The Circus and Carnivals

When fans visit the circus, they have images of sequins, performers, spotlights, and the whiff of candy and popcorn. However, there is considerably more to a circus. There are performers from many countries, beliefs, and societies. Circuses need technical people, wardrobe makers, concessionaires, managers, musicians, performers and more. First mentioned in English in the 14th century, 'circus' stems from the Latin word circus that is the Romanization of the Greek κίρκος (Kirkus). The Greek word itself branches from the Homeric Greek κρίκος (Kirkus), indicating, “circle” or “ring”. The circus embraces a company of performers, including clowns, trained animals, musicians, acrobats, and trapeze acts, tightrope walkers, unicyclists, and jugglers.


In 1768, Philip Astley launched his circus in England, containing horse riding with a number of other acts to complete the show. In the next fifty years, the circus expanded with theatrical modernization, allowing it to become a significant feature. The conventional ringmaster formation cultivated in the late 19th century and lasted as the leading style until the 1970’s. As the performance style changed, so did the venues. With the launch of the circus, the initial structures were open air with limited seating undercover. As time progressed, the buildings often advanced to wood structures, with a variety of seating and a trot ring or stage. The introduction of the Big Top happened during the 19th century when touring circuses replaced the immobile venues. The present day circuses perform in several sites such as theaters, casinos, and the tents with their 13 meter ring. The dimensions of the ring were set in the 18th century, by Philip Astley, as the minimum for an acrobatic horse rider and horse to perform their tricks at a cantering pace. A revival happened in the 1980’s concerning the circus, when the acts changed, grounded almost exclusively on human skills, enhanced by other performing art expertise and styles. A circus is a miniature town on wheels moving from one venue to the next, with their own electricity supply, and the larger established circuses have convenience stores, schools, cafes, laundry, and pastors delivering the Sunday services.

Circuses and carnivals are often confused with each other, but they are diverse in cultures and business. A circus is an independent company belonging to one individual or institute. But a carnival entails concessionaires and ride keepers, whom participate in a variety of shows throughout the season. The carnival entertainment is primarily mechanical rides and tournaments of chance, while a circus provide live entertainment in the Big Top. Circuses often move every day, providing entertainment seven days a week and two shows a day. Circus performers cope with storms, mud, heat, cold, wrecks, long jumps, and injuries, while away from home for several months. Circus life is not an easy way of living, but the performers love the business, the traditions, and the culture.

Growing up at the circus

Schooling is an imperative part of travelling. Several circuses have trained teachers, others participate in home schooling with either the parent or a designated participant as the mentor. The teacher through which the learning takes place closely monitors the progress of the child, as well as the curriculum. A stable family unit forms in the community of the circus as they spend most of their time together. As everyone has daily chores to do, the establishment of work ethics happen at an early age. Playtime becomes training in progress, as the children imitate their parents, learning the different acts from a young age. When supporters experience the entertainment performed forty feet above ground, taking place on a thin wire, they may assume that it is hazardous, however the performers are all trained professionals who have refined their acts through many years of diligent practice and skill. It is a rare occasion that a performing accident occurs. The downside of the circus life entails the dangers of the road and weather. Storms have the capability to end a season since it instigates major damages, so monitoring the weather is crucial to all in the business. Raised in the industry, the performers are aware that their primary obligation is to the audience and their safety.

The history of the circus

In the Roman times the circus was very different from what we see now. It used to be a building in which equestrian shows were held, gladiator combats, and also included horse and chariot races, and staged fights. The circuses had a similarity with the Greek hippodromes but served different purposes. Events participating re-enactments of naval battles required the circuses to be flushed with water. These buildings were not circular but resembled a rectangular format with semi-circular ends. The people with rank occupied the lower seats, and the provider of the game, accompanied by his friends filled the state boxes. Circus Maximus was able to seat 250,000 guests at one time. With the fall of Rome, the circuses no longer had much use, and the traveling entertainers, showmen, and animal trainers journeyed throughout Europe, delivering their acts at the local fairs.

On April 4, 1768, Philip Astley set up the first amphitheatre to display horse riding stunts in Lambeth. Astley did not initiate stunt horse riding or provide the initiative to clowns and acrobats in the English community, but he took the initiative to construct a place where these performances were brought together to deliver one show. Astley introduced the 42 foot diameter ring, which is still in use today. The London Hippodrome was one of the buildings where the circuses took place during that time.

Twenty-five years later, John Bill Ricketts introduced the modern circus to the USA, by opening the first circus building in Philadelphia. Touring from Montreal to Havana in the first two decades of the 19th century, the Circus of Pepin & Breschard erected circus theaters in the cities it came to visit. JP Brown was the first circus owner that utilized an enormous canvas tent for the performance. P. T. Barnum and William Cameron Coup started the P. T. Barnum's Museum, Menagerie & Circus; a wandering blend of animal and human eccentricities. The display of individuals as a freak show, contributing to the main show became an American legend. Coup also instigated the use of circus trains as means of transport to convey the spectacle between towns, a custom that remains today and led to the first multi-ringed circuses.

Pablo Fanque, who is significant as Britain's solitary black circus owner and who controlled one of the most distinguished roaming circuses in Victorian England, raised temporary structures for his restricted activities or retrofitted prevailing structures. Three significant circus trend setters were Jacques Tourniaire and Louis Soullier from France, and Giuseppe Chiarini from Italy. They introduced the wandering circuses to South East Asia, South Africa, China, Latin America, Australia, and Russia. Soullier also brought Chinese acrobats to the European circus.

The 'Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show On Earth' travelled around from 1897 to 1902. It changed the shape and formation of circuses with its great scale, on the road techniques, which included the tent and train, and the blend of circus acts, a zoological presentation, and the freak show. European circuses adopted this format. The American influence on the modern circus initiated significant changes to the traditional entertainment. As the arenas became too large to allow easy audible speech, the clowns disappeared into the background, being replaced by aspiring acrobatic performances. The display of skills, including strength and bravery, made it necessary to employ numerous performers as well as complex and costly equipment. Lenin articulated a wish that the circus should become the art form of the people, including the resources and prominence, which is comparable with opera, ballet, and theater. The Moscow Circus School, also known as the State University of Circus and Variety Arts, was set up in 1927.

The attractiveness of circuses began to deteriorate after World War II with the introduction of more novel forms of entertainment, and the society’s taste in entertainment became more stylish. Also since the 1960’s, the circuses attracted critique from the animal right protesters. Several circus companies closed down or merged with other establishments. However, by establishing new ways to draw the fans, there are still numeral roaming circus companies providing awe to the public.

The contemporary circus

The contemporary circus, formerly identified as nouveau cirque, is a fresh performance arts movement that began during the 1970s in France, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the West Coast of the United States. Contemporary circus unites traditional circus abilities and theatrical methods to deliver a particular story or theme. With the use of costume and lighting design and imaginative music, they express a thematic or storyline substance. The performances of contemporary circus productions are now often in theaters instead of the Big Top, for economic and artistic reasons, with music composed explicitly for the production. Animal acts materialize less repeatedly in contemporary circus compared to traditional circus.


The Carnival is a season filled with festivity just prior to the Christian season in Lent. The main event, which is a public celebration that may embrace public street parties, masks, and parades, which include acts relating to circus stunts. The carnival in Rio de Janeiro is the largest globally with a visitor’s attendance of 2 million people per day, drawing hundreds of thousands of international guests per year. There are many theories as to where the name originates from, linking it to Christianity and former religions, revealing that it relates to the fasts and deprivation of meat and flesh. It could also refer to the Roman terminology where they celebrated the blessing of the commencement of the sailing season through the festival of the ship of Isis. The festival was composed of a parade of people wearing masks followed by a decorated wooden boat; the possible origin of the customary floats of today.


Carnival origin and development

The liturgical calendar marks the six weeks prior to Easter, as the Lenten period, which was originally the period dedicated to religious and remorseful activities, including fasting. During this period, people did not consume any delicious food, and celebrations were a taboo. Prior to the commencement of this phase, communities had major parties, devouring lots of fatty food and drink, and it is thought that this is where the Carnival derives from. The first parades originated in medieval Italy. The Carnival of Venice has been the most famous festival for an extended period, until Napoleon discontinued it in 1797, until it commenced again in 1959. The carnival tradition spread from Italy to Spain, France, and Portugal. France introduced the tradition to New France in North America, and Spain and Portugal spread the custom to Latin America and the Caribbean.

The pre-Lent festivities embraced costumes, masks, and parades to sustain the abandonment of worldly desires required through Lent. A carnival resembles a broad spectrum of activities, which happen individually and will vary depending on the local traditions and situations. For example, the diminishing sun of the old year and the recurring sun of the New Year were staged as battles, in the form of dance, while other cultures symbolized it with races. Other customs use an old woman to represent the winter sun or past year. Demonic, ghostly and deformed figures controlled by the queen or king of death, represent the winter darkness. These are driven away with bright colours, loud noise, and bonfires or torches. These activities represent the revival of the sun and life-sustaining animals and plants. A wedding or sexual wanton in dance activities symbolizes the association between agricultural fertility and the human population.

Travelling Carnivals

A carnival is an amusement show made up with several fun rides and games of chance and skill. It may well embrace thrill acts and animal acts, and accommodate merchandise and food vendors. As it can move from one place to another, it is not an amusement park, and there is no resemblance or association to any religious background as the conventional Carnivals. The primary catalyst for the innovation of the traveling carnival was the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, and the first Ferris wheel was revealed on this show. A showman at the world fair, Otto Schmitt, formed the Chicago Midway Plaisance Amusement Company, featuring thirteen different acts. Before the completion of the tour, the company closed due to bad business practice. However, members from this group started their private successful travelling carnivals, and the popularity of the fairs increased. North America enjoyed the entertainment of the shows, which included a circus, a burlesque show, a vaudeville show, or a magic lantern show. The contemporary travelling carnivals played at fairs from state and county, as well as at smaller venues. Traditionally the sponsoring establishment contributed fireworks on the evening of the final day of events.


Ticket booths

There are several travelling carnival companies globally and a carnival consists of more than one operator. Numerous venues function through an individual owner, independent from the carnival, who sets up a contract with the ride owners. The owner will then pay the carnival operator an agreed amount or percentage of the gross sales made on his ride or stand. Big carnival owners frequently have the greater part of the rides, and may well own a few distinctive interest items as well. To complete the range of entertainment or to improve the attractiveness of the carnival, they will then employ additional independent contractors. Numerous carnival companies are big enough to own several divisions, consisting of six or more rides per unit. Utilizing this, the operator can function in several places within the same week. Using trucks for transportation the rides are moved from one location to a next. The design of the rides is uncomplicated to assist in the quick dismantling and erection from one destination to another. Food stands are commonly trailers. Games embrace chance and skill, offering a small price to the winner. Many of the game owners run honest games, however since there were dishonest participants before, people are wary of partaking in the games. When deceitful owners find someone they can lure to continue playing their engineered game, they pat the individual on the back with a hand covered in chalk. It leaves a mark for other deceitful game owners who will then trap the individual in playing their tricked game as well.


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