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The term Circus

Circus can refer to a specific type of performance, a theatrical event made up of a particular set of performances, the venue or space in which such performances occur, the company of performers that undertake such performances.

It is also used metaphorically at times, referring to an event or institution that is somehow inept, undisciplined, confused and/or ridiculous. (E.g. "The meeting turned into a circus")

The term itself dates from Greek and Roman times (Greek "κίρκος", Latin "circus", meaning "circle" or "ring"), and refers to the circular performance space used by most circusses. Over the ages the space has been used for a variety of purposes and has taken numerous forms - from outdoor games, ceremonies and spectacles, to indoor events (in temporary, and/or permanent structures, including the well-known bell-tent). In time the term also referred to the performance form itself, and the name was used to refer to companies or troops of performers as well.

See Circus in Wikipedia[1] for a good general introduction the concept and references for further reading.

Circus in South Africa

The term circus in South Africa

In South African the British usage was largely followed and the term circus thus initially tended to refer to outdoor or indoor performances demonstrating equestrian skills, usually by companies visiting the Cape Colony in the 19th century - the events possibly including some other vaudeville style acts to link the displays of horsemanship.

Later in the 19th and much of the 20th centuries however, the term was more specifically employed to refer to the more standard English definition, i.e. what Wikipedia[2] describes as "a company of performers that may include clowns, acrobats, trained animals, trapeze acts, musicians, hoopers, tightrope walkers, jugglers, unicyclists and other object manipulation and stunt-oriented artists". Usually a travelling show, performed in a tent.

Overview and history

Some specific circuses in South Africa

African Circus

Astley's Circus

Boswell's Circus

Boswell-Wilkie Circus

Brian Boswell's Circus

Brian's Circus

Equestrian Gymnastics

Franklin's International Circus

French Dramatic Artistes

Italian Circus

McLaren's Circus

Noble's Circus; Noble's Olympic Circus

Pagel's Circus

Victoria Circus

Wilkie's Circus

Zip Zap Circus School

Some publications devoted to South African circus life

Stage and Circus (1906-)


F.C.L. Bosman, 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [3].

F.C.L. Bosman, 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik.

Van der Merwe, Floris J. G. 2007. Frank Fillis: The Story of a Circus Legend. Stellenbosch: FJG Publikasies.

Van der Merwe, Floris J. G. 2012. Die Boere-Sirkus van St. Louis (1904). Stellenbosch: FJG Publikasies.

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