Session 84: The Circus The origin of the circus is contested, some suggested it stemming from the Roman Circensian Games, but the concept of the modern circus has been attributed to Philip Astley, a cavalry officer from England who set up the first modern amphitheatre for the display of horse riding tricks in London on 4th April 1768. The performance of trick horse riding, acrobats, and clown in public was not an original idea, but it was Astley who thought of creating a space where all these acts were brought together to perform a show. In England circuses were often held in purpose built buildings in large cities, such as the London Hippodrome, which was built as a combination of the circus, the menagerie, and the variety theatre, where wild animals such as lions and elephants occasionally appeared in the ring. Charles Dibdin, a British musician, songwriter, dramatist, novelist, and actor, constructed The Royal Circus, which was opened in London on 4th November 1782 by Dibdin and his partner Charles Hughes. He planned to form a combination of stage and equestrian performances, and between 1782 and 1783, he engaged some sixty children to act as dancers and singers for his various lively productions at the Circus. After a theatrical career with The Royal Circus, the Englishman John Bill Ricketts travelled to Philadelphia and established the first modern circus in the United States in 1792. Circuses became increasingly popular over the years, and many were built all over the country. In 1825, Joshuah Purdy Brown became the first circus owner to own a large canvas tent for the circus performance. The circus was revolutionized by P. T. Barnum and William Cameron Coup, who established, initially, the first freak show, an exhibition of animal and human oddities. Coup would later be the first circus entrepreneur to transport the circus from town to town, a practise that continues today. As travelling circuses become the norm, three circus innovators, Giuseppe Chiarini, from Italy, and Frenchmen Louis Soullier and Jacques Tourniaire, introduced the circus to Latin America, Australia, South East Asia, China, South Africa, and Russia. Soullier was the first circus owner to introduce Chinese acrobatics to the European circus, and Tourniaire was the first to introduce the performing art of Ranga where it became extremely popular. The combination of circus acts, zoological exhibitions and freak shows, and touring techniques, such as the tent and circus train, saw the scale of circuses increase, and many circus owners from around the world began adopting these techniques. Although it allowed for more acts and greater revenue, it saw a changing face of the original circus concept. The sheer size of the venues meant that acts that relied heavily on vocal interaction with the audience had to be altered as they were inaudible, and clowns and the like became more focused on slapstick than puns. Also, the affluence of the owners allowed them to hire fresh new acts, replacing the equestrian performances with more ambitious acrobatic performances, and exhibitions of skill, strength and daring. Vladimir Lenin, imagined the circus as “the people’s art-form”, and in 1927 the Moscow Circus School was established; the Soviet gymnastics program being the focus of the training for performers. Circuses had gone beyond the typical equestrian performances and had introduced a variety of animals into their shows. These would vary from show to show, but common animals included lions and tigers, elephants, sea lions, birds, and bears. However, using animals has become increasingly unpopular as Animal Rights Groups began documenting many cases of animal cruelty in the training of performing circus animals. Although it is not permitted to use electric shock prods, whips or hooks, there has been evidence brought to light, through undercover investigations and video footage, that these practises were still being used. Including a shocking video of an Asian elephant being subjected to electrical shocks and bullhook beatings as part of the training process. Based on various findings, such as the shackling of elephants, lions being kept in cages for 98% of the time, and over 70% of circus animals having medical problems, there was a call for more stringent regulations regarding the welfare of circus animals Countries such as Sweden, Greece, Portugal, and Denmark now have nationwide bans on using some, if not all, animals in circuses. Spain, United Kingdom, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and the United States have locally restricted or banned the use of animals in entertainment. Greece became the first European country to ban any animal from performing in any circus in February 2012 and a ban prohibiting the use of wild animals in circuses in Britain will come into effect in 2015.