Editor’s Fanfare Vol. IV, No. 6

Looking Into the Future


As must be apparent to anyone with his eyes and ears open, we are living in a time of enormous change. Even such entrenched habits like TV viewing are being altered to the disadvantage of network television, so it shouldn’t come as too big a jolt when we see profound changes in circuses as well.  The entire entertainment landscape is undergoing change and the changes keep arriving faster and faster, just as forecast in Alvin Toffler’s 1970 book Future Shock.

So here’s what I think is going to happen in the realm of circus entertainment in the coming years.. Increasingly big tops will be abandoned for theatre stages.  It makes economic sense not having to deal with lugging all that heavy equipment around the country, paying increasingly onerous licensing fees and chasing down useable sites.  The only thing a circus company will have to worry about once it goes into theatres, is transporting  its props and technical equipment.  All the rest will be the responsibility of the theatres.

John Ringling North back in 1956 discovered that he was in four or five businesses that had nothing to do with putting on a performance and folded the big top to play indoor arenas henceforth and the show has continued to thrive because of that move.

The circuses of the future, however, will not be of the size of Ringling Bros. (Nor for that matter will Ringling.)

The one area of growth that I see that is relevant and useful to the smaller circuses of the future is the ever increasing number of performing arts centers, all of whom have a long season of varied attractions to fill and diverse audiences to please. Every one of these centers already has one aspect of their annual planning geared to what is usually called family entertainment.  The most logical attraction to fill these slots is a circus-styled performance.

Many cities with thriving cultural arts programs also stage a series of summer events, usually aimed at children. New York City’s summer stage has booked a variety of companies who have fallen under the canopy of Circus Now and have been promoted as being specifically geared to children.   This strikes me as somewhat ironic as Circus Now insists that its performances are about ideas and emphasize poetry and emotions.  But whatever effect it is in fact producing for its audiences it is providing work, keeping these tiny companies alive and well.

Another aspect of the contemporary circus companies to consider is that they tend to be made up of anywhere from two to six performers, too small a group to field a full-scale performance. That means they have to be booked into situations that do not require a full evening’s entertainment.  Here again we are back looking to theatres rather than touring big tops.

A number of much larger circus organizations have already taken to the stage with great success. Among the most prominent are Cirque Eloize, Cirque Mechanic, Cirque Productions, Bello Nock , the 7 Finger Co. and countless troupes of Chinese acrobats.  Circus Juventas and Circus Harmony stage successful performances in venues of varying size and scope but once again indoors.  I think we can expect to see more such performances in these kinds of venues in the near future.

I have recently received announcements of a circus dinner theatre opening in Orlando, Florida and Cirque de la Symphonie books itself in conjunction with regional orchestras. These pop-up companies will be proliferating as the ever increasing number of graduates of the major circus schools discover the only satisfying work they can get is by producing their own shows.  Europe is rife with such companies, and we can expect to see more here in the U. S. packaged in increasingly novel ways that little resemble traditional circuses, aimed at special niche audiences who welcome something unusual and different.

Some smaller circuses will continue to battle all the difficulties of producing and touring a tented show, but this element of the circus business will become vestigial.   We can lament the loss of a magical experience in their passing, but there will be something new to take their place, and these  new circuses that are surely coming our way will occasionally look surprising like the circuses of old .