Phare sets a world record for Cambodia with its 24-hour circus performance – cheered on by more than a million fans online
History was made at 08.10 on 8th March, when 90 Cambodian circus performers took a final bow after a 24-hour continuous circus performance in a stunningly ambitious Guinness World Record attempt in the category of Longest Circus Show. The record attempt was also the launch of a fundraising appeal to save the organization, which has seen its funding slashed by COVID.
The 24-hour show included acts from 31 performances from Phare’s 20 year circus history, including acrobatics, magic, dance, theatre, clowning, music, contortion, singing, puppetry, breakdancing, live painting, unicycling, fire acts and so much more. The performers took to the stage in shifts, making sure there were no repetitions and that they were able to take rests between performances.
24 independent witnesses including teachers and monks took turns to supervise the performance by the artists of the education and arts non-profit Phare Ponleu Selpak and its sister circus organization Phare, The Cambodian Circus. There were more than 800,000 views of the Facebook broadcasts from the record attempt, which were made available through our partner Cellcard’s Facebook pages throughout the 24-hour performance. In addition there were always at least fifty audience members present, all with temperatures checked and wearing masks.
“Why my tears are dropping like a river? Feel so blessed! Proud of you all” said Ya Nuon of Cambodia on Facebook, while watching the record being set.
“It was an incredible experience to be on stage knowing that the whole world was watching Cambodia set this record. I was sharing the stage with my older brother who is also a performer, and all the circus students I have been growing up with. They are like my own siblings too! It was hard to keep up until the end but together we made it,” said Heng Dara, perhaps Phare’s most famous clown. “Phare helped me and my family get out of poverty and I have found my true passion, the circus is all my life. I love Phare and I want them to continue doing that for other kids like I used to be. That’s why I urge everyone to donate, even just a little bit to keep our school and circus alive and bring hope to many others.”
At the same time as the 24-hour, Cellcard-sponsored performance took place, a fundraising drive was launched to encourage Cambodians to support Phare. Having spent years reducing its dependency on individual givers by creating its hugely successful circus social enterprise, performances were closed down for more than nine months in 2020 and Phare lost 60% of its annual operating budget – $600,000. Education and arts programmes were cut to the bone and staff took large voluntary pay cuts, but still the NGO is short of $250,000 for 2021 in order to keep educating some of Cambodia’s most disadvantaged children.
In just three days, thousands of Cambodians have donated, with more than $25,000 raised already. Two online galas for a global audience also raised more than $60,000. People can donate at phareps.org/donate or ABA number 000784673.
Serey Bandaul is a founder of Phare and said “When we founded Phare it was during a desperate time for Cambodia, after the Khmer Rouge genocide destroyed our people and our arts. We wanted to keep Cambodian culture alive and educate children who had no other chance to go to school, and we succeeded. But things are now desparate again because of COVID, and we have lost so much of our income. We really need Cambodians to support us. Everyone is struggling because of COVID, but even a few dollars really helps.”
As well as Cambodian viewers, global circus fans from dozens of countries across the planet including the United States, Japan, Canada, UK, France, Ukraine, Greece, Turkey, China and Australia joined the event via online viewing events, YouTube and Facebook.
“You gave people in your community and around the world a once-in-a-lifetime show!” said Natacha Kim of France, in a comment on Facebook. “You are a model of the resilience and courage of the Khmer people. I hope you reach your goal to go through these tough COVID times and we will be able to watch many other performances in the future,”
“Oh my goodness you guys are amazing! What a feat! What a privilege to bear witness to this,” said Roisin Hansen, from Singapore.
“I am incredibly proud of the 90 Phare artists supported by a 150 strong team of staff and volunteers for this monumental achievement in setting a world record,” said Osman Khawaja, Phare Ponleu Selpak’s executive director. “We are inspired and encouraged by the hundreds of thousands of Cambodians who joined us online with the support of our sponsor Cellcard and made a donation for our survival. Corporate investment and solidarity from the people is what will keeps arts and culture alive. This is a proud moment not only for Phare but for Cambodia – showcasing the resilience and creativity of a home grown arts organization especially at this challenging time. We thank those that have donated and hope many more will contribute in the coming days to Phare to support Cambodian culture and educate the next generation of artists. Arts needs greater recognition and I believe with the support of the masses we can raise the million dollars to see us through not only 2021 but also 2022; it all starts from one dollar.”
Although the world record has been set as evidenced through its live broadcast, Guinness will need to assess the event rigorously through witness statements, video, photography and more before they can confirm Guinness World Record status. This process can take four months. If confirmed, this will be one of just ten Guinness World Records that Cambodia holds – and the first new one set in three years. The others include longest woven scarf, biggest sticky bun, King with the most titles, longest alphabet in the world and – of course – largest religious structure at Angkor Wat.
Guinness set clear guidelines for the record attempt, including that 1) the performance must last 24 hours and 1 minutes, 2) all performers must be of professional standard and must be paid, 3) acts must be varied and not repeated and 4) independent witnesses must be present. All of these were rigorously met.
*Supplied via email