The circus first stole the hearts of the public in 1782, and to this day it still grabs the attention of audiences around the world. Spotlight reporter Olivia Gibson investigates the world of the circus and discovers what life is really like behind the scenes.
THE CIRCUS offers a spectacular show where you can see clowns, acrobats, trapeze artists and much more. They are known for their traditional large tents known as ‘Big Tops’ that were first introduced in the 19th century. Inside would be a centre ring that is normally 13m in diameter, surrounded by tiered seating. This allows the audience to step into a world of diverse entertainment and observe daring tricks and astonishing skills at close hand.
But the circus hasn’t always had the best reputation. During the 18th century, circus acts included people with deformities, such as bearded ladies, tattooed men, severely disfigured and abnormally short or tall people who were not socially accepted. These individuals would have been classed as ‘freakshows’. In many cases, people were unwillingly forced into the industry at a young age and were made out to be rare specimens.
Over the years, the circus has undergone a complete transformation and now focuses on talent and showmanship rather than how people look. Recently, the circus has come back into the limelight following the release of The Greatest Showman,a film/musical that highlights the circus of Phineas Taylor Barnum. He is an American showman who promoted hoaxes and founded Barnum and Bailey Circus.
Circus performer Ruby Santus was born and raised in her family’s company called Santus Circus. She said, “We have definitely seen a lot more people interested because of The Greatest Showman;it’s a fantastic film and even I love it. People want to come in and hear the music, see the showman and the beautiful girl with the pink hair.”
Santus Circus is a family run business that has travelled around the UK for 25 years after coming over from the south of France. The circus has been passed down generations and has developed into the creative and breath-taking show we know and love today.
Ruby started performing at the age of four where she learnt various acts including her two main performances: hula hooping and foot juggling. Since then her love for the circus blossomed and was engraved into her life. She said, “I don’t think I could be anywhere else but here, a lot of people say that once you get into the circus it’s always in your blood.
“We are the tightest community you will ever meet; all these different cultures are thrown together, and we all look out for each over. It’s incredible to have all these people around you that know you and can help you out when you need it.”
Sadly, it’s not all fun and games. Being a circus performer can be extremely dangerous and can easily go wrong. People are risking their lives balancing 40 feet up in the air or swinging across the room. One wrong step or move and you are in trouble. Ruby found herself in a situation where her act went horribly wrong. She said, “For a whole year I was in the globe of death with two motorbikes around me in the middle and there was an accident in there one time. And I have also set fire to my leg twice because I foot juggle fire.”
Sometimes even just being in a circus environment can be dangerous. Lucien Santus is also a member of the family at Santus Circus who specialises in clowning but also acrobatics and trampolining. He said, “Being in the tent sometimes could be a dangerous situation depending on the weather. But with all the acts we do, none of it’s fake and there’s always some sort of risk in it no matter what you are doing”
Lucien also grew up in the circus life and got inspiration from other family members. He added, “My favourite part, it sounds really stupid, but I like seeing people enjoy themselves.
“In England it has developed quite a bit, obviously there’s a change because we don’t have animals anymore. It has been a big transition, but it’s been really good.”
Lucien added, “If anyone has a different view on the circus, come see it first and I promise you will have a different view because it’s great.”
Throughout the years multiple animal acts have been used in different circuses ranging from big cats and elephants to horses, bears and monkeys. While is can be extremely exciting to see animals from over the world, there were dark secrets. In some circuses, animals were frequently beaten into submission with physical abuse being used as a form of the training method. Travelling in the circus can have a harmful effect on animal welfare as they can’t socialise, exercise or exhibit natural behaviours. Many circuses no longer feature animals because of the awareness of the harm that can be done to them.
Francesca Santus focuses on the admin side of things. She said, “It is still a very traditional circus, but we do have to keep updated with new incoming acts as well.
“I grew up being in both worlds. So, it was nice being able to come back and work here during the summer as well as live a normal life. My heart was drawn back so I had to come back.”
In the 21stcentury the circus is breaking free of its stereotypes and is trying to show everyone what it is really about. It is a safe haven for everyone of all ages, genders and nationalities to come together under one tent and watch an incredible show.
To find out if Santus Circus is coming to you, check out their website: https://www.santuscircus.com/