Last Show in Town

Tomas Ayuso


The Segovia Brothers circus, a century old traveling circus from Guatemala, had just began their residency in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on March 10 when news of COVID-19 approach towards the country seemed imminent. Four days into their time in Tegucigalpa, Honduras was placed on lockdown, suspended all non-essential activities and shut traffic and borders completely. The circus was stranded and without the ability to earn a living.

Enter Alejandro Segovia, owner and ringleader. Quick to think, he came up with the idea of setting up a corner for busking that the clowns, dancers, magicians, stunt drivers and singers could stand and earn money to pay for food while they found their way home. Four months later and an endless cavalcade of issues, complications and adversities triggered by COVID-19, the circus was able to decamp and go back home.

The story follows the last days before heading home to Guatemala and, more specifically, the family of Lilian Segura. Lilian is Alejandro’s niece and, as with her uncle, has lived her whole life in the circus. Her mother, Telma, and son, Gabo, are also performers and know nothing but the circus life. When asked what was at stake if the circus were irrevocably banished by COVID-19, Lilian cried and said: “The circus is part of what makes us human. We have been telling stories through performance since prehistoric era. To know the circus is to know humanity.”

{{ readMoreButton }}

  • For four months, Lilian Segovia and the rest of the Segovia Brothers Circus lived among the remains of their touring show in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Trapped under lockdown and desperate to return to Guatemala, the performers danced and begged at stoplights. With the funds raised, Lilian dons a facemask and walks to the market.

  • The performers are a motley crew who live in small cabins in the circus trailers. Some, like Lilian’s mother, Telma Segura, joined the show when it landed in their hometowns. All traded their small towns, relationships, and day jobs for the circus lifestyle

  • Telma’s grandson, Gabriel, and her son, David, play video games in her cabin. After three decades with the Segovia Brothers Circus, Telma says she’s raised hundreds of other young circus members who’ve filtered through the big top.

  • Lilian washes dishes in the improvised kitchen area next to their living quarters. The performers sold their personal belongings, like phones and minifridges, to buy food and water.

  • Telma, left, stands with her son, David, daughter, Lilian, and grandson, Gabriel, on the outskirts of the circus grounds. The three generations of performers trace their circus lineage to a day in the late 1980s when Telma, then a waitress itching to escape her small town, met Eduardo Segovia.

  • Leticia Nájera hovers above the stage, suspended only by her teeth. Few modern circus performers still perform this act, known as the Iron Jaw, due to its difficulty and dangers. Leticia, who grew up in her grandparents’ circus, has been doing it since she was 12.

  • Lilian is a hula hoop dancer who dreams of having a strongman act. Her son also performs, as a clown. “I want to show the world how strong I am,” she says. “But with my own feminine touch.”

  • At a busy intersection in Tegucigalpa, Lilian accepts a donation from passing cars. After running out of food and supplies, the performers took their acts to the streets. Most had never had to beg before and felt embarrassed. But the Hondurans responded warmly with donations of food, water, and soap.

  • Shortly before leaving Honduras, the troupe went to a wealthy neighborhood of Tegucigalpa called Lomas.

  • In full costume, they hoped to raise enough cash to allow them to travel home to Guatemala.

  • Alejandro Segovia, the owner and ringmaster of the Segovia Brothers Circus, distributes donations to the performers and crew. Alejandro feared the lockdown would spell the end of his family’s circus. It would be huge loss for their heritage, he said. “To know the circus is to know humanity.”

  • In mid-July, thanks to intervention by the Guatemalan president, the circus began to pack up. The big top came down, without having hosted a show in four months. The rest was packed into shipping containers and moved by rental truck to the border to await customs.

  • The men of the circus tear down the straps holding the tent in place as they ready to leave. After years of packing and unpacking thier traveling village, they're able to decamp in twelve hours.

  • A mexican tech who worked for over a decade with a european ice circus climbs the tent to unrig some of the trickier fastenings. "You don't just work in the circus," says the gravelly voiced man, "it's a whole way of life."

  • Once the tent was packed, the only thing left was a small improvised kitchen where they’d cooked their meals for four months. Before leaving for the border, Lilian and Leticia’s families threw a small going-away party on the empty circus grounds.