Contemporary Circus 101: A Back-to-School Circus Book List

Circus News

Contemporary Circus 101: A Back-to-School Circus Book List

As an undergraduate theatre student, I wasn’t assigned readings about circus. I remember reading about physical theatre, live art, dance, puppetry, opera, new media arts, and many other performing arts over the course of my four-year degree. But, despite theatre and circus having many shared historical milestones over the past 100 years, my theatre education did not cover circus. Now, I am a PhD Candidate in Theatre and Performance Studies and I get to create my own reading lists. So, in the spirit of the back-to-school season, and to support other students who don’t know where to start with Circus Studies, in this article I will recommend some books on contemporary circus that have impacted me over the past few years. For seven MORE book recommendations, you can watch my accompanying YouTube video.
First, though, why read about circus? In his 2021 Circus Talk article, Thom Wall writes that, as within any higher education in the fine arts, circus students should understand “the history of their field, its notable participants, and how past efforts helped shape the present.” He notes that the “backtucks before books” approach to circus education teaches students that “spectacular circus skills are themselves the end goal, rather than tools to be used for creative expression.” In other words, when a circus student reads circus history, they become a more creative, informed artist. Reading circus history, though, can also make us feel like our work has to fit within a particular box to be “circus.” Today, circus artists are making work that was unimaginable just 30 years ago – either because the technology and techniques weren’t yet advanced enough, or because it wouldn’t have been considered ci...
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Morgan Anderson

Morgan is a PhD candidate in Theatre and Performance Studies at York University in Toronto, ON. She is also a hobbyist juggler and has performed at juggling festivals across North America. A long-standing member of Cirkus Syd’s international Circus Thinkers Platform, Morgan was a co-editor and chapter author for the group’s 2020 and 2022 Circus Thinkers publications, and co-presented/performed alongside Dawn Dreams at the 2021 Circus and Its Others conference. She is currently involved in Cirkus Syd’s Circosonic project which investigates where circus and sound intersect. When not writing, Morgan loves to run, train on the silks, and make videos for her YouTube channel: