Circus is one of the most traditional forms of entertainment in human history. Throughout the years, circuses have tons of different formats that keep people entertained. Some of the acts include clowns, acrobats, dancers, and even animals. Traditionally, a ringmaster will open the show and introduce a variety of choreographed acts that are accompanied by music. This conventional format will soon develop into a much more elaborate and complex one!
Each country has their own take on the circus. They adapt this awesome entertainment and insert a little bit of their own culture and tradition inside. Unfortunately, there is a mixed reception towards modern circus. However, it doesn’t really matter because there are lots of large circus acts that still tour the world due to popular demand. To learn more about circus facts, let’s check out our discoveries down below!
1. Ancient Circus was Totally Different Than the Modern One
We may recognize the circus as an entertaining show with lots of clowns, jugglers, and other performers. However, the real circus was anything but! In fact, circuses can be traced back to Ancient Rome, where buildings and venues were used for races and competitions like staged battles. These races can be found in the form of chariot and horse racing. Back then, people loved to watch these shows. They even like to gamble and bet to predict the outcome of the circus.
2. Circus Maximus was the Largest Venue in Ancient Rome to Hold a Circus
As previously discussed, ancient circuses have a totally different format than the modern ones. In ancient Rome, competitions were held in several venues. The largest (and arguably the most popular) venue was the glorious Circus Maximus. Games that were held in this venue were sponsored by Roman aristocracy and the state itself.
During the games, Ludus Troiae also took part. It’s a simulation of famous battles that were played by young aristocrats. Foot races also took place for several hours, and people usually predict as well as bet on the winners. This legendary building has been reduced to ruins, but it is said that back then, the Circus Maximus’ seats could accommodate up to 150,000 people.
3. Philip Astley was Credited to Revolutionize the Circus Industry
If you really enjoy watching modern circus, you have to thank Philip Astley for that. He’s often credited as the father of modern circus. After getting discharged from the military, Astley decided to open a trick-riding school in 1768. He and his students also perform and gain a lot of attention. Soon after, he decided to further develop the show by adding jugglers and clowns.
In 1782, Astley finally built the first circus in France. Due to the warm reception that he received, Astley was allowed to open a permanent amphitheater in Paris, called “Amphithéâtre Anglois des Sieurs Astley, pere et fils”. After his death, the show was passed on to his son John Astley.
4. Joshuah Purdy Brown is The Man Behind the Iconic “Tented Circus”
Circus are often performed in a large tent. This tradition was first done in 1825 by an entrepreneur named J.P. Brown. Previously, circuses were done in a wooden construction with a full canvas tent. This unique tent was also known as the “Big Top”. At first, he only used a very small tent that can only house one ring and a few hundred seats. Therefore, the entertainment that he offered wasn’t that much as opposed to other circus shows. Aside from normal attractions found on other shows, Brown also exhibited minstrel shows that were quite racist towards the African descent.
There is no known reason as to why J.P. Brown chose to use this unique shape. However, we do know that this unique innovation allowed him to travel easily along the country. Soon after, everybody followed his footsteps. Nowadays, it’s hard to think of a circus performance that was not done in a large tent, right?
5. Circus Music is an Essential Part of The Show
It’s hard to imagine a juggler or a clown performing their act without any accompanying music. It would still look cool, but the situation can be a bit cringey! After all, they help to set the tone and mood of the performance itself. Cheerful music will uplift the crowd’s mood, while the tense one can help raise the audience’s adrenaline.
Circuses also rarely use any commercial music. Most of the songs were composed for a specific part of the show. However, there are some circus music that are commonly used in many events. The most popular song is called “Entry of the Gladiators”, composed by Julius Fučík in 1897.
6. Flea Circus is a Miniature Version of Circus with a Bad Reputation
Owning a successful circus show is not a privilege that all people have. That’s probably one of the reasons why flea circuses exist in the first place. Yep, you’re not mistaken when you read “flea”. In fact, flea circuses are miniature shows where fleas appear to perform several tricks similar to what you see on normal circuses. This weird and unique show has been around since the early 1830s.
Fleas were chosen because of their nature. Let’s be honest, nobody wants to pet and take care of them. Plus, they’re easy to reproduce. However, they can’t really learn the different tricks that you see. Therefore, performers usually need to get ‘creative” and often abuse them to accomplish certain tricks. Animal abuse was never tolerated, and that’s the reason why flea circuses’ popularity has waned.
7. Rope Walking is Regarded as the Most Dangerous Circus Act
Most of the acts that we saw on a circus show are dangerous. Each act like sword swallowing to the motorcycle “wall of death” has its own risk. However, none are deemed more dangerous than rope walking, or “the Flying Wallendas”. This performance requires a professional to walk on a thin rope or wire from one point to another.
This stunt is really dangerous, as it is normally done in a very high altitude. As a matter of fact, the first rope walking accident can be traced back as far as 1962. Back then, the performer’s footing failed, resulting in two dead people and one left paralyzed. More accidents and deaths followed since, but it has remained a staple in the circus industry.
8. Cirque Du Soleil is the Largest Circus Producer in the World
In the modern era, Cirque Du Soleil is often regarded as one (if not the most) of the best circus shows on Earth. It has been around since 1984, but it keeps getting bigger over the years. They really have amazing acrobatics, wonderful costumes and scene composition, as well as astonishing live music. There’s nothing more that you can ask from a circus show! Currently, Cirque Du Soleil has various headquarters and teams that are spread all over the world.
Recently, Cirque Du Soleil and Lionel Messi collaborated for a special occasion, and you can be sure that we’re all in for quite a ride. Messi 10 by Cirque Du Soleil was a show that premiered in 2019. It retells the story of a young man with an ambition to become the greatest number 10 in the world. After the premiere, the team then embarked on a world tour in 2020.
9. The Best Circus Performers of All Time
There are thousands of iconic circus performers throughout history. Mario Zachchini, Gargantua, and Middlebush Giant are just some of the most popular performers that we know. But the question still stands: who can be categorized as the best circus performers of all time? Thankfully, listverse.com has made a detailed list that mentions ten of the best performers in our history. Let’s check out the top three, shall we?
- Jumbo: this adorable elephant ranks as the best circus performer of all time. Since PT Barnum brought him, Jumbo helped the show to receive a lot of attention. He also traveled in a private railroad car.
- Emmet Kelly: the best classic tramp clown ever. Emmet Kelly developed the persona of “Weary Willie”.
- General Tom Thumb: hired by Barnum as a four-year old dwarf. During Barnum’s show, he will impersonate characters like Cupid and Napoleon Bonaparte. He can also sing and dance on other skits.
- The Greatest Show on Earth Movie
10. The Greatest Show on Earth Movie
There are a lot of movies that are based on circus life. The Greatest Showman is just an example of it. However, The Greatest Show On Earth can be categorized as one of the trailblazers in an awesome circus movie. In fact, this movie won an Academy award for best picture in 1953.
The plot of the movie revolves around the life behind the scenes of Ringling Bros, Barnum, and Bailey Circus, the top three circus rings at the time. This movie even inspired legendary director Steven Spielberg.
11. Animal Abuse on Circus Performance
When you watch fabulous animals that can do wonders during a circus performance, you can’t help but wonder at the efforts to teach them said skills. Unfortunately, most animals were never treated well during training. They are often beaten, kicked, and confined into small cages to teach them obedience and discipline.
Although Jumbo was always treated like a royal prince, other animals rarely have the same privilege. In fact, when they are not performing, animals will be kept inside a cage just big enough to store them. They can’t move freely and interact like a free animal. Even performing dogs that can be kept as pets are also confined inside cages.
Perhaps, one of the most popular cases of animal abuse in the circus world is the trial of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. This case came out after previous allegations from PETA that both circus companies are abusing elephants and other animals. After a long and hard battle in the court, they are finally getting charged of all accusations and have to pay a large sum of penalty.
12. Accidents in Circus aren’t as Often as You Think
Doing dangerous stunts during a performance are always risky. It’s safe to say that their lives can be at stake. However, modern circuses have a low injury rate. Overall, a show’s injury rate is 9.5. although there are a lot of minor injuries that can be sustained during a show.
They are not bad enough to sideline performers from the next show. The study, done by NCBI, even said that injury rates for circus performers are even lower than many other National Collegiate Athletic Association Sports.
13. This World Record Hasn’t Been Broken for More Than Two Centuries
Circus producers like Cirque du Soleil have a massive fanbase. They regularly travel around the world and do a lot of shows. However, they’ll never beat Giuseppe Chiarini’s record for most extensive circus tours. From 1856 until his death in 1897, Chiarini’s circus has traveled around the world and visited a lot of countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Macao, Malaysia, Indonesia, Chile, Cuba, Spain, Singapore, and many more.