Written evidence submitted by the Circus of Horrors Ltd
Circus of Horrors Ltd Trading as The Circus of Horrors operates a touring production that is performed in around 100 UK Theatres each year in addition to major Festivals both here in the UK & World wide such as Download Festival, Glastonbury, Wacken Festival Germany & Fuji Rock Festival in Japan.
It started 25 years ago, at this point there were very few alternative Circuses, only Circus Archaos & Cirque Du Soliel. The Circus of Horrors quickly became a major inspiration to other Circuses proving that there is an alternative way of presenting this unique art form both commercially & artistically.
The Circus of Horrors performs to specially written music played live & has produced 4 soundtrack albums, it proves that Rock Music & Circus are as much as an art form as Ballet or Opera.
For many people a visit to the Circus is their first experience of entertainment & the arts, in the case of the Circus of Horrors it is often peoples first visit the Theatre and consequently bring a whole new audience to UK Theatres. In addition it has many TV appearances including a Royal Command Performance to celebrate what was Prince Charles 50th Birthday & still to this day is the only full Circus to reach the finals of Britain’s Got Talent.
What has been the immediate impact of Covid-19 on the sector?
Following government advise to stop mass gatherings on the 16th March all the Theatres quickly closed down and the Circus of Horrors tour was cut short, 12 more theatres still scheduled for performances were cancelled along with a major Festival tour.
All the marketing was done & paid for as was Hotel accommodation, vehicle hire & insurances.
In addition the Circus of Horrors employ’s artistes from all over the world on CoS & Work Permits, it had a duty of care to get these people home safely. All this proved to be a huge financial burden on the company & with no future income from ticket sales it has put the company’s future in jeopardy.
How effectively has the support provided by DCMS, other Government departments and arms-length bodies addressed the sector’s needs?
We feel the Circus Sector in the main has fell through the cracks and appears to have been ignored by many of the current government schemes available.
Most Circuses including the Circus of Horrors have been unable to access grants from our Local Authority because they do not pay Business Rates. Although the Circus does pay lots of rents around the country for offices, workshops and storage facilities. Predominantly the Circus of Horrors operates from a Theatre or in Festival fields.
We are reluctant to take on more debt especially with no current possibility of opening and with all the expenditure paid out up front already this makes the CBILS scheme a very risky choice. Further to this currently the Bank we use have refused a CBILS on the basis that the circus has no definitive opening date confirmed by the government, this make any cash flow forecasts potentially inaccurate. The bounce back loan, although a better option is restricted to £50,000, does need applicants to have some sort of indication as to the company being able to pay it back in the future by trading, which is as yet, for the circus, far from certain.
Deferrals for VAT, self-assessment and short-term holiday payments, although welcome, don’t help with the constant worry of insurance companies and financial institutions demanding payments or threatening cancelling policies and not renewing them once this is all over.
All the artistes are self-employed so self-employment income support scheme has been very helpful to them, we feel it is essential this scheme continues until the Circus opens its doors again to the public.
The funding packages indicated by Caroline Dinenage answered in parliament question 37739: Significant support has already been delivered at speed by DCMS arm’s-length bodies. Arts Council England having launched a £160m Emergency Funding Package, the National Lottery Heritage Fund launching a £50m Heritage Emergency Fund, and Historic England launching a £2m Emergency Fund. All of these are
delivering support across the cultural sector.
Of these three support packages none are accessible to the Circus of Horrors and very probably to most commercial Circuses
Arts Council tend to support what they perceive as ‘new Circus’ as opposed to commercial Circuses, because a commercial Circus is normally self sufficient does not mean it is any less of an art form & at time’s like this needs help & support from the Arts Council.
National Lottery Heritage fund is aimed at not-for-profit organisation’s to receive any of this funding so the Circus of Horrors would not qualify for this.
Historic England: The Circus of Horrors is not eligible as the business is not a heritage organisation
The Circus of Horrors & indeed commercial Circuses in general are not treated equally to that of other art forms within the United Kingdom. We contribute to the economy significantly including through the various taxes we pay, we do not request any special treatment but would at least expect to be on the same level as other arts forms, theatres and institutions.
What will the likely long-term impacts of Covid-19 be on the sector, and what support is needed to deal with those?
The possibility of a severe recession, combined with falling through the cracks of financial support schemes, the uncertainty in the minds of the general public and the fear that could be running through the communities the circus visits preventing them from visiting events.
A package of measures to help Circuses to get reopened and crucially to support throughout the first 3 years of trading is urgently needed.
Specific measures that would help include;
Support the workforce through a Circus/Arts Sector extension of the Job Retention Scheme until reopening is possible; and an extension of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. This will also protect the wider areas of the Arts, and many other small companies across the United Kingdom that allow such sectors to function.
Speed up the recovery of the Circus Industry including temporary modifications to the Theatre Tax Relief for the first three years, increasing the relief and other crucial measures, such measures would ease the tax burden in the short-term and allow for a stronger and sustained return for Circus businesses.
Reducing VAT on ticket sales to something comparable to other countries to encourage the public to attend events again, suggested revised VAT rate 5%.
Helping with visa costs, including refunds for the time visas are not used here (a question we asked of UKVI as early as March when the situation unfolded but to which we have received no reply) we have many of these unused visas totalling thousands of pounds
Start up Grants/Financial rescue package that all Circuses can receive regardless of rates status, to assist circus to get their respective shows open again and also to help with upfront costs like advertising, travel, insurance, visas, fees to meet government COVID 19 Directives, production costs and costs during Covid 19 Lockdown period etc. These Grants/ Financial rescue packages could be based on turnover from the previous year’s or costs paid out prior to Covid 19 outbreak and expenses during this year or a combination of everything.
Following government guidelines on social distancing measures that are deemed necessary and for as long as social distancing measures are in place the prospect of Circus of Horrors reopening with any chance of at least breaking even are difficult.
Because the Circus of Horrors is prominently a Theatre & Festival production it is also governed by restrictions on Theatres, which are an indoor entertainment spaces,
Whilst many other business sectors will able to gradually reopen under current measures the Circus of Horrors cannot. Current Social-distancing measures of 2 metres will allow for only around 22% capacity of theatres – this is not an economic business model for most Theatres where around 75% occupancy is typically needed to break even. We would need to wait until the social distancing is reduced before we could at least start planning again to reopen.
What lessons can be learnt from how DCMS, arms-length bodies and the sector have dealt with Covid-19?
The Circus sector feel forgotten by the DCMS, which appears to not completely understand the importance touring Circuses both artistically & commercially. We feel that the government appoints different financial funds to the various Arts but they rarely reach the touring commercial Circuses.
This needs to be addressed to make sure that the businesses operating Circus on a commercial scale and considerably contributing to the UK economy, working hard and taking financial risks, the Circus sector should be able to receive some type of funding or at least have the opportunity to be able to tap into such emergency funds now and in the future if necessary.
Circus has recently celebrated 250 years since the modern circus was invented by an Englishman, Phillip Astley, we seek recognition for our unique cultural heritage to survive another 250 years. Please don’t forget the circus!
How might the sector evolve after Covid-19, and how can DCMS support such innovation to deal with future challenges?
Circuses through history have always evolved but in the last 30 years has evolved more than in it’s previous 25o years.
The post Covid-19 public will be undoubtedly looking for entertainment, will people be crowd averse? The DCMS and the Government need to put as much effort into informing the public they can go out (when its safe to do so) as they have spent telling the public to stay at home currently. We need some positive lines and messages spreading.
The DCMS and the Government could host various regional events involving large cities and towns. Similar Events to Winter Wonderland Hyde Park but of various sizes could be organised around the UK and funded by the DCMS / Government. Admission could be free, this could encourage the public to go out again and attend events, thus helping to maintain a level of confidence, people could once again get used to going out en-masse. Once it is safe to do so we need to show the public that it is indeed safe to visit large outdoor events again.