Crisis as circuses unable to attract young performers

By Mai Trang   May 3, 2021 | 02:30 am PT
Crisis as circuses unable to attract young performers
Vietnamese artist Quoc Co Giang (down) and his brother Quoc Nghiep Giang try to break the Guinness World Record by climbing stairs with one carrying the other on head to head balancing at the Cathedral of Girona on December 22, 2016. Photo by AFP/Pau Barrena.
Low incomes and risk of accidents mean circuses fail to attract young talent and have a paucity of new performances.

On April 27, the nearly week-long 2021 National Circus Talent Contest ended. The performances with animals were monotonous and similar to each other, with most involving them balancing on ropes and jumping through hoops.

Most artists performed collective acts, with single and dual performers being rare. Not many managed to impress the audience.

According to industry insiders, time constraints and lack of human resources are the main reasons for the low quality.

Phi Son, deputy director of Phuong Nam Art Theater, said the contest was supposed to be held last October, and moved at short notice to April, leaving performers with little time to prepare. His team had only one month to prepare.

"We need to come up with new performances this time since the old ones have been used in previous competitions."

The Vietnam Circus Arts and Variety Intermediate School is the biggest supplier of circus performers, but Phuong Nam Theater has not been able to recruit from there in the last 10 years, he said.

Son is concerned there might be no young performers when a new theater is built.

Tong Toan Thang, deputy director of the Vietnam Circus Federation, said even the Vietnam Circus Arts and Variety Intermediate School finds it difficult to get students.

He and his team have gone to boarding schools in mountainous areas, but students there and their parents worry about the lack of a stable future, he said.

"It's not that we lack talent, but the commercial pressure is real and impacts us both at organizational and individual levels. Only when our basic needs are met can our passion for the circus grow."

Low incomes are also a reason why it is so hard to recruit new actors.

Trinh Thang and Phuong Dong, two artists with nearly 20 years’ experience in the industry, said their monthly wages at the Ho Chi Minh Circus Association in 2020 were only VND3.7 million ($159) and VND4.5 million.

The lives of circus performers have become more difficult than ever after many shows were canceled due to Covid-19. Many performers had to look for part-time work.

Thang said: "I am so saddened to see my young fellow workers struggle with all kinds of work to make ends meet." Meanwhile, practice is extremely arduous for circus artists.

Dong said many acts take two to three years to master, though some balancing acts could takes four to five years. The easiest act ones take one year, she added.

Artist Do Hung, head of the Contemporary Circus Art Delegation, Vietnam Circus Federation, said: "Many circus artists and performers lead challenging lives. To shine in short performances on stage, we have to practice incredibly hard and even risk our lives at times, but with low wages."

Dong said: "I fell and broke my arms when I was 17 years old while rehearsing for a trapeze act at a height of five meters. It took almost half a year to heal."

Ta Duy Anh, director of the Vietnam Circus Federation, said circuses need a comprehensive long-term strategy to overcome the current limitations and ensure development.

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