Dark Reality Behind the Circus Industry

What really goes on behind putting together a perfect circus show
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Created by shahaankaushik

Published on Jul 10, 2024
top of a circus tent in front of a cloudy sky
Gabor Barbely via Unsplash

What comes to mind when you hear about the word 'Circus'? Presumably some well-conditioned, trained professionals with a chained elephant or a monkey trying to put together an amusing act for the audience. In some sense, this might not be entirely wrong, but there is a whole new dimension to it.

If you are one of those people who has not seen a circus show in their life before, let me tell you, it is one of the most jaw-dropping things you can witness in your life. A circus is where creativity, talent, and hard work come together to build something that just mesmerizes the human eye. The large circus companies hire the most talented directors, artists, and designers to ensure that every show is one of a kind. Some of them even have their own costume workshops, where they create some of the most unique and beautiful costumes for the performers. Singers, dancers, chain artists, acrobats, hand-balancers, swimmers, ballerinas, and many more artists make a team of performers that put on a show for the audience.

The history of the ancient circus goes way back in time, but the modern circus began around the 18th century. Travelling circuses became a major attraction in the U.S. in the late 19th century when they toured the cities for their shows. Circus started evolving, and some companies even started getting funding from their countries' governments. A few big names came up in the industry, such as Cirque du Soleil, Circus Vargas, Circus Oz, etc.

While the circus was growing in popularity as a source of entertainment for a large audience, many people began to notice its darker side. More than an art form, the circus has become a business for large companies. Animal cruelty was very common in most circuses a few decades ago although the problems persist in some circuses today. Even for the circus artists, it wasn't a very favorable environment to perform regular shows. There have been cases where circus artists who underwent injuries during shows and trainings were not given proper treatment and compensation by their companies. Some of them are even told to keep performing shows while being injured. These artists who dedicate their whole lives to mastering their craft do not get what they deserve. Some of them have even lost their lives while performing their acts.

The popularity of circuses started declining due to a decrease in ticket sales combined with the high operation costs. But this was nothing in front of what was about to come. When the pandemic hit, circus companies were close to hitting rock bottom. In 2020, circus shows started getting cancelled. Due to the lockdown imposed in many places, there were almost no ticket sales. These companies started laying off a major proportion of their employees. Many of these companies had debts to pay to their investors, but they had no revenue. As a result of this, many companies were even shut down permanently.

Even though things started to get better after the COVID period, when the shows were started again, the circus today is not as popular as it used to be. At the end of this article, I just want to say that the circus is one of the art forms that portrays the brilliance a human can achieve through their consistency, will, and sheer determination. And I believe that people will start noticing this again, and the circus will gain more popularity in the future, even more than it ever had. And I of course hope the issues with the treatment of animals and performers are resolved. 

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