18 April 2023
Circuses have been through many guises in the last 250 years. Originally a place for promoting unusual acts, contemporary circuses have evolved to blend the line between performance art and showmanship. The popularity of the circus endures because it shows ordinary humans pushing themselves to their seemingly impossible limits. Feats of bravery and daring risks stand side-by-side with mind-bending stunts and hilarious slapstick routines. Attending a circus will give you an experience that’s hard to find anywhere else.
Circuses have always been popular because they offer an element of fantasy and escapism. Contemporary circuses lean heavily into the theatrics, with many modern shows incorporating character-driven stories, big statements and intriguing themes. The theatrics don’t always go so deep, though. The surface-level bangs, crashes, whizzes and pops go together with the flashy costumes and the larger-than-life acts to create an experience to remember.
We go to the circus to be astounded. There are the well-known acts, such as the trapeze and high-wire, but also incredible feats that are smaller in scale, such as hula-hooping with 100 hoops at once or walking up a set of stairs balancing on top of a beach ball. There’s something to be said for the experience of seeing any live performance and in the circus's case, it’s often the first time any of us have seen these feats of skill before our own eyes.
A big top, the smell of popcorn and sawdust, the striped canvas and the hot lights of the arena. The setting and experience of a circus is something truly unique. The style of a circus is a brand itself, and most people love the chance to experience that. Once you’re sitting in the big top, the other-worldly experience created by the costumes, style and setting makes for an unforgettable, even mystic, experience.
In the modern age of streaming and instant downloads, experiencing any sort of physical performance can seem extra special. The circus coming to town is an event as the local community all flock down to see the show, coming together afterwards to talk about it and share their experiences. Even if it’s not held in a traditional tent in a field, a circus show will still play at a venue for just a limited time. It’s the sort of event that word of mouth serves best. People can experience it in a short time frame and it becomes a fond, surreal, shared experience.
Circus skills are popular. We see tricks and acrobatics on TV talent shows all the time. Now that many circuses incorporate dance and broader art forms, it’s hard not to be inspired. They’re also the sorts of skills we can have a go at ourselves, by setting up a tightrope in the garden, practising handstands or learning to juggle with balled-up socks. Circuses also promote diversity and showcase great teamwork. It’s hard to experience the thrill of a circus and not feel the desire to run away with it when it leaves town.