Cultural Leadership, Experience, Expression, wisdom

How Phare artists and Phare social enterprise demonstrate their models of resilience in time of crisis

Performances are not allowed from March to July 2020 and then again from March 2021 until now. Phare Performing Social Enterprise Co., Ltd, better known as Phare Circus & Phare Creative Studio, has managed to keep maintain employments of 36 artists and 41 staff since the closure of the Cambodian borders. I am writing to highlight solidarity and resilience of the company, artists and staff carried out during this time of crisis to share, inspire and exchange with you.

1-) Communication, communication, communication:

Clear, respectful humane internal communications sessions with artists and team members making sure they are always up to date with the development of the pandemic and the impacts to the company. Requests for staff’s solidarity, understanding and their personal resilience/strength. From April 2021 onwards, 20 staff volunteered to be on a long-term unpaid leave until the company can welcome and invite them back. The rest of the staff agree to receive 50% salary. A few key positions including director of HR and Operations agree to receive less than 50%. CEO volunteered to receive 22% of salary for a period of time and then 10% until now. We negotiated a reduction of costs: ie rental of PPSE office and let go of artists housing in Siem Reap while we do not know when we can come back on stage yet. PPSE revamped the pay system to support artists a basic income (which did not exist before) ensuring artists are still rehearsing, keeping their good mental and physical health by rehearsing by themselves at home showing creativity in pandemic with their series of #StayHomeStayFit videos.

2-) Adapting to the new normal and market demographics:

Months have passed since entertainment venues were closed by government order due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The impact has been devastating, but Cambodians are resilient. Phare artists’ creativity flourished (READ MORE). The Phare Circus organization has been reimagined (READ MORE). When it was safe and permitted to, we took the opportunity to time to return to the stage: with our weekend program called “Phare Circus Rising”. 

PPSE mobilizes its human resources to help each other’s where they can with all hands-on deck ie: deep cleaning of the house, maintaining repainting all circus/music equipment’s, revamp the PCC experience to match with local audiences, successfully relaunched after the government authorizes performances for the local audiences, add extra attractiveness to be ready for re-opening including pre-show entertainment, street food festivals respecting all the prevention measures standard operating procedures (SOPs).

ie: SAFETY FIRST: Health and safety are the top priority. Here are the precautions being taken at Phare Circus to assure the safety of all guests, staff and artists: The seating area in the big top is thoroughly cleaned with alcohol-based disinfectant before every performance. The rest rooms are cleaned with alcohol-based disinfectant before opening and hourly during the operation. Surfaces around the venue that guests are likely to touch are cleaned with alcohol-based disinfectant before opening. Staff and guest temperature is taken upon arrival. Hand sanitizer dispensers are placed throughout the venue. “Distancing” is used in the seating area to put as much space as possible between guests. Interaction with the artists after the show is discontinued until further notice ensuring our audiences and tourism partners that Phare is a fun and safe place to be… 

The artists created 3 new productions during the pandemic  

PPSE cut all capital expenditures, put a halt on capital expenditure/assets or equipment investments, reduced all expenses keeping only the bare necessity to ensure we can pay the (reduced) salary.  

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We persevere, retain jobs and revamp our business plan and target market to match with the new reality which is the local population only. We re-launched our performances with weekend program 2 shows per weekend called: Phare Circus Rising from August 2020 to February 2021.

What is Phare Circus Rising? 

A solid program for resuming performances at Phare Circus and other special events. Phare artists and musicians emerge from their confinement. The Phare Circus venue is prepared to exceed health and safety requirements. Internet streaming will be used to share special events. Step-by-step, Phare Circus is rising again! 

We took actions in finding creative solutions for revenue generation:   

“Put Smile on Faces” “Invite a Family to the Circus” campaign (

We piloted/prototyped a performance project in Phnom Penh city.  

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Together with our mother NGO organization, we put Cambodia on the spot light by performing the longest running circus show in the world 24hour and 10 minutes to raise awareness on our impacts on lives and to mobile fundraising supports from locals and fans around the world. This even has attracted attention and media coverages locally and internationally.

We won 4 international business awards and we are on the way to be accredited by the Guinness World Record.

 3-) Creative Solutions: pivoting to digital medium

We launched Phare Circus Online Boutique on our website, Facebook and Instagram Shop with shoppers and supporters’ convenience by making online payment directly.

We have been working hard to creatively generate some level of income during this time and prepare for the future. Together with partner like All Dreams Cambodia, we put a virtual dance and circus workshop product on sales. Our Phare Creative Studio, producer of graphic design, videos and animation with the Cambodian touch, has been working with partners to provide marketing, educational communication and behavior change communications digital assets to both Covid-19 related digital educational campaign and non-covid related campaigns.

We ensure creativity flourish even in this down time but creating mixed media live action performance and animation drawing background such as this video.

We supported our lead composer and musician LY Vanthan and our partner Baramey production with music equipment enabling them to produce online ASEAN music showcase bring LY Vanthan to fame he rightfully deserve.

We are sure you want to meet Vanthan in person the next time to experience performance at Phare Circus and when he goes on tours around the world!.

We are working with our mother organization Phare Ponleu Selpak (Brightness of the Arts) and her partner organization Minor Act to produce more digital media projects to help other artists on their personal development & branding.

With Minor Act and Ly Vanthan’s BBand, we produced a music video “Let’s Visit Siem Reap”.

In the theme of destination marketing, we are producing a series of videos that show Phare artists visiting many interesting destinations and activities in Siem Reap that tourists should stay longer for them in their next visit.

4-) Ensuring that Phare can rebound and will recover and grow again:

Cash is king! We have been fortunate to retain jobs and do what we do thanks to artists, staff solidarity, our cash reserve and supports from Phare supporters around the world.

But… live performances are ordered closure again from March 2021 until now in late 2021…

From August 2021, with continued strain on PPSE’s reserved cash on hand which is running out, more staff must go on suspension leave, key essential posts who are necessary and contributing to the other means of revenue generation & security/safety and future recovery of the company receive a retainer pay. We ensure everyone do not go hungry by providing emergency food relief packages to the most vulnerable members of our team (Read more here).

If there is two main things I have learned as an entrepreneur and leader from this global crisis they are:

  • Keep reserve cash for rainy days like this one
  • Organizational culture is a key ingredient for a resilient team and organization.

I thank you all for reading and sharing this journey with me and for your continued support to Cambodian artists and the whole cultural and creative industries.

About HUOT Dara:

Dara is an economist by field of studies and a social change agent by his sense of purpose.

Currently he works, plays and dreams big together with 47 artists and 70 team members in Phare Performing Social Enterprise (PPSE) in her mission of supporting Phare Ponleu Selpak school, providing professional opportunities for Cambodian youth and revitalizing arts in Cambodia.

He was a music student at Phare Ponleu Selpak Association in 2001 in his High School Year in Battambang. He was later an interpreter at Phare and joined the first group of performing artists on awareness theater/circus performance tours to educate rural Cambodian populations on landmines, malaria, dengue fever and other public health and safety issues.

He spent 13 years of his professional careers in travel, tourism, hospitality and events management in Cambodia before embarking on the journey on artists career and social programs sustainability in 2013. He has a keen interest in business and personal development and entrepreneurship. His dream is to develop and enhance a strongly reputable and internationally recognized Cambodian brand with Phare.

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