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PHNOM PENH — The NGO Phare Ponleu Selpak has officially set the Guinness World Record for the longest circus show ever held with the 24-hour non-stop show its artists staged in 2021.
Phare announced on Nov. 17 in Phnom Penh that the circus performance its artists gave on March 7, 2021, and which lasted 24 hours, 10 minutes, and 30 seconds, had now been recognized as the longest circus show ever.
Live-streamed online, it featured 31 performances from the 20-year history of Phare's circus staged by 90 artists in its big top in Battambang City. The program included acrobatics, magic, dance, theater, clowning, singing puppetry, contortion, breakdancing, live painting, unicycling, fire acts, and more.
To meet the conditions of the world record, all performers had to be professionals receiving payments, acts could not be repeated, and independent witnesses had to be present at all times to attest that the performance went on non-stop 24 hours and that all requirements were met. During the show, performers got on stage in shifts and took quick naps in-between acts.
Going after the record: a way to raise funds
As Osman Khawaja, executive director of Phare, explained on Nov. 17, due to the loss of revenues resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, Phare decided to put on a performance that would be out of the ordinary, and this led to the non-stop 24-hour circus show with the goal of setting a world record. “We’ve lost 50 percent of our income,” he said, due to the drop in the number of visitors to the country.” The NGO, which offers free art and circus training to poor students in Battambang City, holds shows to give students’ stage experience and to help raise funds. In addition, the social enterprise Phare The Cambodian Circus presents shows in Siem Reap City and provides jobs for the Phare artists in addition to helping the NGO with funding.
“[Due to the pandemic] our performers had to stop performing, and our students could not go to school,” Khawaja said. “We almost shut down and closed our door forever. We’re a small organization in our country, but we had to do something big.” Which led to putting up the show to go after the Guinness World Record, he said.
The 24-hour performance, which attracted nearly one million online viewers and raised more than $150,000, enabled the organization to weather the pandemic that had led to a 50 percent drop in funding.
“This is a special day for us,” said Khuon Det, co-founder of Phare Ponleu Selpak. “Many people told us that the 24-hour circus show had given them inspiration in a dark time.”
Heng Dara, a student at Phare who now performs as an acrobat and a clown, said that being on stage while the entire world was watching Cambodia break this record was an amazing experience.
As he explained, Phare has helped him and his family get out of poverty. “I want them to continue doing that for other kids like I used to be,” Dara said. “That's why I urge everyone to donate to keep our school and circus alive.”
Phare announced on Nov. 17 in Phnom Penh that the circus performance its artists gave on March 7, 2021, and which lasted 24 hours, 10 minutes, and 30 seconds, had now been recognized as the longest circus show ever. Photo provided
Phare has been through many difficult times, yet with solidary and hope, the organization could see the light at the end of the tunnel, he said. “We are fighting for the livelihood of our artists, teachers, and staff,” Khuon Det said. “We are fighting for the people of our community, for our students, and for all the incredible performers.”
Phare has achieved something that world-famous names like Cirque Du Soleil and the Moscow State Circus haven’t: putting it on the global map by winning that record, Phare’s press release read.
This marks the sixth record ever set by a Cambodian organization. The other records included the longest woven scarf, the largest sticky bun, the longest alphabet, and Angkor Wat as the world's largest religious structure.
The artists of Phare The Cambodian Circus and Phare Ponleu Selpak are currently holding a dinner-and-show event in Phnom Penh that combines theater, music, dance and circus arts to tell Cambodian stories of the past and present.
Then on Dec. 11, a free hour-long musical circus adventure and multimedia event will be held online and open to all to celebrate the Guinness world record and showcase the organization’s work. To sign up: bit.ly/fightforlight2022