Editor’s Fanfare Vol. II, No. 1

Crunching the Numbers and Getting Them Out There

Every so often I am contacted by a reporter working on a newspaper in one of Americas major cities.  He or she has been assigned to do a story in anticipation of a visit from the Ringling circus.   Being basically unfamiliar with the contemporary circus the reporter needed to do some research to gather background information to flesh out the story he or she has been provided by one of the show’s press releases.  That invariably involves a discussion of the state of the circus in general.  As part of this discussion the reporter will inevitably ask how many circuses are there still traveling around America.

Unfortunately I am unable to answer that question in any definitive way.  I don’t know how many circuses there are in America.  I have no idea what the annual attendance numbers are for all these unaccounted for circuses.  Whatever information exists is based on anecdotal evidence limited to the experiences of whoever is providing the numbers.  Since most of my experience is limited to shows that ply the Eastern seaboard, I can’t even hazard a guess as to what the total number would be throughout the entire country.  Nor do I know what kinds of circuses should be added to the count.  Should youth circuses be added to the total?  Do circuses that play a limited engagement in one city count?

Obviously what is called for is an in-depth,  thorough survey conducted  nation-wide, crunching all the numbers, setting up categories that define the various kinds of circuses:  touring, residential, youth, with animals, without animals, etc.   Even more importantly we need to get a take on what the annual attendance of all circuses is, and how much money circuses add to the local and national economies.  These last numbers would be of enormous importance for lobbying purposes.  As we are often told, “money talks,” and if the circus industry is going to persuade politicians and others that the circus should be supported and encouraged, the best way is by using such statistics. And all circuses need to participate in this survey for their own welfare.

In addition to mere numbers, it would be very helpful to conduct another sort of survey, similar to the one that was done a few years ago in Europe, regarding the public’s preferences as to how it feels about the circus and what sort of acts it wants to see in the circuses it attends.  If the data collected  confirms what was found to be the case in Europe, this will be a powerful lobbying tool.

But who could undertake such surveys?  I can think of only one group which has the breath of membership and a national point of view, and that is the Outdoor Amusement Business Association (OABA).  Hopefully they will be able to persuade all their members in the circus industry to participate, and regional representatives could feed information into the national count.  This way the industry can speak with one authoritative voice in order to provide accurate, timely information the next time reporters come calling, or it needs to persuade legislative bodies of the circus’ importance to our popular culture.

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The feature of this issue is a tribute to Luke Wilson, a performer, turned director that has worked all over the world in  various capacities.  I first met Luke when he appeared as part of a juggling act LukaLuka at the Paris festival.  Over the years we often chatted about the creative direction of the circus and eventually he came and worked for a time in the United States.  The contemporary circus has been deprived, by his untimely death, of a talent who understood the circus both as a performer and as a creative artitst, a rare and highly desirable talent.