The Editor’s Fanfare Vol. IV, No. 2


Time and the Circus Marches On


I read a review of a circus recently that praised it for being “a real circus.”  Now I don’t know of any fake circuses, and I suspect that writer really meant to say it was a traditional circus, which in his view equates to “a real circus.”    But the real reality is that the circus is not some immutable performance entity whose form is frozen in some state that requires certain elements  to be present for it to deemed “real.”

It is not useful, I don’t think, to use the term “real circus” because in the world we currently live in there are many different forms of entertainment that call themselves “circus” and should be accepted as such without prejudice or malice.  This is particularly true now, in light of Ringling’s recent announcement to remove elephants from their performances beginning in 2018.  If Ringling remains the standard bearer and what it means to be a circus, the circus universally is in for some enormous changes across the board.  Everyone is surely entitled to his preference in the type of circus he or she wishes to patronize, but insisting that only that form deserves to be designated a circus is foolish and self-defeating.

A slogan that the circus likes to bandy about says that as long as there are children there will always be a circus, but the children of today are not the same as children were ten, twenty, thirty or forty years ago.  They are products of a different world and as such their tastes and pleasures differ from those of generations past, and so it stands to reason that their entertainment preferences will also differ.  If the circus is to survive it must acknowledge those differences and play to them, and in so doing the circus is going to look very different from what some perceive as “real” circus.

This is not to say the traditional circus will become extinct, at least not until the generation who knows a real circus when they see it passes on, and it is surely an inescapable law of nature that they will.  So what then?   Darwin says survivors learn to adapt, and in that adaptation there will surely be change, differences unlike anything that was known in the past.  Until the generation that loves the traditional circus ceases to exist in numbers that will keep it alive, the traditional and non-traditional circuses can happily exist side by side.  That is why I think it is not very useful to use a term such as “real circus” because it sets up an either /or dichotomy, or worse an antagonistic relationship.  The many different  kinds of circuses can learn from each other’s performances  and marketing skills.  They can both be made stronger and more interesting and creative by interacting.

This is the issue—learning to see the good in all types of circuses—that  should be central in all the discussions at the Worldwide Circus Summit this summer.