Paul Binder

Paul Binder is the founder of the Big Apple Circus. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he graduated from Dartmouth College and earned an M.B.A. at Columbia University. Binder worked at WGBH-TV in Boston (stage-managing for Julia Child’s The French Chef) and as a talent coordinator for Merv Griffin, before heading West and learning juggling with the San Francisco Mime Troupe—where Binder met Michael Christensen. Together, Binder and Christensen traveled through Europe and earned their living by juggling on street corners. Their act landed them on the legendary stage of the Casino de Paris, on French television and, eventually, in the ring of Annie Fratellini’s Nouveau Cirque de Paris. Binder returned to New York with a dream—to create an American circus with the same dedication to theatrical excellence and artistic intimacy that he and Christensen had experienced in Europe. He found the people who would share his dream and implement his vision and, in 1977, the Big Apple Circus was born. Founder, Founding Artistic Director of the Big Apple Circus, and a gifted performer, Paul Binder was recently honored by ABC-TV World News with Charles Gibson as "Person of the Week". In July of 2009 Mr. Binder "stepped out of the ring" but continues to work with the Big Apple Circus as a senior advisor. He is currently in demand as a guest speaker, having spoken and led seminars at Dartmouth College, Harvard University, University of Virginia and Barnard College. Paul has received Honorary Doctorate Degrees in Fine Arts from his alma mater, Dartmouth, Pratt Institute, and Rhode Island College, and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Long Island University. In 2001 he was given the honor of "NYC Living Landmark," by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. He is the proud father of Katherine, Max, Adam and Anais.

Sep 242016


Showfolks of Sarasota

Showfolks of Sarasota

Well I’m a couple of weeks behind, but I want you all to know about a wonderful evening I spent at the Showfolks Club of Sarasota in Sarasota, Florida. First of all, let me say that the club is a very special place. (I am a lifetime member, although I think they didn’t expect me to live this long.) The walls are covered in photos of circus performers, dating back to the 1930’s, many signed by the artists. It is a haven for many of us who worked in the circus business.

For the second year in a row, I offered to do a benefit cabaret performance for the club, so I wanted to share some of the highlights.

I partnered with the wonderful musical comedienne Dana Mierlak, and we called our show Big and Little. I’m six feet tall, Dana’s five (in heels). Also, she’s half my age. It made for fun banter, i.e.:

PAUL: I’m Paul, the tall one.

DANA: Dana. … Average in stature.


DANA: We were both seven years old when we saw our first Broadway show. But of course his was in 1949, and mine was in 1989.


“So if baby, I’m the bottom, you’re the top!”

We had a ball, and it was a great success. Here are some photographs.

I’d love to make it an annual event.


"So, nooo?"

“So, nooo?”


Big & Little


I’m doing a version of the same cabaret with Dana at the METROPOLITAN ROOM in New York City on DECEMBER 2nd AND 6th, at 7pm. SAVE THE DATE in your calendar!

Aug 272016
BAC 1981 Show Poster, Paul Davis

1981 Lincoln Center poster designed by Paul Davis

At this point, the Big Apple Circus has fallen short of the funding we needed for the Save the Circus campaign so that it looks like we will not be able to open a new show at Lincoln Center as planned in October. It’s the first time in 36 years that we will be unable to do that. Every year since 1981 the Big Apple Circus big top has been put up in Damrosch Park. Lincoln Center won’t be the same during the holiday season without the circus.

Many of us are not yet willing to give up. It’s truly a matter of the finances, so we’re continuing to do what we can to continue this wonderful New York City tradition.

One thing that I can tell you is that my father used to tell me, “Paul, I’ve never seen you give up.”

Paul and Michael at first LC BAC

Michael Christensen and Paul Binder clowning in the first Lincoln Center production
photo by Linda Rivero

Aug 032016

Tanglewood 2016It’s become a tradition for the Dartmouth class of ‘63 to have a mini-reunion every August in conjunction with Tanglewood on Parade in Lenox, MA. Seeing and listening to the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops Orchestra is a truly wonderful experience every year.

This year they performed a contemporary piece called “Night Train to Perugia” by Michael Gandolfi. It was actually commissioned by the BSO and premiered at Tanglewood on Parade a few years back. The Orchestra also performed a harp concerto by Mozart, and the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra performed Ravel’s La Valse. All of the musicians in the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra are less than thirty years old, and they are fantastic!

One of the true joys of this year’s show was John Williams conducting the Boston Pops. You know, John Williams is no kid anymore. He did several pieces including a suite from The BFG, which is his latest project, once again united with Steven Spielberg. Before leading the Pops in a song from the new Star Wars movie, he took the microphone and said, “As a composer for the movies, you have to understand that you never know what the movie will actually sound like once special effects gets ahold of it … with all the gunfire and the zooming and the booming. So it is my pleasure to present this scene WITHOUT the special effects.” He got a standing ovation upon both his entrance and exit. At eighty-four years old, he still has his talent and humor.

John Williams

John Williams

As in previous years, the concluding piece at Tanglewood on Parade was Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with live cannon fire (that’s written into the music), followed by a dazzling and explosive fireworks display right over “The Shed.”

A little treat for you (and for me) if you haven’t read my post about Tanglewood from last year: in the second part of my blog entry, I recount the time that the Boston Pops joined the Big Apple Circus, and there’s even an old video of me conducting them in full clown regalia. It’s definitely worth a watch … or two (or twenty-five!).

“Pops Joins the Circus” is surely one of my finest memories of 30+ years at the Big Apple Circus.

Jul 182016

In my last communication, I stated that the Big Apple Circus had managed to raise $800,000 since launching the Save the Circus campaign. Indeed, as of today, July 18, I’ve been informed that there is more than $960,000 raised or pledged to help save the circus.

The Big Apple Circus at Lincoln Center in Damrosch Park (c. 1992), photo by Michael LeClair

The Big Apple Circus at Lincoln Center in Damrosch Park (c. 1992), photo by Michael LeClair
(the two light strings are on top of the tent, the large building above it is the Metropolitan Opera House and the building to the right is the New York State Theater, now the David H. Koch Theater)

Jun 292016

When the Save the Circus campaign launched four weeks ago, I was a bundle of nerves.

Michael, Paul and Leonard _Peter Angelo Simon

Michael Christensen and me with our juggling partner,
Leonard the rubber chicken

The Big Apple Circus has been a huge part of my life ever since Michael Christensen (my performance partner and fellow Founder), Alan Slifka (our founding Chairman of the Board), Richard Levy (an enthusiastic red-haired friend), and I founded our not-for-profit organization nearly 40 years ago. Frankly, I don’t know what life will be like without the circus, and I don’t like to think about it. The Big Apple Circus has not only brought joy to my life, but I know that the company has touched countless others through shared, warm human experiences, both through our annual shows and the five award-winning community programs that our wonderful organization has developed alongside our performance season.

Saying farewell to Grandma the Clown (Barry Lubin)

Saying farewell to Grandma the Clown (Barry Lubin)

Before stepping out of the ring in 2009, after every performance I would have the experience of several audience members coming up to me and recounting stories of attending the Big Apple Circus, as kids, with their parents … and the joy that they now feel being able to bring their own children to “this very special show.” Anyone who has talked to me for more than five minutes has probably heard at least one of many stories from my life in and around the circus. I’m always eager to share my tales of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and many are eager to listen, which is what prompted me to write Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion and Other Uncommon Tales from the Founder of the Big Apple Circus.

Since its founding, the Big Apple Circus has managed to touch the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people because of the determination of a group of ordinary people who have wanted to see extraordinary things happen in their lives. And now, I’m asking that you band together with us to ensure that extraordinary things continue to happen through the Big Apple Circus.

Save the Circus 8 hundred thousandAs of this morning, June 29, the Big Apple Circus has managed to raise over $800,000 in total contributions and pledges in just under a month. But we still have a long way to go to get to $2 million! I am overjoyed that over $115,000 of the total raised has been donated by about 1,150 ordinary people stepping up to contribute anywhere from $1 to $2,500 through

Please consider standing with us and making a contribution right now.

The Big Apple Circus is an organization that serves the community. For 38 years we have brought the intimacy of the one-ring circus to communities in New York, Boston, and many other locations up and down the east coast. Through our community programs such as Clown Care and Circus of the Senses, we have worked to bring laughter, joy, and wonder to children of all ages and, equally as important, all abilities. In order to continue to do these things, we need people to contribute to the Save the Circus campaign. Let me repeat … we need your help.

The Big Apple Circus has not closed yet, and I surely won’t stop fighting for its survival. This organization means the world to me, and I sincerely hope that it means something to you as well.


The performing company of "Dreams of a City"

The performing company of “Dreams of a City”

Jun 072016

The front page article of the Metropolitan section of the New York Times on Sunday, June 5 was an article by columnist Ginia Bellafante titled “Can the Big Apple Circus Be Saved.” (Click here to read the column.)

In her column, Ms. Bellafante refers to a bagel advertisement that I showed her during a meeting at the Big Apple Circus offices. As word about the bagel ad got out before the advertisement itself, I wanted you all to have an opportunity to see it. Here it is:

What’s the price of a bagel got to do with saving the
Big Apple Circus?

Save the Circus Bagel PhotoThe average seat at New York’s most beloved circus was $25 in 1981, our first season at Lincoln Center. A Zabar’s Bagel cost 35¢ then, now $1.66.

Today our average ticket is $50. By bagel math, it should have risen to $118. Our performers soar, but our prices don’t. That’s part of our mission as a not-for-profit arts organization. On the quiet side we are deeply engaged in raising the spirits of hospitalized children with our heralded Clown Care program.

Our 2015/16 show got rave reviews. It was a New York Times critic’s pick and played to over 200,000 people. In popcorn numbers, that’s 9 bazillion kerneIs. In dollars though, that’s not enough.

We’re going broke.

After many years of balanced books, the 2008/9 financial crisis hit. Suddenly big companies canceled private parties with us––let’s just say the optics of throwing a lavish holiday party in the midst of crashing markets would rival a solo performance by Nero on violin. Then a blizzard in 2011 and a massive hurricane in 2012 nearly blew us away. We were too slow to react.

We need $2 million or we’re toast.

Okay, mea culpa, but a major plan is now in place to right our valiant ship and sail into the future. But we need $2 million to open our new show at Lincoln Center and remain one of New York’s treasures. That’s a lot of bagels.

Please help!

If everyone who reads this ad donates $25 we’d be saved. There are more urgent causes that deserve your generosity, but none that give more joy. Please help preserve one of the most wonderful experiences of your life for yourself, your children, and your grandchildren.

In 1981 an H&H Bagel was 50¢ and today they’re out of business. That can’t happen to the Big Apple Circus. Can it?

Save the Circus Mailer

 Please consider contributing online at
And please share this important message with your family and friends.

May 062016

Never Quote the Weather Book CoverWhen you go to the children’s garden, it’s amazing what emerges about your own childhood.

A few years back now, I wrote and published my book Never Quote the Weather to a Sea Lion (and Other Uncommon Tales from the Founder of the Big Apple Circus). I was fortunate enough to have Glenn Close write the foreword for me. I worked with Glenn on the musical Barnum where we worked with the cast and I actually taught her how to juggle. The book is a memoir–it’s a collection of stories from my life both before and during my time with the circus.

Looking back, I’m amazed at how some very important things never made it into the book. I somehow managed to forget whole issues from my childhood. Here’s a very important one that emerged recently.

Me kneeling behind my plaque in St. Armand’s Circle on the day I was inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame

I was down in Sarasota (“Circus City”), where I have a plaque amongst those at St. Armand’s Circle as an inductee into the Circus Ring of Fame. It is, of course as well, the home of Circus Sarasota.

One of the attractions in Sarasota that I’d never visited before (but is a vital part of my education as I always visit attractions that have to do with families and entertainment) is the wonderful Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. One portion of the gardens is designated as the Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden, which is absolutely extraordinary. And who better to give me a review and serve as my market-research advisors than my own grandchildren? So Shelley and I took them there.

In the Rainforest Garden, there was a wonderful goldfish pond with those beautiful giant goldfish. You know the kind I mean … the really big ones who can’t wait to be fed so they’re always begging. But what caught my attention was in the center of the pond. There was a beautiful statue of the Buddha. As a tribute to my guided meditation teacher and dear friend, Julie Winter, I asked a woman standing by if she could take a photo of me and the statue and then another photo of the family. She kindly agreed.


After we settled on a couple good photos, I noticed an attractive older couple sitting nearby who I assumed were the woman’s parents. I also noticed that the man had a headset and microphone on, and because we were in a public garden, I asked him if he was a docent (tour guide). And he said to me in a gravely voice, “Oh, no. I have paralyzed vocal chords.”

“Oh, is that a result of arthritis?”

He replied, “No.”


And he said, “I had polio as a kid.”

A waterfall of tears welled up inside of me and I muttered, “So did I,” suddenly recalling a powerful and meaningful story from my childhood.

For two weeks during my childhood, I was bedridden with a high fever and aching legs. The doctor–they made house calls in those days!–would come in daily and measure my legs. I also recall my dad sitting on the end of my bed saying, “You’re a sick little Indian.” My parents were terrified, as all parents were in those days. Remember, please, that this was at the height of the polio epidemic.

The man asked me “What year?”

And I said, “I don’t know. 1949?”

He replied, “Mine was 1951.”

And I said, “Mine too! Because I was 9 years old.”

It turned out that I was lucky. My disease was finally diagnosed as a “non-paralytic form” of polio. Like all diseases, there’s a mystery as to how each of us reacts. Or, as one of my current doctors has said to me, “We’re each our own laboratory.”

Of all things, how could I have forgotten that?

There are intuitive moments in our lives, which most of us often don’t acknowledge. However, part of the Buddhist tradition is to accept these moments as part of the natural human experience. How fitting, then, that I should recall this life experience while posing in front of a statue of the Buddha.


Apr 222016

Although I don’t frequently step into the ring with my red suit and top hat anymore, I’m finding myself behind a podium more and more. In the past year I’ve been invited to play host to many events and ceremonies, including the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Living Landmarks Gala, which I’ve written about before.


This past weekend I was honored to introduce Dean Glenn Hubbard for his “State of the School” address at the Columbia Business School reunion weekend. I’ve known Glenn for many years, and I’m very pleased to be able to call him a customer. Yes, every year he brings his family to enjoy the Big Apple Circus at Lincoln Center.


Dean Glenn Hubbard and Senior Associate Dean Lisa Yeh sitting in the auditorium during my introduction

Columbia has meant a great deal to me professionally and personally. Eleven years ago, my daughter, Katherine Binder, was a student at Barnard College, which is across the street from Columbia Business School. She called me one day and said, “Daddy, Daddy, you should go over to the Business School. There’s a big picture of you on the wall.” So I went, and there, in the hall outside the dean’s office, was a series of print ads that highlighted the individuality of Columbia MBAs. This was one of the ads:

PB Columbia Advertisement

I am a proud member of the Columbia Business School graduating class of 1966. Quite significantly, my education at Columbia had a profound impact on the development of the Big Apple Circus, which, from the beginning, was a social enterprise company. After all, just as important to the Big Apple Circus’s performance of an annual season is the mission to serve the communities in which we perform, which we do with five award-winning community programs. The largest of these programs is our Clown Care Unit, which sends specially trained professional performers—clowns, comedians, musicians, and magicians—to the bedsides of acutely and chronically ill children in fifteen pediatric hospitals nationwide, five of them in New York City.

So of course I was honored to have been asked to introduce the dean for his State of the School address. And I was happy to speak to a room full of sharp-minded individuals about my own business background with the Big Apple Circus. I never tire of pitching the commercial: we’re always looking for bright, young, passionate board members, and we’re always looking for MBA candidates who want very exciting internships.

My wonderful education (Dartmouth, Columbia)and the world of circus has given me the opportunity to have a life full of pleasure and adventure. I’m very grateful.


Reunion photos courtesy of Beth Brown, the Director of Alumni Relations, External Relations, and Development at Columbia Business School.

Apr 012016

I just got back from a few days in Boston, where I provided co-commentary for the 2016 round of Circus of the Senses. Circus of the Senses is one of the Big Apple Circus’s five award-winning community programs. (The others are Clown Care, Circus After School, Vaudeville Caravan, and Circus for All.) Circus of the Senses is designed to bring the joy of the circus to children and others with vision or hearing impairments. We use a personal listening device system to transmit play-by-play descriptions of the performance, and ASL interpreters are positioned around the tent. After the show, we host a “touch session” in the ring where visually-impaired kids are encouraged to experience elements of the show—costumes, apparatuses, animals—through their sense of touch. It’s a truly remarkable, one-of-a-kind event.

This year’s show, the Big Apple Circus’s “The Grand Tour,” was an especially great production for Circus of the Senses, and I had a wonderful time with my co-commentator, Robb Preskins. Robb is a full-time entertainer, and he also works with the Big Apple Circus Clown Care. When performing with our Boston Children’s Hospital Clown Care Unit, Robb dons his white lab coat and assumes the persona of “Dr. Gonzo.”

Doing Circus of the Senses is a wonderful thrill for me, and it’s exciting to participate in the program as the Big Apple Circus travels throughout the season because I get to work with different co-commentators for very different audiences. In fact, I’ve worked with many, many different commentators since I started the Circus of the Senses at the Big Apple Circus nearly 30 years ago.

In case you haven’t seen it before, here is a photo from the very first Circus of the Senses event in 1988. My co-commentators at that event were none other than New York Jets radio announcers, the legendary Marty Glickman and and his partner Dave Jennings. The clown in the photo is Mr. Gordoon.

The commentators at the first Circus of the Senses. This picture is from a plaque that reads: THANK YOU FOR MAKING "CIRCUS OF THE SENSES" A TRULY MEMORABLE EVENT FROM YOUR FRIENDS AT WCBS NEWS 88 NOVEMBER 18, 1988

The commentators at the first Circus of the Senses. This picture is from a plaque that reads:
Thank you for making “Circus of the Senses” a truly memorable event
From your friends at WCSB News 88
November 18, 1988

Feb 122016

The Big Apple Circus (re)opens tonight!!!

The next stop for “The Grand Tour” is Bridgewater, NJ, where the big top will stay up until March 13.

The cast of "The Grand Tour" photo by Maike Schulz

The cast of “The Grand Tour”
photo by Maike Schulz

The shows at the Big Apple Circus have been getting better and better over the last few years, and this year’s show is terrific. Here are just a couple of some of the amazing acts:

Chiara Anastasini

Chiara Anastasini
photo by Maike Schulz

The Energy Trio, from left, Jing Wang, Yuhao Wu, and Hongyang Gao

The Energy Trio (Jing Wang, Yuhao Wu, and Hongyang Gao)
photo by Maike Schulz

Wheel of Wonder

Dominguez Brothers and the Wheel of Wonder
photo by Maike Schulz

And perhaps one of my favorite acts this year is Alexander Koblikov and his seasick sailor juggling routine. As a once-upon-a-time juggler myself, take my word for it … this kid’s got it. And no wonder–he holds a Guinness Book of World Records for juggling 14 balls at once.

Alexander Koblikov

Alexander Koblikov
photo by Maike Schulz