Tumbling business gives circuses hard times

Jo-Joo Circus

The circus in the Czech Republic has a long tradition. Circus families can count back generations of circus performers on their family trees. But the circus has fallen on hard financial times in recent years. Despite the difficulties, the country's best-known circuses do not seem ready to take down their tents just yet.

Erik Berousek is a multi-talented circus performer and the star of one of his family's 12 circuses. As the lead animal trainer, he not only trains the horses, but also the monkeys that ride the horses. He's also the foot juggler. And to top it all off, he does marketing.

But if you want to know the name of his circus, just ask the show's opening act, a talking horse.

"Pravy Berousek"

As the horse said, this is The Original Berousek Circus, currently performing in Prague's Letna district.

Mr. Berousek is the son of the circus director, Karel Berousek. That makes him part of the sixth generation of Barouseks in the circus.

Even though on Saturday the one-ring tent was full with about twelve hundred people, Erik Berousek says business has been getting harder for his family year by year. He tells the same story that other Czech circuses tell: to compete with the arrival of new circuses and other forms of entertainment, circuses have to keep their prices low, but the costs have been increasing.

"I think the situation is terrible. Today we find many disgraceful circuses here. The future doesn't look so great because we have a lot of competition, like movie theatres and big businesses. And circuses mean nothing to people anymore. ... We used to perform abroad, such as in the US and Japan. We've been here for ten years now but things are worse every year. We're trying but it doesn't look like it has a future."

At Circus Berousek seats cost just 150 crowns for adults, or under 5 euros.

On Saturday, Dominik Lagron did a handstand on ropes hanging from the ceiling. As if this feat wasn't hard enough, he was also holding another acrobat several feet over the ground. The only thing that kept his colleague from falling was the third rope he was holding on to. Mr. Lagron was holding it between his teeth.

A 6th generation circus performer, Mr. Lagron could be best-described as a freelance acrobat. He works at circuses throughout Europe. He says the difference between more successful circuses abroad and circuses in the Czech Republic is the culture of audiences.

Another of the country's best-known circuses is the Jo-Joo Circus. This week the Joo family is presenting its circus to the residents of Prostejov, just outside Brno.

The circus's manager and horse trainer, Patrik Joo, said the circus's popularity is not a problem. The circus spent the last month in Brno, where it regularly performed at sold-out shows. Because of the cost of running a traveling circus and a 100 crown ticket price, his circus has a slim profit margin.

But Joo returned from Finland with his circus about 10 years ago. He said business in other parts of Europe was much better, but there are more important reasons to perform before a Czech audience.

"We are not working in the circus for the money. I am 8th generation, and my son is 9th generation of the name Joo. ... I am working in the circus only because I was born here. I love this [work]. This is not business for me. But in the Czech Republic, this is not good business."