Claudia Pugh-Thomas

Claudia Pugh-Thomas is a writer who lives in London.

Diary: Circus School

Claudia Pugh-Thomas, 19 August 1999

The circuses I went to when I was a child had fat-footed clowns, ringleaders in top hats and tails, exotic animals, sequinned acrobats. Some of these sawdust-and-canvas circuses – Smart’s, Zippo’s, Fossett’s – continue to tour, but they are increasingly scarce. Costs are high and audiences are getting smaller. Animals have disappeared from the ring as their exoticism has become familiar and their welfare a matter of concern. Stunts by domestic animals – the modern counterparts of the ‘learned pigs’ of Barnum and Bailey’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ which entertained 19th-century audiences by playing patriotic tunes on xylophones – have limited appeal. More than 200 councils have banned circuses featuring animals from their parks. But circus is moving away from the big top. Circus schools offer vocational courses and circus acts entertain at street and music festivals, motor shows and corporate events. The New Millennium Experience Company, which has more than a hundred members, will give daily performances in the Dome throughout next year.’‘

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