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2020 summer shows at Circus World, Big Top Parade cancelled due to COVID-19
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2020 summer shows at Circus World, Big Top Parade cancelled due to COVID-19

Two of Baraboo’s signature summer draws, live shows at Circus World Museum and the Big Top Parade, have been canceled this year in response to ongoing coronavirus concerns.

Museum Director Scott O’Donnell said it’s the first time in more than 60 years that the Water Street grounds won’t feature acrobats, clowns, exotic animals and other circus performances over the 2020 season.

“It is a heartbreaking decision to have to make,” he said. It was necessary for safety reasons and the difficulty in predicting how long each phase of the Badger Bounce Back plan, the proposal outlining when public life in Wisconsin can resume, will take, he said.

“It’s heartbreaking in the sense of how it will affect our performer families, of course, because this is their livelihood … So they will be, like so many Americans, forced to search for other avenues of income for the year ahead,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a difficult decision for so many of our guests and our beloved community that embraces our wonderful circus heritage.”

Museum open

Patrons will be able to visit the museum to view three new exhibits starting, at the earliest, July 1.

“We’re still filled to the gills with an amazing collection of artifacts and we still tell the wonderful story of our state and our nation’s circus heritage,” he said. “We still have three brand-new exhibits that we had created to share with our guests this year, and those that come will be able to enjoy those. It just won’t have the living history component for 2020.”

Dave SaLoutos, ringmaster and marketing director, said the biggest exhibit features wardrobe pieces from The Big Apple Circus of New York. The second, tying into 2020 as a presidential election year, looks at the history of U.S. presidents at the circus.

The third new exhibit is a tribute to Circus World Museum’s own history.

“The one piece of history we never cover in circus history is our own, so we’ve got a wonderful exhibit that explores a lot of the things, the backstory, behind Circus World,” SaLoutos said.

The museum won’t have any face painting or other usual activities that require physical contact, O’Donnell said.

When it reopens, O’Donnell said he’s planning to have personal protective equipment, such as gloves and masks, available for staff and guests. It also will implement “enhanced cleaning protocols,” capacity limits based on state guidance and social distancing practices, he said.

“The safety of our guests, our staff and our community are our No. 1 priority, and that is what will guide every decision that we make here at Circus World,” O’Donnell said.

Big Top Parade

Organizers announced Friday their decision to cancel the eighth annual Big Top Parade and Circus Celebration, an event that draws around 30,000 people to downtown Baraboo each summer, according to a Baraboo Area Chamber of Commerce news release. It was originally planned for July 18.

“We truly didn’t want to cancel this spectacular event,” organizer Nanci Caflisch said in the release. “But safety must come first.”

The organizing committee, supported by Circus World and the chamber, will start planning the 2021 parade and circus-themed festival early, the release said.

Financial impact

Summer programming typically brings the largest portion of Circus World’s earned revenue, which accounts for the largest portion of its budget, though the state and museum foundation also provide funds. Circus World is one of 12 state historic sites.

“There’s no doubt that this will be a year of historic financial loss for Circus World,” O’Donnell said.

Anticipating those losses, he said the museum is looking at its finances cautiously and, with Wisconsin Historical Society leadership, considering how they can be “as lean” as possible while maintaining staff and opening for visitors.

Looking to 2021

O’Donnell said he hopes to resume summer programming next year, bringing the performers and “Go West Under the Big Top” theme that was planned for this year. He noted that social distancing measures and capacity limits might still be in place in 2021.

Though cancelling live performances this year is “kind of devastating to my soul,” SaLoutos said he remains hopeful of the future.

“Circus is something that you build on hope and optimism and then you go to achieve these incredible dreams and bring them to life for people,” SaLoutos said. “So that positive spirit is something that we’re going to carry forward and it’s going to get us through this pandemic. We’re all going to come out on the other side even more amazing than ever before.”

Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.

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