The Moscow Circuses, like many other institutions, were nationalized in 1919, and then, in 1957, run by the Soyuzgoscirk, the Centralized Circus Administration. In 1929 with the creation of the Moscow Circus School, the USSR became the first country in the world to operate a state-run circus training facility. At the Soviet Circus’s peak of popularity in the late 1980s, students at the Moscow Circus School trained for 20 hours every week in various disciplines, and upon completion of training, the young men were required to enlist (though they worked in an entertainment division of the army); women were welcomed, but not required to serve. Despite the work, approximately a thousand individuals auditioned for the 70 spaces in the school; life as a performer with the Circus was almost as good as being a government official. Artists performed nine shows each week, delighting over 70 million citizens per year, and were guaranteed retirement benefits, childcare for children over one year old, maternity leave, the ability to travel, and in special cases were awarded luxuries, like nicer housing, normally restricted to the political elite. One such performer was the famous clown Oleg Popov, who was awarded the title of “People’s Artist of the USSR”.
Like their American contemporaries, the Communist government saw the circus as the people’s entertainment. Officials considered the circus to be culturally on par with the Ballets Russes or Tchaikovsky, but was much more affordable, and therefor more proletarian, at only about five dollars per ticket. The Soyuzgoscirk established seventy circus buildings across the USSR, and entire towns would turn out to see the shows.
The SovietEraMuseum exclusive. Set of postcards about Soviet Circus (Olympic edition):
Soviet circus. Special olympic edition. On photo: Oleg Popov