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Phare seek Guinness circus record

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A performer juggles fire at a previous Phare circus cabaret. Ninety performers will take the stage for the 24-hour record attempt. Photo supplied

Phare seek Guinness circus record

Cambodians are going to try to notch up a singular achievement by attempting to set the world record for marathon circus performances starting March 7 at 8:00am.

The circus performers from Phare Ponleu Selpak – the Battambang arts education non-profit and circus troupe – will take to the stage for an incredible 24 hours and 1 minute in a bid to set a Guinness World Record for longest circus performance.

“Nobody has ever attempted to do a 24-hour circus performance before! So we proposed it to Guinness and they agreed that if we can keep the performance going for 24 hours we will take the record,” says Phare Ponleu Selpak executive director Osman Khawaja.

“There will be 90 performers! It’s a true extravaganza!” says Khawaja, “This event is one of the most important in Phare’s whole 27 year history.”

The record-setter must follow the Guinness guidelines, which they formulated specifically for this new record attempt. For example, the performance must last 24 hours and 1 minute and all performers must be up to professional standards and compensated for their participation.

“Acts must be varied and not repeated, independent witnesses must be present and at least 50 people should be in the audience at all times,” say the guidelines.

Khawaja tells The Post: “The performers will change throughout the 24 hour period, but there will always be performers on stage juggling, doing acrobatics, clowning and performing.”

Anyone interested in supporting Phare and joining in the fun can do so most easily by watching the performance’s livestream, but everyone is welcome to attend the show in person at Phare’s Big Top venue in Battambang.

Those who can make it to Battambang for the performance are invited to take part as audience members if they observe strict anti-Covid precautions like wearing facemasks and social distancing.

“Having an audience of at least 50 is a key rule for breaking the record, which means that anyone who attends the event will become a world record-holder themselves and receive a digital certificate that confirms this,” Khawaja says.

The organisers assume that most people won’t be able to attend the show for the whole 24 hours, but if they stay for at least one hour they will qualify as one of the record-holders as well since Guinness requires at least 50 audience members at all times.

“We’ll give them a digital certificate later on proving they are record-holders. So please just show up when you can and stay for at least an hour and be part of the fun absolutely free. Just make sure you bring your mask and feel well,” says Khawaja.

Anyone unable to attend in person in Battambang is invited to take part online and join the Cellcard live stream of the entire 24 hour circus at https://youtu.be/xY9jOQisUt8 or sign up for one of their one-hour gala viewing events.

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Phare Circus Troupe juggles Khmer woven baskets. Florian Lang

According to Phare’s announcement, “the gala events have been organised at 10am and 8pm [ICT] on Sunday, March 7 so that anyone can go online and watch part of the record attempt live from Battambang, taking part in an hour of fun and fundraising”.

There are three simple steps for people who want to take part in one of the gala events. The audience can book their seats on www.bit.ly/pharegala21 and then tune in on March 7 from wherever they are in the world and be thrilled by a short segment from Phare’s record-breaking circus and contribute to the fundraising efforts.

People who tune into the virtual viewing events will get to watch whichever of the 90 performers participating in the marathon circus happen to be on stage at that time. The will also learn more about Phare’s fascinating history through exclusive videos and intimate interviews with Phare artists.

“There will also be unique prize draws for every attendee signing up to watch on the streaming platform,” says Phare.

Phare Ponleu Selpak was founded 27 years ago by nine Cambodians who grew up in a refugee camp after surviving the genocide of the Khmer Rouge.

The nine founders became interested in visual arts initially under the tutelage of a French teacher volunteering in Cambodia over three decades ago. Today, some of them are now teachers themselves at the arts focused school they founded in Battambang.

Most people know Phare for their circus performances or arts education programmes.

However, they also provide a full curriculum in essential school subjects like math, science and English to about a thousand students from impoverished families every year through their schools and Child Development Centre.

The Covid-19 pandemic has nearly eliminated the tourism sector for the past year and because Phare’s funding comes in part from ticket sales to their circus performances – which have always been heavily attended by tourists and obviously involve large groups of people – this has been a tough year financially for them.

Nevertheless, they are determined that their arts programmes, circus school, education programmes and social support work are going to survive the Covid-19 crisis no matter what.

Phare recently posted on Facebook with the hashtag #pharegala2021 to make a request of their many fans and followers:

“On March 6th and 7th, please support Phare Ponleu Selpak by attending their exciting Virtual Gala and Guinness World Record attempt for the ‘longest-ever circus performance’!”

Phare’s recent run of performances in Phnom Penh were also cut short due to a Covid-19 outbreak and all of this together means the school is facing a budgetary shortfall of $250,000 – money that it needs to make it through 2021.

This loss has left Phare in a state of emergency which could result in cuts to both its education and arts services which will leave hundreds of disadvantaged Cambodians without access to education or the opportunities in life that training in the arts can provide.

Phare says: “The school has already cut back on programmes and all of its staff members have taken voluntary pay cuts, so [we] began looking for creative ideas to help raise emergency funds.”

And thus the World’s Longest Circus Performance came about after the record-breaking attempt was officially endorsed and sanctioned by the Guinness Book of World Records, who drew up a set of rules for the record so that once it is established these rules will make a fair competition possible if someday some other circus decides they want to try and break it.

Khawaja enthuses that “claiming this World Record will help to make Cambodian creativity and culture famous around the world, which is one of our ambitions as an organisation.

“. . . And it will be a chance to fundraise!”

This world record attempt has been organised in partnership with Cellcard who are helping to raise awareness of Phare’s funding struggles.

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Cellcard CEO Ian Watson says his team was committed to growing young Khmer talent and providing platforms for youth to achieve their ambitions.

“Phare is one of modern Cambodia’s cultural icons and we are proud to provide this partnership support and look forward to working with them on other joint projects this year,” he says.

Should Phare succeed they will hold one of just eleven Guinness World Records that were set by Cambodians or in Cambodia, and it will be the first new record set here in three years.

The other records include such oddities as the longest hand-woven scarf (krama) at around 1,150m, the world’s biggest sticky bun weighing in at over four tonnes and the world’s longest dragon boat at over 87m, a record that was set just a few years ago.

Cambodia also holds a couple of records that are rooted in its traditional culture – such as the record for the King with the longest title, King Sihamoni. Or as he is officially known:

“His Merciful Excellent Majesty Protector, King Norodom Sihamoni; who unites the nation, religion, realms, and people of the Khmer state; the Great King who is supported by Buddha and Indra; the Protector of Independence, Unification and Peace; the Great King of the Kingdom of Cambodia”.

The Khmer language holds the record for the most characters used in its script at 74, though some of them have fallen out of common usage.

And of course Cambodia has Angkor Wat, which has held the record for the world’s largest religious structure – with an enclosed area of over 160ha containing 72 monuments – for the past thousand years or so.

You can save your seat and find out more about how to help Phare, have fun and be a world record holder all at once by following @PHARE into the future on Facebook, or inquiring by email: [email protected].

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