Here’s the story of the circus that came to town — and never left, thanks to the pandemic.
Cirque MonteCarlo embarked on a nine-state tour on Feb. 6 and wound up getting stranded in Texas during the coronavirus lockdown, forcing aerialists, jugglers and clowns to walk an unexpected tightrope.
The circus had launched its 35-stop debut tour in Pasadena, Texas, making its way across the state to Houston, Round Rock and Temple. However, shortly after the European-style circus arrived in Grand Prairie on March 9, dwindling audiences and shelter-in-place orders forced the family-run show to stop.
“We thought [sheltering in place] would last two to three weeks,” home operations manager Cindi Cavallini, 54, tells Yahoo Life. “We were not expecting it to drag this long.”
Forty-two circus staff members including chefs, performers, and welders, many from South American countries that instituted travel bans now reside in a parking lot (a last-minute negotiation with the general owner) with 14 RVs, 12 semi-trailers, seven semi-tractors and a restaurant, among other units. Fortunately, the circus operates like a “traveling town” with two generators, the larger of which costs $150 per day, and has access to essential goods.
However, without the roar of an audience, performers spend their days practicing feats, with the aerialists hanging straps from trees and gymnasts flipping down a fast-track. “They play soccer, bingo, cards and chess,” Cindi tells Yahoo Life.
The group practices social distancing by forming mini “campsites” and Cindy sleeps in her Dallas home only 13 miles away, although she visits the lot periodically. Cirque MonteCarlo owner (and Cindi’s brother-in-law) Julio Cavallini spends time with staff daily, as he travels with the circus. Cindi has asked Yahoo Life to not disclose the location of the parking lot for privacy concerns.
“Everyone is healthy, but we send only two people out for groceries and diesel and they are ‘disinfected’ when they get back,” she tells Yahoo Life.
The circus has written a GoFundMe page, which has so far raised $2,500 for food, electricity and paying the negotiated $500 weekly parking lot fee, a choice that weighed on Cindi because “Everyone is going through the same thing.”
“We were not prepared for this pandemic to take such a toll on us ... for a group of people whose livelihood depends on social interaction and being busy and moving almost 24 hours a day, social distancing has been a physical and mental shock!” states the petition. “We have been supporting our cast and crew since day one with a safe place to stay, food, shelter and security, but this has put a financial strain on us.”
Unable to pay their independent contractors, the circus needs a fallback plan. “No one is sleeping and we’ve burned through our emergency fund,” says Cindi.
Cindi says the company is unable to qualify for a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the Small Business Administration.
This week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbot announced “Phase I” of the state’s May 1 reopening plan for retail stores, restaurants and movie theaters with 25 percent occupancy. With its eventual reopen, Cirque MonteCarlo will operate at 25 percent capacity, which means allowing only 300 occupants inside a tent (audience members plus staff members) instead of the usal 1,200. The company will also discontinue photo opportunities with performers and double down on food safety measures.
“We really haven’t lost the faith,” hula hoop artist Franchesca Cavallini (and Julio’s niece) told Dallas news station WFAA. “We want to keep performing, we want the applause, we want to make people happy, kids happy. It’s something that we really crave.”
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