When the American Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced it was to shut earlier this week, it seemed the final death knell for circus.
The 146-year-old US circus, which only stopped using animals in performances last year, could no longer attract the audiences it needed to turn a profit.
But while the greatest show on earth is no longer going to tour towns in the most prosperous nation on earth, little New Zealand can boast a commercially viable circus industry, holding its own after a renaissance in 2008 and 2009.
The two biggest touring circuses, Zirka, founded in 2008 by the Chinese-Kiwi, three generation, circus family Hou, and Circus Aotearoa, also founded in 2008 by the Gordon circus family, both remain economically viable, with two very different business models.
While the idea of running away to join the circus is no longer current, the young can horrify their parents by heading to Australia’s National Institute of Circus Arts in Melbourne, Australia to be trained for the circus.
The Wellington Circus Trust, whose head trainer is Rosalie Ducharme, ex Cirque du Soleil, was formed as a charitable trust in 2008, though there was a set-back when the Circo-Arts programme from the Christchurch Polytechnic shut in 2011 following the loss of its building after the earthquakes. A new circus school is being formed in the city.
Circus has always been a family business, and survives only because of the passion of individuals who love the life.
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