American Circus Through the Pages of History: A Reading List

Circus News

American Circus Through the Pages of History: A Reading List

I’m always a little jealous of circus scholars that can begin their articles by describing what it felt like to go to the circus as a child. Personally, I didn’t grow up going to the circus. My introduction to the performance of circus arts was the juggling, sword-swallowing, and unicycling street performers at the downtown Toronto Busker’s Festival. I’ve still never seen something that resembles the Modern American Circus, complete with wild animals, clowns, and a big top. What kind of a circus scholar am I?
Considering my research is done with hobbyist jugglers who seemingly have very little relationship with the circus, perhaps I am not a circus scholar at all. Through my interviews with hobbyist jugglers in Canada and the US, I learned that many of them do not identify with the circus or are actively trying to divorce the associations between juggling and circus. Artistic juggler and educator Jay Gilligan echoes this American juggling ethos in conversation with Erik Aberg for their podcast “Object Episodes”: “When I was growing up in Ohio juggling, we weren’t doing circus, we were juggling. And that was again a really important distinction that we had to tell ourselves… that it wasn’t valid to do circus for some reason… I didn’t even understand that juggling came from circus until I really came to Europe” (Gilligan, “Episode 5”). According to Gilligan, even within the circus world, so...
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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: