In a stunning development covered in today's New York Times, Big Apple Circus founder and artistic director Paul Binder, 66, is tossing in his ringmaster's whistle and stepping aside.
"Finally, I can get off the road," Binder told reporter Glenn Collins. "I didn't want to do this until I was on my deathbed."
Binder, who founded the circus 31 years ago in New York City, goes against big top history in calling it quits when his show is doing so well. He plans to continue behind the scenes as an "artistic advisor" and world-wide talent scout.
In to replace Binder comes the company's 48-year-old general manger Guillaume Dufresnoy, who has been with the show for 21 years. The French born Guillaume, before joining BAC, performed as an aerialist in France and Switzerland.
The NYT report hints of company concerns about mounting competition form Circue du Soleil, which now operates an annual Madison Square Garden theatre show, Wintuk. Guillaume's telling appointment suggests that the board is preoccupied with what affect Cirque may have on its business and changing audience expectations. But this could put them on a slow suicidal path to a form of circus ballet, not easy to market if you are not run by Cirque du Soleil's Guy Laliberte.
Economics are raised as a pressing issue. According to the Times, the company is "facing uncertainty brought on by the Wall Street crisis, which could suppress ticket sales and fund-raising."
Last year, the show set an attendance record, luring 475,000 customers into its one ring tent.
Did possible internal conflicts between Binder and a 35-person board play a part in this? Board chairman Chris Wearing told the Times that a summer season and international tours are under consideration. I have long wondered why the show has so confined itself to a set route along the north east corridor. Binder, who never struck me as harboring expansionist ambitions for the show, told the Times , however, that his departure has been in the works with the circus board for several years.
And what about co-founder and creative director Michael Christensen? I've heard he will make his own statement shortly.
One thing is certain: Gone will be the distinctive, if conservative, approach that Binder and Christensen took in shaping their shows, which have featured consistently some of the finest ring stars in the world. And that will surely be missed by a great many people, I for one.
I'd say this is a very sad day.