BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Human and four-legged performers alike are preparing to bring Hungary's largest traveling circus back on the road after the COVID-19 pandemic halted its shows for more than a year.
From its offseason home in Sada, a small village just outside the capital, Budapest, the Florian Richter Circus is holding rehearsals in cautious anticipation of when performances may begin again.
A state of emergency was declared in Hungary only a day before the troupe was to begin its spring season last year, and pandemic restrictions limiting events and public gatherings have meant the circus hasn't brought in any income since.
“It has been almost a year and a half now with nothing. Obviously I have to think as a businessman, as an artist, and as a father at the same time,” said Florian Richter, the circus' owner. “I’m the motor of this circus, so can’t give up, I can’t get emotional.”
In addition to human performers, nearly 50 different animals, including Indian elephant Sandra, eight camels, five zebras, three ponies and 32 horses, make up the members of the troupe. Feeding the animals and paying their handlers has used up almost all of the circus' financial reserves, and Richter said he still don't know when pandemic rules will allow performances to resume.
“It’s all money, money, money. Lots of money has to be spent because a ranch of this size costs a lot to maintain," he said.
The human performers must also remain fit, both physically and mentally, so they can jump into action as soon as restrictions are lifted. Circus artist Kevin Richter, Florian's son, said he and the troupe's other acrobats have held rehearsals throughout the pandemic “to be ready for any opening.”
“It's very difficult for all the members. It is not easy to train without knowing what will happen tomorrow or even next month,” he said during a break in his acrobatic group's training. "We used this time to practice new acts, to keep ourselves fit for any possibility of a premiere.”
Hungary in recent weeks has started lifting its pandemic restrictions following a successful vaccination campaign. A further relaxation of rules is expected in coming days, even as deaths and infections remain high.
While the circus troupe hopes to be able to go forward with its traditional July 1 summer premiere, its two-legged members realize that the course of the pandemic could result in yet another lost season.
“The virus situation may be such that it will be canceled, but not being ready isn't an option for us,” Richter said. "This is what gives the whole team the energy and the motivation to stay united. Our aim is to present the country’s best travelling circus show.”
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