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Circus by the Numbers


Circus tent parts

The circus is more than popcorn, cotton candy and high-flying aerialists who whoosh high overhead. The circus is a living community that serves as a home for talented performers, hard-working crewmembers and management staff. Behind the scenes, there's a lot of sweat equity that goes into making the dream of a circus come alive night after night and in city after city. First, the traveling circus must train and put together a show, and then this community becomes mobile, schlepping everything from the big top, individual costumes, children and animals to the next dot on the map. It's an exhausting, enervating, fascinating, repetitive experience.

"One hundred and fifty people traveling: Inevitably, all the things that could happen to 150 people -- as a group -- are going to happen to us. But [the experience] is distilled, magnified," says Big Apple Circus Founder Paul Binder.

So, what does it take to make the sawdust and glitz of a circus appear like magic in Lincoln Center or Stone Mountain, Georgia? Following are a few Big Apple Circus statistics that help illustrate the enormity of putting on a show.

  • In total, it takes three or four days to erect the big top and surrounding lot in preparation for a new show. According to Big Apple Circus Tent Master, Michael Leclair, circus crewmembers arrive in advance of the rest of the circus and drive stakes into the ground in preparation for the big top. It takes between four and six hours to physically raise the big top, and then the bleachers, light and sound equipment must be set up.
  • The big top tent is handmade in Italy and can hold an audience 2700 strong. The big top mast is 18 meters (roughly 60 feet) high.
  • The new Big Apple Circus tension-style tents are rated for 110 miles per hour winds. "When a tent is grounded on the ground, you have to watch your stake line," explains Leclair. In his experience, the Big Apple Circus tents have withstood 60 MPH wind gusts, and the crew saw a tornado speed by the circus grounds in Dulles, Virginia, but the twister passed by leaving the circus grounds unscathed.
  • Paul Binder and Michael Christensen founded the Big Apple Circus in 1977. It is a not-for-profit circus and must raise four million dollars annually to subsidize its community outreach initiatives, such as Clown Care and Circus of the Senses.
  • The Big Apple Circus serves three hot meals per day/100 servings per meal to its employees.
  • During the tour season, the Big Apple Circus employs roughly 125 people. During the off-season, that number shrinks to 35 employees.
  • The Big Apple Circus owns 11 trailers and 11 campers, which it uses to house various employees. Various performers privately own the rest of the trailers/campers in the Big Apple Circus caravan.
  • While on tour, the circus ring requires roughly 60 pounds of sawdust per city to keep it in tip-top shape.
  • The Big Apple Circus typically performs 279 shows per season. On average, the shows run for two hours with a 15-minute intermission.
  • The LaSalle brothers' juggling act during the Play On! season typically ran between five and seven minutes. The brothers' signature act incorporated juggling with acrobatics and dance, and Marty and Jake developed several versions of their act, including a 10-minute version where the twins would juggle ten clubs.
  • To be performance-ready for a Big Apple Circus show, a trapeze troupe must be able to throw and catch a triple somersault and make a successful passing leap. "A triple somersault is the standard of excellence in a trapeze act," says Big Apple Circus Founder Paul Binder.