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Economic success of the Cirque Olympique:
study of annual revenue 

Few elements make it possible to study the economy of Parisian theaters and shows at the beginning of the 19th century because accounting books have disappeared. An essential source helps compensate for the void : the Tax on Entertainment called the Droit des Pauvres or Droit des Indigents), a tax levied on all entertainment entry fees to fund the hospitals (hospices). It is thus the archives of the APHP (Assistance Publique des Hôpitaux de Paris) that provide the materials to trace the evolution of theaters' revenues in a continuous way through the years.

We will keep the designation Droit des Pauvres as there is no equivalent we know of in English. Droit is to be understood as "a right" for the poor and needy to beneficiate from hospital care which is made possible throuigh taxing all entertainment venues. So one could say that it is the Tax on Entertainment which offers a right to the Poor to access hospitals.


The Bureau des Théâtres de l'APHP elaborated from 1810 onwards a statement of receipts and taxes paid by the various theaters, shows, concerts and balls in Paris. For certain years, a monthly Statement of receipts completed the annual report, and sometimes, but rarely, a control sheet summarized the number of annual performances of each theater.  This last document is particularly valuable because it allows us to correlate annual revenues with the number of performances, and to count the average daily revenues per theatre. Such a calculation is fundamental in the case of the Cirque Olympique because it is only open in Paris during the winter month. The duration of its summer tours extends from four to six months per year (see table below), whereas the other secondary theaters are open, apart from spring break, for a much longer period of time throughout the year. Therefore one needs to correlate revenues to the number of performances per year in Paris.


As a result, if we only take into account annual results (over 12 months in Paris), the Cirque's revenues are necessarily less important than those of theaters that are open 2, 3 or 4 months longer. On the other hand, if we look at the prorata of each month, the sums have a completely different meaning: one can clearly notice the success of the Cirque Olympique, which often leads way above all parisian theatres with figures showing the Cirque drains the largest attendance at theaters in Paris.


From 1835, with the opening of the Cirque des Champs Elysées, created precisely on the basis of an argument of profitability for the management, the annual revenues even show a consequent jump into success (doc.2).

Annual revenue: the index of success

Comparing the Cirque Olympique's revenues with all the Parisian theatres does not allow us to know the reality of the establishment's accounts (costs, expenses, profits). On the other hand, it does allow us to measure the economic stature of the Franconi theater within the theater market.

Measuring the success of a theater by its revenues is a biased dimension that gained new interest from the beginning of the 19th century. From then on, the press reported the annual revenues of theaters, presenting rankings, like a kind of pop chart, according to annual figures. Published in January of each year, in the middle of the theatrical season, the results of the previous year became a criterion for ranking the establishments from highest to lowest revenues (doc.3). 

More surprisingly, this information about French theatres was also relayed in the English press. The Times (of London) thus lists the yearly financial results of the Parisian stages as an indicator : on one hand success cannot be read only through theatrical criticism or the number of performances of a play but need also, indeed, to be considered through revenues ; on the other hand the reputation of a theatre is measured as a whole, considering yearly programmation and its capacity to attract the public continuously (and repeatedly). Thus, these charts, as we may call them, are also a great source of information that can be crossed over the numbers of the Tax on entertainment (Droit des Pauvres).

The comparison of revenues, however, remains a very relative factor: theaters do not have the same number of seats and do not charge the same prices and, without indicating the number of performances per year, figures remain detached from reality making it a very abstract index.


The fact remains that, as this is the only indicator available, moreover on a constant basis (results known for each year), it is essential data for monitoring the evolution of a theatre, and compare it to that of all the Parisian stages.

Recettes du Cirque Olympique 1810-1826.p
Recettes du Cirque Olympique 1827-1847.p

Cirque Olympique Revenues

Between 1810 and 1826, revenues of the Cirque Olympique oscillate but with a contained standard deviation to the point that revenues of 1810 and 1824 are almost identical . The Cirque hall built in 1807 can accommodate 1200 spectators on the stands and 800 to 1500 on the ring depending on whether people are sitting or standing. 2000 seats is also what their facilities offer in 1816 within the walls of Astley's, and then in the new building built in 1826. 

The embellishment work in 1821 did not seem to have any impact on the attendance as revenues kept relatively identical.

On the other hand, the opening of the 3rd Cirque Olympique in 1826 launched 4 pretty fruitful years until the bankruptcy of 1830. Revenues doubled and propelled the Cirque Olympique to the second rank of theaters just after the Opera in 1829 (see The Times ranking). However, it is clear that flourishing revenues do not indicate the financial equilibrium of an establishment that had cost so much to rebuild since the following year the establishment went bankrupt.


Therefore, as the new establishment had the same capacity of seats, it was not the number of people attending that predicts revenues, but the price of seats and the number of performances meaning the balance between expenditures and revenues may be obtained less by one shots success than trhough the revolving and recurring revenues.

From 1831 the seemingly inexorable decline in revenue is the opening of the Cirque des Champs Elysées in 1835. Offering a show all year round in Paris is definitely "the" main issue for cost-effectiveness. The management of the two circuses saw the revenue from their Parisian shows increase throughout the year. In a four years time, from 1837 to 1839, Louis Dejean's management saw its figures double. The year 1841, with the opening of the new building on the Champs Elysées, reached a peak of more than one million receipts and thereafter, despite the departure of Dejean in 1844 who handed over the management to Gallois, the figures remained high and stable.


Understanding the Droit des Pauvres - Droit des Indigents

The entertainment tax was instituted under the Ancien Régime (February 25, 1699) and consisted of the obligation for theaters to donate a certain amount of ticket price to charitable institutions. The genesis of this tax has its roots in the condemnation of theater people and in the religious origins of the hospital, opposing those who suffer to those who have access to the superfluous and to pleasures.


Formerly collected for the benefit of the Hôtel-Dieu and the Hôpital Général, abolished in 1789, the tax was restored by the law of 7 Frimaire an V, for the benefit of the indigents. It defines the tax collection as 10% in addition to the price of admission tickets to all shows. Initially meant to be a temporary tax, several laws extended its duration before it was definitively established by imperial decree on December 9, 1809.

Until that date, the privileged theaters benefited from a lump-sum exemption from the Droit des Pauvres which they only had to pay by subscription since the 1760s. In 1809, the privileged theaters were taxed at the same rates than secondary theatres. However, in order to alleviate the Opera's chronic deficits it was decided that it should pay less so that the tax would not come as an additional burden. From August 13, 1811, secondary theaters (minor theatres) and spectacles de curiosités (miscellaneous entertainment) were again taxed distinctively from major theatres: secondary theatres are taxed for one-twentieth (known as "le vingtième") of their receipts and the "spectacles de curiosités" for one-fifth ("le cinquième").


For the State, the Droit des Pauvres is more than a simple tax on entertainment since the main issue that underlies it is the financing of hospitals mainly designed to sustain the poor. For theaters and shows, the law of 1811 goes way beyond a question of being taxed : it reactivates the interest for venues to be legally recognized as theater entities so that the tax for which they are liable is lower than that of the "spectacles de curiosités". This is in particular the axis of the argument that the Franconi brothers use so that the Cirque Olympique obtains the status of secondary theater and leaves the category of the spectacles de curiosité. However, by obtaining the legal status of "theater" a venue gets altogether new rights (not just lower taxes). What is initially a money issue for the State and PArisian Hospitals becomes a cultural and censorship control issue for the Police and those responsible of Theatre Laws in PAris but all over the country (payaing that or that tax means a show stands the right to a certain elligibility on posters or number of days to stay in town when touring in the provinces...).

The Droit des Pauvres concerns mainly Parisian theaters and shows. At the beginning of the 19th century, the tax was 1/4 for one-off-non daily shows  (fireworks, balls, horse races and feasts, etc.) and 1/10 for daily shows or semi-daily. For the State, the income from the tax is variable and uneven from one year to the next, depending on the number of taxable establishments and their own revenue. It can amount from 5 to 10% of the overall Assistance Publique (Parisian Hospitals) budget. In 1875 and 1920, the tax collection was extended to all artistic and cultural manifestations. It was stopped in 1946, with the increasing entry into the hospital of a paying clientele since the 1930s and by the overhaul of the Assistance Publique between 1941 and 1946.

To learn more about the Droit des Pauvres :

Renaud (J.), Le spectacle à l’impôt. Inventaire des archives du Droit des pauvres à Paris. Début XIXe siècle-1947, Paris, APHP/Doin, 1997.

To find out more about the Franconi and the Cirque Olympique

The Franconi Tours
Franconi's horses
Répertoire of the Cirque Olympique
Equestrian theaters and circuses in Paris
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