School of Fine Arts: More support necessary

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Circus performers contort themselves in Phnom Penh on February 18. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Circus performances at the Secondary School of Fine Arts (SSFA) have resumed after a years-long hiatus due to the Covid 19 pandemic, drawing over 500 people for two performances recently.

However, two performances, no matter how well-attended they are, will not be enough to support the costs associated with organising future performances without the support of funding from public institutions, private businesses and non-profit organisations.

“Due to the long suspension of circus performances, the SSFA under the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has reopened the theatre for two test performances and 538 tickets were sold,” said Vun Sokha, a circus arts instructor at the school.

The teacher, who began work there as a ticket seller and cleaner, said the resumption of performances was being done slowly with smaller sized crowds due to the high costs of staging the productions, and the artists have no income from it without the support of private companies.

“The revenue from ticket sales, which cost 20,000 riel for Cambodians and 40,000 riel for foreigners, cannot cover the costs. Fortunately, we have our own circus team and the electricity is supplied for free as a donation from Electricite du Cambodge,” Sokha told The Post.

The teacher said that the circus school was supported by philanthropists like Chea Chanboribo, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Information, as well as funding from some smaller donors and fundraisers held to solicit public donations.

She said the circus performed once two months ago with funding from Switzerland for the circus students.

The former circus arts student added that the show was attended by many Cambodians and foreign spectators.

“Many young Cambodians have said that they are unaware that there is a circus in the country, when in fact there are multiple award-winning circuses, so it’s important that people keep promoting the circus performances to their friends and others.

“Some families brought their children to visit. We did not ask them to pay for tickets for their children under 10 because we are happy to see children come to the circus,” said the teacher, who is passionate about the arts.

Ten-year-old Panha and six-year-old Ellis enjoyed the circus performance, which they saw for the first time at the theatre of the SSFA, situated near the National Assembly.

Pan Lina, the children’s mother, said she brought her children to watch the circus performance in order to support the programme and she wanted her children to see a live circus performance with their own eyes.

However, she said she saw too little support for the circus from the Cambodian people, which makes the schedule for circus performances irregular.

“I really want more people to watch their performance. Phare’s circus performances have their own supporting funds, but the circus of the SSFA does not. If there is a good circus with more modern lighting equipment, I believe it will look great,” Lina told The Post.

Without even addressing the extra costs of equipping more modern lighting, the circus performances at the existing theatre cannot run without support and sponsorship according to Phok Narin, the principal of the SSFA.

She said that because circus performances aren’t trendy, many students are less interested in studying circus arts but recently the circus school has worked harder to promote enrolment and get more young people to study at the school.

Narin said that the school has a total of more than 30 teachers, staff and alumni, with 20 former students among them. The school has been accepting only three to four new students per year, while the actual plan of enrolment is up to 15 students in a class.

“The concern is not just the circus school, but the whole art school, because there are not many students. As for the students from the previous year, when they graduated, they all left and the new student numbers for enrolment were very low, which caused a shortage of students studying circus techniques,” Narin told The Post.

Most circus performances at the school have been done in collaboration with former circus school alumni who have spent a lot of time rehearsing and performing together.

“This time we have a lot of spectators because of the collaboration with the school and the organisations that sent more than 700 students to watch on February 18. The number of spectators buying tickets as a package is also quite large, but for audiences buying tickets individually it is still limited,” she said.

A total of 220 students along with Cambodian staffers and French volunteers at Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE) also enjoyed the circus performance on February 18.

“We wanted them to have the opportunity to watch a Khmer circus performance. Obviously, children in our organisation are less likely to participate in such things due to poverty. Thank you so much for entertaining our 220 children,” said Chea Sothanut, PSE scouting officer.