Gregory Fedin and his then wife Nina Krasavina started a circus school to train future “first” generation circus performers. Gregory and Nina were born and trained in Russia. They started the small school in a lower Manhattan loft.
The circus couple worked with Paul Binder and Michael Christensen to develop the Big Apple Circus following the European style “one ring” circus. In 1977, they located and secured an open ground area, in Battery Park, where the Big Apple Circus debuted. Headlining the early shows was Paul Lubin (Single Trapezist), Ethel Jennier (Dog Act), a tight wire number, Michael and Paul (Jugglers and Clowns), the Back Street Flyers, Mia and Jessie (double trapeze) and a host of performers. Paul Binder and Michael Christensen in the late 1960s performed together in the “San Francisco Mime Troupe”.
In 1981, the circus began performing at Damrosch Park of Lincoln Center for the first time, continuing until 2015. In 1982, the circus won a silver medal at a circus performing competition held in Paris. 1983 saw the circus begin to tour, as tours across New England began to be arranged. The circus also received an Obie award that year.
In 1991 The, Circus appeared in a Hollywood film commemorating the 15th anniversary of “The Big Apple Circus.
By 1996, there was increased interest in Big Apple Circus and its performers in cities outside the New York/New England area. This was in part due to the circus’ exposure in the Allen film.. In 1996 traveled to Chicago and Columbus. Michael Christensen received two more awards, including one named after Red Skelton.
The Harlem Hospital Center, founded with funds that came from the Big Apple Circus, was opened that year, and the hospital’s pediatric area in particular became a headlining facility, as professional performers specially trained as “clown doctors” would visit perform for patients. HBO aired a special documentary about the circus that year also.
In 1991, Big Apple Circus’ performers participated in a collaboration between American and Russian circus performers. That same year, Paul Binder was given a presidential medal of achievement by Dartmouth, as well as a doctorate in fine arts by the Pratt Institute.
In 1993, the circus set a new attendance record. A new tent was purchased, and Michael Christensen was given a Parenting Achievement award by Parents magazine, to recognize his work with the Clown Care Foundation.
Gary Dunning became the Big Circus’ executive director in 1994. Meanwhile, Christensen received another award, this one the “Sullivan Trail Sertoma’s Club Service to Mankind Award”. A creative Center campaign was announced, the coffee brand Chock full o’Nuts began sponsoring the circus, and a new mark was set as far as most funds received during one year.
Peter T. Grauer became the circus’ Chairman in 1995, replacing Patricia Rosenwald.,
In 1996, the circus’ Art in Education program began to work in different grade schools. Clown Care continued to develop, opening chapters in Washington, D.C. and in Connecticut.
1997 saw new attendance records set, as an estimated 170,000 people went to see the circus’ “Medicine Show” production over a total of 114 New York City performances. Clown Care completed 150,000 hospital visits in one year for the first time in the program’s history, and Paul Binder received an honorary doctorate from Rhode Island College.
During 1998, the circus was able to break attendance records again, as it celebrated twenty years of operation with engagements at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and in Boston. The Boston engagement was particularly pleasant for the circus’ performers, as it was one of the longest stays in that city that they had ever experienced. TJ Maxx, a major American company, began to sponsor Big Apple Circus appearances in Chicago and in Atlanta by bringing the circus’ “Circus of the Senses” to those cities. Circus of the Senses is a circus performance specifically geared towards children with special needs. Sign language interpreters and sound augmentation for deaf patrons allow the audience to experience the circus as never before. In 1999, over 6,000 children took advantage of these performances.
In 1999, Michael Christensen was inducted into Miami’s Ambassador David A. Walters pediatric Hall of Fame, for his “contributions to pediatrics” by way of the circus and its different programs.