Editor’s Fanfare Vol. IV, No. 5


Women Taking on Ever More Dominant Role

in the World of Circus

As I was preparing this issue of Spectacle it suddenly occurred to me that two of the contributing editors represented here are women : Cindy Marvell and Kim Campbell. A third woman Judy Finelli is also a contributing editor whose pieces about the circuses she finds of interest on the West Coast are regular features. They all came to me and asked if I would be interested in having them write for Spectacle. I was more than interested. But why have no men offered to contribute their views on what is happening in today’s circus, I wondered?

That set me thinking about the whole issue of gender in the circus. I have already noted in the past that the guiding forces behind most of today’s most important circuses are woman: Nicole and Alana Feld at Ringling, while theirr youngest sister Juliette is at other enterprises of Feld Entertainment. Barbara Miller Byrd is still at the helm of Carson and Barnes, and her two daughters are playing increasingly important roles in that circus’ operations. Cecil MacKinnon has recently taken on more responsibility for the fortunes of Circus Flora. Dolly Jacobs is the co-founder along with her husband Pedro Reis of Circus Sarasota which with the acquisition of the Sailor Circus has become the Circus Conservatory. In that position she has a lot of influence about the direction the circus will take.

But the influence of women in today’s circus world hardly stops there. It increases enormously when we look at youth circuses around the country. As the roles of the American Youth Circus continues to expand it is increasingly women who are starting new circus programs, adding to the impressive list of women who are already important figures in that segment of circus. I am thinking of such people as Jessica Hentoff, Jackie Davis, Zoe Brookes, and, of course, AYCO’s executive director Amy Cohen. The men who are running the more established circus programs usually have strong women as their partners or associates.

Then there are the Smith twins, Elsie and Serenity who have been training young people at their New England Center for Circus Arts, putting their imprint on emerging artists. Other women who are running successful programs are Nancy Smith (Frequent Flyers in Boulder Colorado ), Carrie Heller ( Circus Arts in Atlanta) and Meg Elias Emery ( Xelias Aerial Arts in St. Paul/Minneapolis). And speaking of putting an imprint on the evolving circus there is Gipsy Snider and Shana Caroll from the 7 Fingers company changing the circus and the way it is presented before our very eyes.

Firmly ensconced in these positions, women are ideally positioned to exert a great deal of influence not only on the circus of today, but more importantly on the future. The female founders of youth circuses are training the next generation of performing artists, and those roster s of youngsters are heavily loaded with females, all of whom seem to want to be aerialists, and whose numbers in general out- weighs the males.

So where are the men who want to write about the new circus, or are starting youth programs? Well, for one thing, this is a time when women are coming forward in more and more occupations and situations, and I suspect that most men are more interested in preserving the status quo than participating in the changing circus scene.  So it will be increasingly a woman’s world.

I’d love to hear from readers about women’s involvement in circus programs I am not familiar with and in ways that have not yet reached by ears. And I would love to hear from some men who would like to express their views on what is going on in the circus at the present time.