Big Apple Circus has received expressions of interest in buying the organization that is plying its way through bankruptcy proceedings.

Circus's lawyer, Chris Updike, told a court on Tuesday that he has received letters of interest from potential buyers, and the circus is open to receiving offers that would allow the show to go on. Mr. Updike said the nonprofit organization is looking to secure an auctioneer.

At the hearing, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Sean Lane expressed hope Big Apple Circus, which filed for chapter 11 this week after an emergency fundraising drive came up short, would be able to find a buyer.

The judge said Big Apple Circus could tap a zero-interest loan provided by Circus's directors that would pay the bills while a team of professionals looks for a buyer for the organization's intellectual property and equipment, including its big-top tent.

"Hopefully, bankruptcy will serve the Big Apple Circus well," Judge Lane said during the hearing in Manhattan.

Founded in 1977, Big Apple Circus's one-ring show became a New York cultural institution, with holiday-season performances at the Lincoln Center and later on tour. The circus held special performances for children with autism and visual and hearing impairments. It also offered free and discounted circus tickets for disadvantaged children, court papers say.

Mr. Updike told Tuesday's hearing that beginning around 2009, Big Apple Circus's revenue began to plummet, as financial institutions and law firms cut back on private performances.

Mr. Updike and his firm, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, are representing Big Apple Circus pro bono.

Big Apple Circus has scaled down its staff, Mr. Updike told the court, and is now running with the minimum number of people needed to keep operating. Most of the staff are part-time and involved with the organization's "Clown Care" community-outreach program, which sends professional clowns to pediatric hospitals, he said.

An emergency fundraising drive was launched in June, but contributions Big Apple Circus received weren't enough, prompting the organization to cancel its 2016-2017 performance season. Aside from marketing its circus equipment and intellectual property, Big Apple Circus intends to sell its training and storage facilities in Walden, NY.

"The hope is that New Yorkers will see the Big Apple Circus performed in the city again," Mr. Updike said following the hearing.

Write to Jonathan Randles at Jonathan.Randles@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 22, 2016 17:35 ET (22:35 GMT)

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