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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