1970s a group of men and women with few ties to the circus emerged
from the counterculture revolution and took to the streets, where
they discovered how to entertain an audience. At a time when the Big
Top was beset by shabby excess, escalating costs, and competition
from movies and TV, the young performers dedicated themselves to
skill and intimacy, beginning the movement Ernest Albrecht describes
as the "new American circus", a reinvention of the circus as an
authentic form of art.
first - and most radical - aspect of this movement was its revival
of the traditions of the great one-ring shows of Europe and Russia.
Focusing on artistry, not spectacle, the new American circus
incorporated such allied arts as music and dance and embraced a
notion of ensemble that was compatible with the communal ethic of
Working from interviews and other primary sources, Albrecht traces
this history to the present (including current controversies over
animal performers and efforts to secure subsidies), sketching the
leading players in the new circus and profiling the shows they
He features four circuses that have
become part of the social and cultural fabric of their communities
(rather than nomadic visitors) and have been associated with a
training program in the circus arts: the Pickle Family in San
Francisco, the Big Apple in New York City, Circus Flora in St.
Louis, and the Cirque du Soleil in Montreal, which has a large
following in Los Angeles and on the east coast.
In writing this history Albrecht
re-creates the excitement he felt as a boy watching the circus in
New York's Madison Square Garden, mixing that with his passion for
the legitimate theatre, where he has worked as an adult. The book is
intended, he says, for those "who may have given up hope of
rediscovering a circus as magical as the ones of their childhood . .
. for those who take their circus seriously, both as an art form and
as an important American institution."
Ernest Albrecht, assistant
professor of English at Middlesex County College in Edison, New
Jersey, is the author of A Ringling by Any Other Name, articles
published in Variety, Bandwagon, Circus Report, and Theater Crafts,
and some 3,500 reviews of New York theatre for the New Brunswick
Home News. He was the producing director of Plays-in-the-Park in
Edison, New Jersey, for fifteen years.
"Highly informative and
entertaining. . . . An important contribution not only to the
history of the circus but to theater history and popular culture
studies."--Marcello Truzzi, Eastern Michigan University
"An important story, one filled with resonance for the history of
the counterculture and recent American culture generally."--Chris
Rasmussen, Princeton University
"This book is authoritative, but Mr. Albrecht wears his learning
lightly. . . . The narrative is full of colorful personalities and
dramatic events. . . . Should have appeal for the armchair reader as
well as the circus fan."--Angus K. Gillespie, Rutgers University