By Heidi Nelson
Once upon a time, quirky traveling troupes with acrobats, animals and sideshows roamed the American landscape, lighting up towns and cities for brief appearances and then moving on. Then came their sleeker, more polished descendents—acrobatics shows with theatrical plots and stunning special effects. Today you can not only attend almost any kind of circus you like, you can also find the circus almost anywhere you look!
First up is fashion. From steampunk style to haute couture, circus has put its stamp on much of what we wear. As one steampunk blogger explains, “The steampunk world is one composed of inventors, tinkerers, fringe academics and ideologues. The circus, carnivale, vaudeville and cabaret are populated by re-invented people.” If you’re looking for some freshness to your style, why not take cues from those who design and make costumes for the ring? Besides funky, off-beat fashion, circus invades the mainstream as well. The hit TV show Project Runway featured a circus-inspired challenge last year, as did America’s Next Top Model in 2006.
Know any circus-themed songs? There are plenty. The Seekers’ “The Carnival is Over” (more recently re-recorded by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds) is a popular folk ballad, and The Decembrists wrote a tune called “My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist” in 2003. You might not even recognize all the circus-related music you hear on a regular basis. Though you likely listened to the strains of John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” on the 4th of July, the tune has a different meaning when played at the circus. To circus performers and staffers, the march is code for an emergency situation—an easy signal to the staff to evacuate the theatre without causing a panic.
Artwork is another place you can get your circus fix. Vintage circus posters can really add some character to your décor, while fans of fine art will find clowns and acrobats in the work of Jack B. Yeats, Marc Chagall, George Seurat and many more. European painters from the first half of the 20th century frequently painted circus scenes, playing with bright colors, experimenting with perspective, and heightening the dreamlike qualities of the circus ring.
Still not enough circus for you? If you’re tempted to run away and join the circus, there are any number of circus and acrobatics training programs right here in Boston. Our friends at Simply Circus can show you a few tricks at their circus workshop on the 16th. Last time, they taught our Technical Supervisor how to walk on stilts!