Sunday, August 25, 2013

Under the Big Top

As a former professional juggler, stories about the circus are always interesting to me. I never toured with a big tent circus, only with little performing troupes. Some of my friends used to tour with big circuses, and they would all say the same thing, "God, the politics!" And this book, by writer Bruce Feiler, completely backs that up. He took a job as a clown with the Clyde Beatty Cole Bros. circus for a season, and carefully interviewed every act. The book gives a magnificent picture of the realities of the circus, the incredibly hard work and challenging conditions, and the politics natural in what is effectively a small travelling village. One thing that I had never realized -- the backstage arrangement of personal trailers is generally set up the same in each venue, so that it really is like a little neighborhood that is always laid out the same way, even though the neighborhood is in a different city each week. At times, the book gets a little full of itself, and I got the sense that the author, realizing that his book had the structure of Moby Dick, hoped to make it equally weighty. I can't say it is that weighty, but I will admit that I teared up at the end, and that I was quite pleased to learn so much about touring with a large American circus without having to do all the work!

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