Circus troupes walk tightrope to survive

HO CHI MINH CITY (Viet Nam News/ANN) - As circuses struggle in a crowded leisure market, performers wonder if it's time to leave the big top.

A family trip to the magic world of the circus could soon be a thing of the past as children increasingly favour surfing and posting on Facebook and Instagram, playing video games and going to the cinema.

While many circus performers entertained thousands of youngsters in the 1980s, they are attracting fewer and fewer crowds today. 

In HCM City, only two troupes, Mat Troi Do (Red Sun) and Bau Troi Xanh (Blue Sky), of the HCM City Circus offer shows, but the troupes are struggling to survive.

The troupes operate under the HCM City Circus, which has had no theatre for their performances for several years.

Instead, they are using Ky Hoa Cultural Park, HCM City Zoo & Botanical Gardens and Dam Sen Tourist Park.

In 2012, they moved to a place in Go Vap District’s Gia Dinh Park.   

“It was sad to see that some theatres were rebuilt for other purposes, while our troupes have no place of our own to perform,” said Nguyen Duc The, director of HCM City Circus.

“Our performers are working in poor conditions and with props two decades old,” he said.

The Circus of the city receives VND2 billion (US$88,000) per year from the State budget but “the money is not enough”, he said.

The troupes stage performances every weekend but often incur losses.

“We have to pay too much for the rights to stage plays, while turnover from tickets cannot cover operational costs,” he said.

The said that plans to build a circus theatre on Lu Gia Street in District 11 in 2005 were still on paper.

Youth today would rather go to shopping malls, entertainment centres, karaoke clubs, music concerts and cinemas than watch circus performances.  

Circus animal trainer Anh Tuyet of Mat Troi Do said her colleagues work hard to prepare for their performances. They invent new routines and practice for up to 12 hours a day.

“We face accidents at work, too” she added.  

Quoc Dai, who began his career at 17 and won several prizes at local and international circus festivals, said: “For only a 20-minute performance slot on stage we have to spend more than two years working on the circus item.”

After 20 years of walking a tightrope, Dai is now preparing to return to the ground because "the acrobats end their jobs after they are 35," he said.

"The job is very demanding. The acts must be changed quickly with high accuracy and skills can decline with age," he explained.

Many circus artists are reluctant to quit the stage for fear of not making enough money in another walk of life.  

"I love my job but sometimes I ask myself why I didn’t become a movie director or a theatre actress, instead," said Tuyet, who earns only VND3 million (US$132) a month from her work.

The circuses today are in a sorry state with inadequate equipment and under-trained performers.

Many performers only work in variety shows or get involved in movies and theatre, working as an assistant director in casting and clothing.  

"The circus helps children develop their imagination. I don’t think young people, especially rural kids, would reject the circus," said Tran Nguyet Nga of HCM City, a mother of two daughters in HCM City.

"The problem is that the world develops very fast around our children while circus performances are the same as they were 10 years ago."

Thuy Trang, a public relations official with HCM City Circus, said that many circuses had shut down in the face of the growing number of theatres, cinemas and entertainment complexes being opened in large cities. 

She said the Vietnam Circus Federation has asked the Government for more funding to improve the quality of training at circus schools.

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