The Big Apple Circus, which finished a month-long run in Oaks on Sunday, has called off its arena tour, which would have taken it to five cities across Georgia and South Carolina.
“The most important part of the Big Apple Circus brand is that you get the highest quality form of live entertainment in an intimate setting," said Gregg Walker, chief executive of the New York company, who has led the circus’ attempts to recover from a 2016 bankruptcy and attract a more diverse audience. “We needed more time to ensure that the arena tour was part of that intimate experience.”
Walker said that the tour was postponed, but that the company has not set a date to restart it.
Since Walker joined the company last summer, Big Apple has worked to attract more millennials and adults through the sale of craft cocktails, a more interactive social media presence, and an “Instagrammable” set of backdrops that patrons can use to publicize the circus online.
The circus ended its nine-month tent tour in Oaks where it performed at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center. Walker said that because this was only the second time Big Apple had visited Philadelphia, it was difficult to attract a strong audience. The company had similar difficulties in Peabody, Mass., which the circus visited for the first time before coming to Oaks, Walker said.
In New York and Washington, the circus doubled its ticket sales compared with last year, said Walker, who declined to provide specifics.
In an internal June 12 email obtained by The Inquirer, Walker told company executives that ticket sales "have been very low, and the likely losses from running the Arena Tour threatened the survival of the company.” The email subject was titled “Script I will use for performers today” and included six talking points that he would use when letting performers know that the arena tour would not happen.
“Rather than taking the risk that the Arena Tour loses enough money to cause [the circus] to be forced to cease operations, we are canceling," wrote Walker.
Walker said in an interview Monday that he does not “discuss with outsiders our internal discussions" but asserted that the company is not having any financial troubles. “The company is really strong in its liquidity.”
Walker also would not discuss the company’s agreements with its performers due to confidentiality, but said that they are “working to create the best possible set of opportunities” for them. “We are extremely proud of the quality of the product they’ve helped us put together this season,” he said.
The tour cancellation comes less than three years after the company declared bankruptcy in November 2016. The company, which was founded in July 1977 in New York City, was a nonprofit for much of its history, but it struggled to receive enough charitable donations after the Great Recession of 2008-09.
Big Top Works, an affiliate of corporate consultant Compass Partners LLC, purchased the circus out of bankruptcy for $1.3 million in February 2017. It transitioned to a for-profit business model.
The Big Apple Circus traditionally performs its tours in a massive blue tent, which takes nearly three weeks to set up and keeps the circus in one city for slightly over a month.
After Philadelphia, it was scheduled to spend five weeks on its Southern tour inside arenas that would have allowed the company to avoid the long tent setups and let it introduce the Big Apple brand to cities that have never seen it.