SSoP Podcast Episode 12 — The Circus: Found Family and Daring Feats

SSoP Podcast Episode 12 — The Circus: Found Family and Daring Feats

Monday, 11 May, 2020

Feats of derring-do! Amazing acrobats! Clowns both ridiculous and poignant! Majestic animals from around the world!

For centuries, the circus has transported audiences to an enthralling in-between place: a version of our world where gravity seems to disappear and everything sparkles with glitter.

The circus welcomed almost all comers who could earn their keep. Ordinary people in search of adventure could literally run away with the circus. And talented misfits found a home where what made them different made them special. They all came together to form a family that traveled the world, leaving spangly dreams in their wake.

Life in the circus was a unique combination of hard work and glamour, celebrity and disdain, excitement and ennui, with a hierarchy that ranged from the top (trapeze artists) to the bottom (roustabouts). But when the crowds departed, and the spotlights dimmed for the night, most of the performers were also responsible for tasks that didn’t inspire applause: caring for animals, packing up wagons, training and stretching, cooking and cleaning.

In this episode, we go behind the greasepaint and red velvet curtains to get curious about the circus. We discuss the larger-than-life characters who created the modern circus and discuss what’s happening in the world of new circus and theater. Then we share the many books that confirmed our desire to run away with the circus.


Read the full transcript of Episode 12: The Circus.

The Night Circus

buy | read review

Nights At The Circus

buy | read review

Nights At The Circus

buy | read review

The Circus Fire

buy | read review

The Circus

buy | read review

The Gracekeepers

buy | read review

Under the Big Top

buy | read review

The Book of Speculation

buy | read review


buy | read review

other books we mentioned


other cool stuff we talked about

  • Entry of the Gladiators by Julius Fučík: Julius Fučík was a Czech composer with a tremendous mustache. Although he composed more than 400 pieces, he’s probably best known for his ‘clown music,’ a.k.a, Entry of the Gladiators:
  • Astley’s Amphitheatre: Started by Philip Astley in London circa 1780, this was the first modern circus.

illustration of a horse in a circus ring inside a theater

  • The Elephant Hotel: Built by circus impresario Hachaliah Bailey in honor of his elephant Old Bet in his hometown of Somers, New York. It’s now a National Historic Landmark.

  • Barnum & Bailey Circus: For 146 years, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was The Greatest Show on Earth. It closed for good in 2017.

vintage poster for barnum and bailey circus

outdoor circus performance at letni letna festival
A show at Letní Letná
acrobat on stage at letni letna festival
A performer from Cirque Alfonse in the show 'Barbu.'
  • La Putyka: A Prague-based circus troupe that stole our hearts. Read all about it and enjoy videos.
acrobat on stage at la putyka
Acrobats from La Putyka
a singer on stage at la putyka
Chanteuse from La Putyka
  • Scotch & Soda: Featuring the Uncanny Carnival Band. This is the Australia-based show we saw peform in Berlin. The cast all play instruments and do circus tricks; amazing.
  • Clown Funeral, a.k.a., Grimaldi Service: On the first Sunday of February each year, the Grimaldi Service is held at All Saints Church in London.

  • Inventor of the Trapeze: The trapeze was invented by Jules Leotard; the one-piece garment is named in his honor. His first public performance was in 1859.

  • Graeter’s Ice Cream: As David explained in the show, Graeter’s in Cincinnati is the greatest ice cream on Earth.

  • Mel’s mom in the circus: In 1967, Roni Stramara — soon to be Joulwan and eventually, Mel’s mom) was a reporter for the Pottsville Republican newspaper (which, TBH, is probably how Mel’s affection for the circus started). She went undercover in the Cole Brothers & Clyde Beatthy Circus, the same one that is the backdrop for the story of Bruce Feiler’s book Under the Big Top.

black and white photo of clowns in the sixties
Roni Stramara Joulwan: cute clown, excellent writer
  • Angela Carter: Angela Carter is the author of award-winning, standard-squashing books including The Bloody Chamber and Nights at the Circus, among many others. Learn more about her work and life at Angela Carter Online — and watch this brilliant BBC documentary Angela Carter: Of Wolves and Women.



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Top image courtesy of Library of Congress.

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