tent and seating system added. Topping the tenth anniversary celebrations was a prestigious silver crown, which the circus won in Monte Carlo, Monaco. The celebration also added six acrobats/ jugglers showcased their talent at the International Circus School competition in Monte Carlo. The creative and technical (dance and acrobatic) projected was headed by Rosalinda Rojas. Carlos Guity and James Clowny were the two lead pre-professional competitors. Many of these New York School for Circus Arts students advanced to international professional circus careers.[1]

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 Winter Season. Paul Binder received an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Dartmouth College that year.[8][9][10]

In 1989, NYNEX, telephone company, 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.[11] The circus and some of its performers were showcased on a Woody Allen movie, Alice.[12][13]

The 1990s[edit]

In 1991 The, Circus appeared in a Hollywood film commemorating the 15th anniversary of "The Big Apple Circus.[14]

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 Allen film.. In 1996 traveled to Chicago and Columbus. Michael Christensen received two more awards, including one named after Red Skelton.[15]

The Harlem Hospital Center, founded with funds that came from the Big Apple Circus, was opened that year, and the hospital's pediatric area in particular became a headlining facility, as professional performers specially trained as "clown doctors" would visit perform for patients. [16][17]HBO aired a special documentary about the circus that year also.[18]

In 1991, Big Apple Circus' performers participated in a collaboration between American and Russian circus performers. That same year, Paul Binder was given a presidential medal of achievement by Dartmouth, as well as a doctorate in fine arts by the Pratt Institute.[1]

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 the Clown Care Foundation.[19]

Gary Dunning became the Big Circus' executive director in 1994. Meanwhile, Christensen received another award, this one the "Sullivan Trail Sertoma's Club Service to Mankind Award". A creative Center campaign was announced, the coffee brand Chock full o'Nuts began sponsoring the circus, and a new mark was set as far as most funds received during one year. [20][21]

Peter T. Grauer became the circus' Chairman in 1995, replacing Patricia Rosenwald.[22],

In 1996, the circus' Art in Education program began to work in different grade schools. Clown Care continued to develop, opening chapters in Washington, D.C. and in Connecticut.[23]

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. Clown Care completed 150,000 hospital visits in one year for the first time in the program's history, and Paul Binder received an honorary doctorate from Rhode Island College.[24]

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, a major American company, began to sponsor Big Apple Circus appearances in Chicago and in Atlanta by bringing the circus' "Circus of the Senses" to those cities. Circus of the Senses is a circus performance specifically geared towards children with 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.[25][26]

In 1999, 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.[27]

The 2000s[edit]

In 2000, Binder and Christensen were declared "Living Landmarks" by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.[28] Once again, "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.[29][30]

2001 the circus saw the best known performer, clown "Grandma" (Barry Lubin), inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame. [31] [32] 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. Regular company members included Regina Dobrovitskaya, Andrey Manchev, Valdis Yanovski, and Virgile Peyramaure, all of whom did various acrobatic acts, often doing acts with each other. Only Manchev is still with the show as of 2012.[33][34]

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg proclaimed November 1, 2002, as "Big Apple Circus Day".[35][36] A newsletter, The circus celebrated its 25th anniversary with a documentary film about the creation and production of that year's show.[37][38][39]

Carnevale!, directed by Raffaele De Ritis from Italy and choreographed by Jonathan Cerullo, show 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 specialities: Carrillo skipped a rope on the high wire 1,323 times in a row, and Gulevich twirled 99 hula hoops at the same time.[40][41][42] "Circus to Go," a travelling stage show, allowed Big Apple Circus to reach new communities. The company ventured to the American Western states for the first time.[43] Michael Christensen, meanwhile, received another honorary certificate, when he was given the "Distinguished Alumni Award" by the University of Washington's arts department.[44] He was also given an award by Exceptional Parents magazine, presented during a Baltimore Orioles baseball home game.

In 2004, the TV documentary created by ABC TV on the circus received an Emmy award in the "Outstanding Entertainment in Programming Single Program" category.[45][46]

Clown Barry Lubin collaborated with Steve Smith to produce a show entitled "Grandma Goes To Hollywood" in 2005.[47][48]

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. Though each deal with a specific theme, they are also told in a chronological order. The six parts are "First of May", "One Ring Family", "Change On", "Survival of the Fittest", "Born to be Circus", and "Down the Road".[49][50]

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.[51][52]

The 2010-2011 season show was titled "Dance On", while the 2011-2012 season show was themed "Dream Big" and was the farewell tour for the clown character Grandma. Other 2011-2012 performers included the Shandong Acrobatic Troupe, comedy illusionists Scott & Muriel, juggler Dimitry Chernov, Melaine Chy, the Flying Cortes Trapeze troupe, Anna Volodko on the aerial rope, and animal trainer Jenny Vidbel.[53]

In 2014, the Big Apple Circus Metamorphosis Videos was released to video.[54][55]

In 2016, it was announced that for the first time since 1981 the circus will not run for the 2016 holiday season. The poor economy has hit the circus hard and public performances are ending. Fundraising goal for 2016 is $2 million to keep open, but only half of the funds needed have been raised.[56][57][58]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Big Apple Circus". Circuses and side shows. Circuses and side shows. Retrieved 2016-10-10. 
  2. ^ "BIG APPLE CIRCUS PITCHES A TENT IN LINCOLN CENTER". The New York Times. 4 December 1981. Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  3. ^ "Evening at Pops; Pops Joins The Circus". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  4. ^ "FOR BIG APPLE AERIALIST, A LIFETIME IN THE CIRCUS". The New York Times. 27 December 1985. Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  5. ^ "Big Apple Circus Clown Care® Celebrates 15 Years of Bringing Smiles to Hospitalized Children at Nick - Nicklaus Children's Hospital". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  6. ^ Clown as interpreters of emotions, by Alberto Dionigi P.A.T. Group, Department of Psychology, University of Bologna
  7. ^ "RED NOSES Clowndoctors: Interview Michael Christensen". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  8. ^ New York Magazine, Jan 2, 1989, Page 81
  9. ^ New York Magazine, Oct 31, 1988, Page 140
  10. ^ "Full text of "Recital programs"". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  11. ^ "Big Apple Circus - Celebrate! Tickets - Damrosch Park- Lincoln Center - Family Shows, Attractions and Fun Kids Events!". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  12. ^ "The Big Apple Circus - November 3, 1989 Photos and Images - Getty Images". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  13. ^ "Annie Hall Movie Soundtrack". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  14. ^ "The Big Apple Circus". 9 September 1991. Retrieved 21 November 2016 – via IMDb. 
  15. ^ "Bangor Man Clowns For Living `Mr. Stubs' Says His Craft Also Teaches, Is Not Mere Folly". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  16. ^,, Emeryville, California 94662 – Vol. 4 No.1
  17. ^ "An Exceptional Evening at the New Mural Pavilion at Harlem Hospital Center". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  18. ^ "HBO Search". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  19. ^ "For hospitalized children, The Real White Glove Treatment". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  20. ^ "CFA News Detail". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  21. ^ "Gary Dunning - President and Executive Director - bio". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  22. ^ "Peter T. Grauer: Executive Profile & Biography - Bloomberg". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  23. ^, New York City Department of Education,
  24. ^ "BIG APPLE CIRCUS: FUN TO ITS VERY CORE SICK AND TIRED OF THE SAME OLD ROUTINE, FRIEND? 'MEDICINE SHOW' A SURE CURE". Retrieved 21 November 2016.  line feed character in |title= at position 41 (help)
  25. ^, Circus, WHAT'S HOT, by Randy Gener
  26. ^ "Big Apple Circus to augment season with big-name presenting sponsors. (Bristol Meyers-Squibb, Newsweek Magazine, Chase Manhattan Bank, Toyota, TJ Maxx stores and Northwest Airlines) - HighBeam Business: Arrive Prepared". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  27. ^ "Hall of Fame - Miami Children's Health Foundation". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  28. ^ "Living Landmarks Honoree List :: The New York Landmarks Conservancy". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  29. ^ "Circus of the Senses". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  30. ^ "Big Apple Circus: The Grand Tour - Boston Central". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  31. ^ "Barry Lubin". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  32. ^ "Barry Lubin - Circopedia". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  33. ^ "Big Apple Circus has big 'Dreams' for boro". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  34. ^ Clowns: In Conversation with Modern Masters, By Ezra LeBank, David Bridel, page 192
  35. ^ "Big Apple Circus Day of Celebration". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  36. ^ "Big Apple Circus Day!!". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  37. ^ "Big Apple Circus 25th Anniversary Book". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  38. ^ James Peay (12 September 2016). "Download Big Apple Circus 25th Anniversary Book [P.D.F]". Retrieved 21 November 2016 – via YouTube. 
  39. ^ "Big Apple Circus to Perform on June 26th! - Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center". 26 May 2015. Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  40. ^ <NY Times, PUBLIC LIVES; Creating the Spirit of Carnival in a Tent, By GLENN COLLINS, OCT. 28, 2003
  41. ^ correspondent, David Brooks Andrews, Standard-Times. "Big Apple Circus is gasp-worthy". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  42. ^ "Big Apple Circus is polished - The Boston Globe". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  43. ^ hgoldman77, Henry Goldman (27 July 2016). "Big Apple Circus Folds Its Tent as Wall Street Support Drops Off". Retrieved 21 November 2016 – via 
  44. ^ "Open House - Computer Science & Engineering". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  45. ^ Tseng, Angela. "Are You Ready for the Big Apple Circus?". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  46. ^ "39 Years of Teaching Leads to New Career". The New York Times. 1 February 2004. Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  47. ^ elleisinny (8 July 2008). "big apple circus commercial". Retrieved 21 November 2016 – via YouTube. 
  48. ^ Tall Tales of A Short Clown By Barry Lubin
  49. ^ MASLIN NIR, SARAH (November 12, 2010). "Jake and Marty LaSalle, Twin Brothers, End Circus Act". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  50. ^ "Watch Full Episodes Online of Circus on PBS". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  51. ^ EARLE-LEVINE, JULIE (November 13, 2010). "A three-ring drama: Big Apple Circus juggles expenses to survive recession". New York Post. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 
  52. ^ Victoria Cunningham (19 July 2011). "Britney Spears- Big Apple Circus Entrance Performance (Live @ Sydney Acer Arena)". Retrieved 21 November 2016 – via YouTube. 
  53. ^ "The Big Apple Circus: Dance On!". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  54. ^ "Big Apple Circus Metamorphosis". Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  55. ^ Big Apple Circus (8 October 2014). "Big Apple Circus METAMORPHOSIS Lincoln Center". Retrieved 21 November 2016 – via YouTube. 
  56. ^ "With No Heroes in Sight, the Big Apple Circus Will Fold Its Tent". The New York Times. 27 July 2016. Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  57. ^ "Can the Big Apple Circus Be Saved?". The New York Times. 3 June 2016. Retrieved 21 November 2016. 
  58. ^ "Big Apple Circus Cancels 2016-2017 Season - Playbill". Retrieved 21 November 2016.