Circus in North America

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)

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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.

For further information about Circus in America, please contact the Outdoor Amusement Business Organization (OABA) at www.oaba.org/ or the Circus Historic Society at www.circushistory.org/

 

Other Publications

ARTICLE /
CHAPTER /
PAPER
JOURNAL /
BOOK TITLE
PUBLISHER /
CONFERENCE
YEARREGIONSRESEARCHER
(Contact Info)
The Circus Age: Culture & Society Under the American Big TopThe University of North Carolina Press
2002North AmericaResearcher Detail
Description: A definitive history of the cultural impact of the circus from the beginning of the "railroad circus" through its "golden age."
Publication Topics: Circus and Gender / Race / Ethnicity / Multiculturalism
Circus Queen and Tinker Bell: The Memoir of Tiny KlineUniversity of Illinois Press
2008North AmericaResearcher Detail
Description: An inside look at the life and times of aerialist Tiny Kline.
Publication Topics: Circus as Spectacle     Circus Artists / Performers / Bodies     Circus and Gender / Race / Ethnicity / Multiculturalism     Circus and Religion / Spirituality / Mysticism     Circus Biographies / Memoirs / Genealogy     Circus History – European
Step Right Up! Adventures of Circus in AmericaBettyway Publications, Inc.
1990North AmericaResearcher Detail
Description: A behind-the-scenes look at the historical circus in the United States.
Publication Topics: Circus as Spectacle     Circus History – North American     Circus as Performance Art
The New American CircusThe University of Florida Press
1995North AmericaResearcher Detail
Description: A historical documentation of the birth and growth of the nouveau circus movement in the United States.
Publication Topics: Circus History – North American     Circus as Performance Art     Circus Ownership / Business / Finance / Contracts     Circus Producing / Directing / Choreography
A Ringling By Any Other Name: The Story of John Ringling North and His CircusThe Scarecrow Press
1989North AmericaResearcher Detail
Description: An exhaustive examination of the Ringling family, their circus and their impact on American cultural history.
Publication Topics: Circus History – North American     Circus Ownership / Business / Finance / Contracts     Circus Producing / Directing / Choreography
Dan Rice: The Most Famous Man You’ve Never Heard OfPublic Affairs
2013North AmericaResearcher Detail
Description: Definitive history of famed US clown Dan Rice.
Publication Topics: Animals in the Circus / Training / Exhibition / Protests     Circus as Art / Photography / Graphics     Circus Artists / Performers / Bodies     Circus Clowns / Clowning     Circus Music / Musicians / Composers     Circus Parades / Wagons     Circus Sideshows / Oddities     Circus History – North American     Circus and Gender / Race / Ethnicity / Multiculturalism     Circus as Performance Art     Circus in Poetry / Literature / Fiction     Circus Archives / Collections / Artifacts / Ephemera     Circus Biographies / Memoirs / Genealogy     Circus Fans / Enthusiasts / Audience     Circus Logistics / Routing / Tours / Transportation     Circus Management / Staff / Crew     Circus Ownership / Business / Finance / Contracts     Circus Production / Staging     Circus Producing / Directing / Choreography     Circus Space / Tents / Buildings / Open Air
Big Apple Circus: 25 YearsBig Apple Circus, Ltd./W.W.Norton
2003North AmericaResearcher Detail
Description: Illustrated history of the Big Apple Circus
Publication Topics: Circus Artists / Performers / Bodies     Circus History – North American     Circus Biographies / Memoirs / Genealogy
Jest in Time: A Clown ChronologyCharlie's Creative Comedy
1992North AmericaResearcher Detail
Description: Essay on American Clowning
Publication Topics: Circus Clowns / Clowning
The Bloomington-Normal Circus Legacy: The Golden Age of AerialistsThe History Press
2013North AmericaResearcher Detail
Description: Historical examination of the rich circus heritage of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, particularly the aerialist tradition.
Publication Topics: Circus Artists / Performers / Bodies     Circus History – North American     Circus as Performance Art     Circus Biographies / Memoirs / Genealogy
Circus and Carnival Ballyhoo: Side Shock Circus Freaks, Carnival Jabbers and Blade Box QueensECW Press - Canada
2010North AmericaResearcher Detail
Description: Delves into the history of the North American sideshow as presented at circuses and carnivals, along with the stories of freaks and other side show attractions as presented in dime museums, store front shows, on vaudeville and on movie theatre stages.
Publication Topics: Circus Sideshows / Oddities     Circus History – North American     Circus History – Other
Circus: The Australian StoryMelbourne Books
2011Africa
North America
South America and Caribbean
Asia
Europe
Oceania
Researcher Detail
Description: A definitive historical accounting of the illustrative history of the circus in Australia.
Publication Topics: Animals in the Circus / Training / Exhibition / Protests     Circus as Art / Photography / Graphics     Circus as Spectacle     Circus Artists / Performers / Bodies     Circus Clowns / Clowning     Circus Music / Musicians / Composers     Circus Advertising / Marketing / Publicity     Circus History – North American     Circus and Education     Circus and Gender / Race / Ethnicity / Multiculturalism     Circus and Labor Relations     Circus and Religion / Spirituality / Mysticism     Circus as Performance Art     Circus in Poetry / Literature / Fiction     Circus in Fine Arts / Painting     Circus Archives / Collections / Artifacts / Ephemera     Circus Biographies / Memoirs / Genealogy     Circus Fans / Enthusiasts / Audience     Circus History – Asian / Pacific Rim     Circus History – Australian     Circus History – European     Circus Logistics / Routing / Tours / Transportation     Circus Management / Staff / Crew     Circus Ownership / Business / Finance / Contracts     Circus Schools / Training     Circus Technology / Mechanization / Innovation     Circus Space / Tents / Building
Histoire Mondiale du CirqueJean-Pierre Delarge, Paris
1977North America
Europe
Researcher Detail
Description: A world history of the circus
Publication Topics: Animals in the Circus / Training / Exhibition / Protests     Circus as Spectacle     Circus Artists / Performers / Bodies     Circus Clowns / Clowning     Circus History – North American     Circus Archives / Collections / Artifacts / Ephemera     Circus Biographies / Memoirs / Genealogy     Circus History – Australian     Circus History – European     Circus History – Latin American     Circus History – Russian     Circus History – Other     Circus Management / Staff / Crew
The Great Circus ParadeGareth Stevens, Milwaukee
1989North AmericaResearcher Detail
Description: A history of circus parades through Milwaukee's "Great Circus Parade"
Publication Topics: Circus Parades / Wagons     Circus Advertising / Marketing / Publicity     Circus History – North American     Circus Archives / Collections / Artifacts / Ephemera
Social Agency of Sideshow Performers in Literature and Film: An Analysis of Panoptic, Clinical, and Educative Gaze ConstructsUMI Proquest - Indiana University of Pennsylvania DSpace (http://dspace.iup.edu/handle/2069/2033?show=full)
2013North AmericaResearcher Detail
Description: Doctoral Dissertation - Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Publication Topics: Circus Artists / Performers / Bodies     Circus Sideshows / Oddities     Circus and Education     Circus History – Other
Años de Circo - Historia de la Actividad Circense de Chile, ISBN 978-956-345-6Ograma
2011North America
South America and Caribbean
Europe
Researcher Detail
Description: Photographic de luxe book which describes the history of traditional family circuses in Chile since the beginnings of the nation. Contains over 300 historic photographs. It refers also to those international circuses and circus artists documented to having arrived Chile during the XIXth and early XXth century.
Publication Topics: Circus as Spectacle     Circus History – Latin American
Años de Circo - Historia de la Actividad Circense en Chile ISBN 978-84-477-1155-0Circus Arts Foundation
2012North America
South America and Caribbean
Europe
Researcher Detail
Description: Part of the javier Sainz Moreno Collection, this is a paperback issue of a collection that refers to ibero american circus history, being this the third volume of the collection, which specifically refers to the history of the chilean traditional circuses, with references to all those documented international circuses or circus artists which visited Chile during the XIX th and early XXth century
Publication Topics: Circus as Spectacle     Circus History – Latin American
The Education of a Circus Clown: Mentors, Audiences, MistakesLondon & New York: Palgrave Macmillan
2015North AmericaResearcher Detail
Description: The book is described as an “autoethnographic examination” of circus clowning through the eyes of a professional clown and noted circus historian. It provides a personal and poignant insight into learning and performing the craft, as well as a glimpse of life behind the scenes of a former Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus clown. The author also places his personal experiences within the larger context on the history, heritage and significance on this ancient, yet timely practice.
Publication Topics: Circus Artists / Performers / Bodies     Circus Clowns / Clowning     Circus History – North American     Circus as Performance Art
A Circus Girl's CookbookSarah Chapman
1989North America
Europe
Researcher Detail
Description: Recipes plus anecdotes and photos of the Chapman family.
Publication Topics: Circus Artists / Performers / Bodies     Circus History – North American     Circus as Performance Art
Midwestern MemoriesSarah Chapman
1995North AmericaResearcher Detail
Description: Mini-cookbook with a 60-day journal from 1977 Franzen Bros. Circus season.
Publication Topics: Animals in the Circus / Training / Exhibition / Protests     Circus Artists / Performers / Bodies     Circus History – North American     Circus Biographies / Memoirs / Genealogy     Circus Logistics / Routing / Tours / Transportation     Circus Management / Staff / Crew     Circus Space / Tents / Buildings / Open Air
Balanced RecipesSarah Chapman
1998North AmericaResearcher Detail
Description: Circus cookbook by the Chapman family, plus circus anecdotes, travels, and photos.
Publication Topics: Circus Artists / Performers / Bodies     Circus History – North American     Circus as Performance Art     Circus Biographies / Memoirs / Genealogy     Circus Wardrobe / Props / Makeup
Simply SarahSarah Chapman
2010North AmericaResearcher Detail
Description: Healthy recipes, plus photos and family news of the Chapmans.
Publication Topics: Circus Artists / Performers / Bodies     Circus History – North American     Circus as Performance Art     Circus Biographies / Memoirs / Genealogy     Circus Wardrobe / Props / Makeup
Balancing ActSarah Chapman
2014North AmericaResearcher Detail
Description: Memoir of Sailor Circus kid turned pro. Faith surmounts difficulties with marriage, parenting, and health. History of Ringling Show 1968-1974 plus origin of Clown College.
Publication Topics: Animals in the Circus / Training / Exhibition / Protests     Circus Artists / Performers / Bodies     Circus Music / Musicians / Composers     Circus History – North American     Circus and Education     Circus and Religion / Spirituality / Mysticism     Circus as Performance Art     Circus Biographies / Memoirs / Genealogy     Circus Logistics / Routing / Tours / Transportation     Circus Media / Social Media / Blogs     Circus Production / Staging     Circus Schools / Training     Circus Space / Tents / Buildings / Open Air     Circus Wardrobe / Props / Makeup
The Juggler's Manual of Manipulative Miscellanea: The Classic Skills with Top Hat, Cane, Plates, Nesting Cups, and Assorted ObjectsVariety Arts Press
1984Africa
North America
South America and Caribbean
Asia
Europe
Oceania
Researcher Detail
Description: The Juggler's Manual of Manipulative Miscellanea by R.W. Bacon (a.k.a. "Mr. Slim") is the only book of its kind detailing the author's arcane acrobatic juggling and manipulative specialties. A popular reference consulted by jugglers around the world, it has become a "best seller" among juggling books since its publication in 1984. The book explains and diagrams the classic theatrical vaudeville performance skills with top hats, canes, plates, nesting cups, and assorted objects. Authored by a noted touring professional, the book includes history & background, the applied physics of juggling & manipulation, the wide variety of mixed-object & combination stunts, and valuable presentation tips. "A good lesson in entertainment." --- Juggler's World Magazine.
Publication Topics: Circus as Performance Art     Circus Schools / Training
The Juggler's Manual of Cigar Box Manipulation & BalanceVariety Arts Press
1983Africa
North America
South America and Caribbean
Asia
Europe
Oceania
Researcher Detail
Description: Since its initial publication in 1983, when it helped open the floodgates of juggling instructional material, The Juggler's Manual of Cigar Box Manipulation & Balance by R.W. Bacon (a.k.a. "Mr. Slim") has become sought after by professional and amateur jugglers throughout the world. Though modest in size, the book explains and diagrams over 200 challenging and crowd-pleasing moves, stunts, balances, and gags with cigar boxes --- leading to hundreds of further combinations. Authored by a noted touring professional, the book includes the history and background of the venerable props, plus valuable insight on comedy, showmanship, and presentation. "All you need to know to learn and perform with cigar boxes." --- Juggler's World Magazine.
Publication Topics: Circus as Performance Art     Circus Schools / Training