James Willis rolls up to a supposedly bygone form of entertainment and is surprised by what he discovers.
Over the weekend I went to a circus. It was only a small circus and, without giving away it’s name, it liked to brand itself as an American circus.
This was strange for a number of reasons. Only one or two acts seemed genuinely American. Even then, it was abundantly clear that over half the performers were actually of Eastern European heritage.
With all of that said, it didn’t ruin anything about the show itself. Let’s face it, if you’re taking a circus that seriously than you probably shouldn’t have gone in the first place.
I didn’t go in with huge expectations. This wasn’t Cirque du Soleil. It was an average sized tent in the middle of a field, perhaps holding a maximum of around 500 people. That wasn’t even half filled during my showing.
The show opened with four acrobats dressed in tarzan-like outfits named the “zulu warriors”. Granted they had bundles of ability, but we were already off to a dubious start. For all I know, these acrobats may have been from the Zulu tribe, but I figured it highly unlikely and assumed that this circus was actually creating it’s own rules on what’s considered racist and what isn’t.
Regardless, as the show carried on it gradually got more impressive. Evidently it was building towards a strong finale. That is, if you take away the endless skits involving “Harry the hilarious clown”. By the end of the show I was tempted to do the crowd a favour and escort him out of the arena myself.
There were performances on the originally named ‘Wheel of Death‘ and ‘Globe of Death‘, which both contributed to an impressive ending. In amongst that was a performance by a contortionist, who managed to balance on a pole, on her face, in a position I couldn’t ever dream of. There was also the obligatory trapeze routine which, despite the occasional fall expected at a cheaper circus, was equally impressive.
In this particular circus there were no “performances” by any animals whatsoever, although I couldn’t tell whether that was down to legal reasons or just fashion reasons.
Of course, when people hear the word circus, most jump to picturing the infamous Cirque du Soleil. However, if there was one thing I took away from the performance I saw, it was that there is actually quite a distinct difference between what these smaller circuses are doing and what the Cirque du Soleil is doing.
Obviously, with a far bigger reputation and far more disposable income, the Cirque du Soleil is able to put on big budget productions. They focus far more on an artistic theme and plan relevant acts around it. This is part of the reason that they currently have 19 shows around the world with plans to open more over the next two years.
A smaller, local circus focusses far more on the traditional aspects. Think Madagascar 3 without the animals. They find performers and have them put together a routine which is then put on show. The next act then follows them and performs there own routine. For it’s reduced budget it’s actually still incredibly impressive.
The thing is, when attending a large show put on by the Cirque du Soleil, you immediately know that this is a world class company and you expect more. It’s almost designed for you to expect a running theme with huge stunts and artistic design. While a smaller circus lacks those things, it makes up for it in it’s honesty about itself.
A smaller circus acts like a large family and performs like one. Each of the performers throws on a roadie jacket and helps move equipment about between performances. It feels more accessible.
So, while performances like Cirque du Soleil are magnificent and beautiful in their grand way, smaller local circuses shouldn’t be looked down upon as a result. For the reduced price, a more local experience and a different atmosphere, you couldn’t ask for much more. Especially since each act (bar the insufferable “Harry the hilarious clown”) still had ability beyond belief, that most of us who aren’t circus folk could never dream of being able to do.