To present one or several new productions each year, to be considered an institution in the circus landscape, to enjoy international respect and earn a good living as well. Who wouldn’t sign on for that? Well, it is possible. The Bouglione family in France has been the living proof of it, for years. How did they get there, and how can you get there yourself? With Circus Bouglione as inspiration, here is a short guide…
[This article was published in Dutch in CircusMagazine #54 – March 2018]
[Author: Alexander Wijsen // Translation: Craig Weston
[Copyright: Circuscentrum – please contact maarten[at]circuscentrum.be for more information]
Depending on who you talk to (and how old they are), the Bougliones have been presenting circus for six, seven or eight generations. Legend has it that a certain Michele Bouglione, a wealthy dealer in fabrics, fell in love with a gypsy girl. He left everything behind for her, and together they started one of the most famous circus families in the world. A slightly less romantic version recounts that the Bougliones were descendants of the Sinti, coming to Europe in the nineteenth century. After drifting around Eastern Europe and Italy, they finally settled in France. Whichever account you choose to believe, the fact remains that the name Bouglione and the circus have been inseparable since the middle of the nineteenth century. The family tree is gigantic and most all of the family have remained faithful to the circus. So you should get an early start at building your circus empire, or better yet, you should already have started a couple decades ago!
In 1934 the Bouglione family bought the Winter Circus in Paris, a magnificent building near the Place de la Republique, in the heart of the French capital. As the story goes, circus director Mustafa Amar beat the Bougliones to buying a herd of elephants. When Amar was on the verge of buying the Parisian circus palace, the Bougliones took their revenge. During the auction of the building the Bougliones doubled Amar’s bid. They snatched the building from under his nose and swiftly christened it the ‘Cirque d’Hiver Bouglione’. Legend or fact? At any rate, that which may have been an impulse in 1934 has in the meantime become a serious nest egg. The Cirque d’Hiver was built under the commission of Napoleon III. After several renovations the circus temple, with its gold ornamentation and red velour, continues to exude class and grandeur to this day. To own an historical monument of this stature in the centre of Paris insures without doubt one’s future security. The moral of the story: if you ever find yourself torn between buying real estate in Paris or a herd of elephants, go for the first option. Your grandchildren will be forever grateful.
As it happens families grow, disagreements start to crop up, and before you know it one of the uncles can’t stand to be in the same room with another uncle… and vice versa. It’s the moment when many families go under, but the Bougliones turned the situation to their advantage. When Alexandre Bouglione started getting irritable, he decided to start up his own company and move to Belgium. His cousins in Paris let him go, tolerating his presence in Belgium, while he as well let his cousins continue their branch back in France. When the Parisian side of the family started to get too big again, with too many Bougliones in the halls of the Cirque d’Hiver, once again the same measures were taken. The Bouglione on Tour unit was born. In 2015, after 35 years of sedentary lifestyle, half of the Parisian branch of the family left on permanent tour throughout the rest of France, the other half remaining in Paris to tend to family affairs there. ‘Divide and Conquer’ and keep out of each other’s way!
The Parisian Bougliones have developed a particular style over the last years. Each show is guaranteed to contain some twelve classic circus acts, supported by a big loud live circus orchestra and a show-ballet. Magnificent costumes with glitter and feathers, lots of gold paint, and the overwhelming smell of popcorn are all part of the package. When touring began in 2015, the recipe remained untouched. By now the audience has come to know the Bouglione style, returning year after year for an evening of cozy, old-fashioned (modern) circus, with a program full of clowns, wild animals and the finest trapeze artists to be found. It all results in an income somewhere between 18 and 19 million euros a year. And the revenue is welcome, since the start-up of the Bouglione on Tour unit alone required an investment of around 15 million euros…
In France just about any circus director can lease the name Zavatta and paint it on his wagons. There was a time when the name Zavatta was synonym for first rate clowns and first rate circus. Today the name has lost all its luster, and circus entrepreneurs have come to realise that the use of the name has become counter-productive. In the past Bouglione committed the same error: in the 90’s there were any number of Cirque Bouglione’s, but not all of them with the same immaculate reputation. In order to regain its resonance as an exclusive label for quality, a serious house-cleaning was undertaken. Today, if the name in your passport is not Bouglione, you had better not paint it on your circus-wagons. Everything is done to maintain the family name. That was apparent once again when in 2016 animal-rights activists released a film which purportedly documented an elephant trainer who was working for Bouglione, seriously mistreating the animals. It turns out the footage was dated and had been in circulation for quite some time, dating back to a time when the man was working in England, and had no ties whatsoever to the Bougliones. Nevertheless, the family immediately responded: the trainer in question was promptly dismissed and the circus subsequently distanced itself from any form of animal abuse. The action even earned them disgruntled applause from their chief adversaries, a group of fanatic animal-rights activists.
If you want to start your own circus empire, don’t procrastinate, start today! Spawn a huge family, make major investments and continue to grow for the next several decades, then maybe, just maybe the day will come when you can knock the Bougliones from their throne, and crown yourself the new Roi du Cirque!