Arts & Entertainment

Historic Italian circus struggling to survive pandemic

Cristina Cabrejas

Rome, Apr 27 (EFE).- In a week that sees theaters, cinemas and other performances finally allowed to reopen in Italy after long months because of the coronavirus pandemic, the historic Lidia Togni Circus has been left hanging in the balance, uncertain of whether it will be able to welcome audiences.

For the past 15 months since the pandemic took hold, the entire circus has been camped out in a field next to one of the highways leaving Rome. Its 43 workers and 30 animals have only been able to survive thanks to the help of strangers and associations.

The Lidia Togni circus’ circumstances are similar to those of the other 60 circuses throughout Italy, one of the sectors most affected by the pandemic shutdowns, and its road to recovery will be a long one. The only thing left to do is to ask for help from the State “to start from scratch,” says director Vinicio Canestrelli, grandson of the historical circus matriarch Lidia Togni.

In October, having adopted all the required safety measures, they were ready to reopen, but that hope lasted only seven short days, before authorities ordered cultural performances to close again.

Now that it looks as though the reopenings are going to last longer, the situation is totally different. “We don’t have a strong enough economy to afford a season. It takes money to rent the spaces, advertising…Just keeping the animals is 6,000 euros a month,” Canestrelli laments to Efe.

When the pandemic arrived, they had a tour that was going to make stops in about 30 cities, but suddenly everything ground to halt. “Not even in World War II had our circus stopped, it even traveled to entertain the troops,” says Canestrelli, who has inherited the reins from his grandmother and is also dedicated to taming the troupe’s tigers, which until two days ago numbered seven before the arrival of two newborn cubs — a small morsel of joy in all these months of relentless pessimism.

Accustomed to a life of travel, the population of a small town on the move has been thrown into an even more perilous situation than other performance artists. When the circus’ savings ran out, they soon faced problems ensuring the survival of the animals, who need huge amounts of food.

A single tiger, Canestrelli explains, eats between eight and ten kilograms of meat a day, while the two elephants need at least 150 kilos of feed, plus fruit and vegetables, as do the horses, llamas and camels.

The survival of this large family has been possible thanks to the NGO Caritas, which has supplied them with basic foodstuffs, since the financial aid from the government was less than 200 euros per month per worker.

Local area farmers and associations like the National Agricultural Confederation (Coldiretti) have also stepped in to help feed the animals.

Coldiretti has been in charge of keeping the animals fed in the 60 or so Italian circuses. The organization explain that the situation facing the circuses, “already in crisis for years, has become dramatic with the pandemic due to the ban on their work, as they need to continue performing just to cover most of the ordinary management costs, including those of the animals, which cost more than 2.7 million euros a year in food alone”.

During Efe’s visit to the sad and silent circus, the workers clean the vegetables that will be given to the animals. They have barely enough for two days, they explain forlornly.

The artists have not stopped training, although lately it is more difficult to have high morale. In an empty ring, Alessandro Togni, one of the artists, born in Spain during a tour that lasted years, continues to juggle in the hope that he will soon be able to receive the applause of the public. EFE


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