Circus in the Americas
From an eighteenth-century European transplant to a Golden Age to a decline and renaissance in the mid-to-late twentieth century, the story of the circus is America is a colorful saga of entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity and hard work. The circus grew up with America, reflecting and impacting the country’s social, economical and political development each decade along the way while leaving its mark on the history, heritage and cultural fabric of the United States.
-- Rodney A. Huey, PhD (1997, rev. 2009)
The Circus in America Today
The Circus in America today is characterized by youthful energy, creativity, innovation, and most importantly, diversity and variety. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Barnum dominates the urban arena circuit with two touring units while its boutique single-ring version plays smaller markets. Canada’s Cirque du Soleil dispatches a variety of traveling units to major American cities while reshaping Las Vegas with multiple stationary shows. Universoul, the country’s only African-American owned and operated circus, targets under-served inner-city circus fans, while several urban centers boast their own non-profit circuses, such as New York City’s Big Apple Circus, St. Louis’ Circus Flora, San Francisco’s New Pickle Circus and Sarasota’s Circus Sarasota. A handful of traditional tented circuses, including Carson & Barnes, Cole Bros., Kelly-Miller and Culpepper & Merriweather, play suburban communities that are often bypassed by larger shows, and a variety of stage-based theatrical productions present circus arts on the theatre circuit. America’s circus future is bolstered by a plethora of youth circus organizations, including the PAL Sailor Circus (Sarasota), Circus Harmony (St. Louis), Circus Juventas (St. Paul), Fern Street Circus (San Diego) and Circus4Youth (Circus Fans of America), while circus schools such as Circus Center (San Francisco) and Circus Smirkus (Vermont) teach circus skills to fledgling performers. Florida State University operates the High-Flying Circus for college-aged students and Illinois State University students can train with its Gamma Phi Circus. It is estimated that more than 90 percent of the population of the United States lives within an hour’s drive of a live circus performance.