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Circuses are a form of entertainment that includes something for just about everyone. As a traveling unit of clowns, acrobats, animal acts and a range of other performers, the circus enjoys a history that goes back to the heyday of the Roman Empire. Generally, the focus of the performing area is referred to as a ring, owning to the circular nature of the space. Because circuses are traveling companies, tents are used for much of the live performances and housing for the animals and props, while the performers and other circus workers tend to live in trailers and wagons.
The very nature of a circus is to provide a source of fun and entertainment as the company travels form one location to the next. In modern times, the 19th century through the early 20th century were considered to be a golden age for this type of traveling show. Mergers of smaller circuses created some of the giants that are still considered to have set the standard for a quality circus. Even today, many people still recognize the names of Barnum and Bailey, as well as the Ringling Brothers with the concept of a really good circus.
One of the innovations that helped to popularize the modern circus is the concept of multiple performing areas. Often, a large circus will provide up to three performing areas that are dedicated to different types of acts. This three ring circus standard was often used as a means of building up excitement among the populace as the circus made it’s way to the next town.
One ring may feature animal acts, such as elephant and tiger acts. The elephants and tigers are permanent features and are often treated with the greatest of care. A second ring will focus on acts of daring and skill, such as trapeze and high wire performers. The third ring will be all about wacky fun, often supplied by a featured clown that is supported by a host of other clowns. It is not uncommon for the performers that are featured in one ring to also appear as part of the act in other rings.
Many permanent workers and performers with the modern circus choose to vacation during the winter months of the year. There is a large colony of carnival works, known as carnies, in the Sarasota Florida area. Sarasota is also home to the Ringling Brothers Museum, which features exhibits of the glory days of the circus along with periodic performances by circus performers.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the historical significance of circuses?
Circuses have a rich history dating back to ancient Rome, where they were public spectacles featuring chariot races, gladiatorial combat, and staged battles. The modern circus, however, originated in the late 18th century when Philip Astley, a former cavalry sergeant-major turned showman, presented tricks on a circular stage, thus the term 'circus.' This format evolved to include acrobats, clowns, and exotic animals, becoming a beloved form of family entertainment worldwide.
What are the typical acts one can expect to see at a circus?
At a traditional circus, you can expect a variety of acts designed to amaze and amuse. These typically include acrobatic performances, such as trapeze artists and tightrope walkers, alongside clown acts that provide comedic relief. Animal acts with trained elephants, horses, and sometimes exotic animals like lions and tigers have historically been part of the show, although their inclusion has decreased due to animal welfare concerns. Contemporary circuses often focus on human skill and artistry, incorporating elements of theater and dance.
How has the circus evolved over the years?
The circus has undergone significant evolution since its inception. The introduction of the 'Big Top' tent allowed circuses to travel, bringing entertainment to audiences far and wide. In recent decades, there has been a shift towards more theatrical and narrative-driven performances, with companies like Cirque du Soleil redefining the genre by eliminating animal acts and focusing on human artistry. This contemporary circus style emphasizes character development, storyline, and elaborate staging, appealing to a modern audience seeking a sophisticated blend of performance art and traditional circus thrill.
Are circuses still popular today?
Yes, circuses remain popular, although they have transformed to meet changing tastes and ethical standards. Traditional circuses have seen a decline, particularly in regions with strict animal welfare laws. However, contemporary circuses that emphasize acrobatics, storytelling, and cultural themes continue to thrive. According to a report by Grand View Research, the global circus market size was valued at USD 1.9 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow, indicating sustained interest in this form of entertainment.
What measures are circuses taking to ensure animal welfare?
Many circuses have phased out or significantly altered their animal acts in response to public concern over animal welfare. Some have eliminated animal performances altogether, while others have implemented strict animal welfare policies, working closely with veterinarians and animal care experts to ensure the health and well-being of their animals. Additionally, numerous countries and local jurisdictions have enacted laws that restrict or ban the use of wild animals in circuses, prompting the industry to adapt with more humane alternatives.