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Circus Lingo and Lore

What is a circus?

Well, here’s Wayne Franzen’s answer, from a news release for Franzen Bros. Circus’ second season (1975):

“The crowd is happier when it leaves than when it comes into the Big Top. They have a better show than they expected. Live animal acts reflecting skill and patient training are the heart of the circus. Animal acts surprise and amaze small children and also the adults who bring them. Clowns are the frosting of the circus. The animals, the clowns, the aerialists, the glitter, the happy music are for the whole family. They entertain all ages.”

goatsLiz’s Circus Story offers insight into the glitter as well as the real world of the circus, from interesting circus history to some of the special terms used. Here are just a few ...

When Liz first meets Wayne Franzen, he is working on Buck the horse’s liberty act—an act in which a horse performs free of a trainer’s lead.

One of the crowd-pleasing acts of Franzen Bros. Circus was a goats act called a long mount. Often performed by elephants in larger shows, this stunt consists of all the goats standing in a line, each with its front hooves on the back of the goat in front of it.

horsesWhen Liz visits the circus from New York, she is thrilled to see that it’s a straw house. That means the performance has sold out—straw has been placed on the ground for the overflow crowd to sit on.

In the play, Liz also explains how circus workers tie corral and equipment together using bows, not knots, so that everything can be untied and broken down quickly. We also learn that in the heyday of the American circus, every show had its own shade of red—the official color of the circus.

about the lingo, lore, and history of the Big Top, visit CircusWeb and the Circus Historical Society.

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