The Circus | American Experience
Mon.-Tue., Oct. 8-9, 9pm on WKAR-HD 23.1 | Explore the colorful history of this popular, influential, and distinctly American form of entertainment.
The Circus, a four-hour, two-part documentary, explores the colorful history of this popular, influential and distinctly American form of entertainment, from the first one-ring show at the end of the 18th century to 1956, when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey big top was pulled down for the last time.
Part 1 | Monday, Oct. 8
The first circus in the U.S. was established in Philadelphia in 1793, but it wasn’t until the introduction of the tent in 1825 that the circus became a truly roving art form that could reach the tiniest hamlets. “What the tent show did,” said historian Janet Davis, “was establish the rituals of itinerancy, the one-night stand, the ability to go into country that is essentially bereft of infrastructure. What the tent established was this way of circusing that became distinctly American.”
Part 2 | Tuesday, Oct. 9
In 1897, James Bailey decided to take his circus to Europe on a five-year tour. When the show paraded through British streets for the first time, throngs of people turned up to watch – and the scene was repeated in towns across Europe. “The spectacle of how the circus operated proved to be endlessly fascinating for European audiences,” said historian Matthew Wittmann. “It garnered interest even from the Prussian military. They showed up to see how the operation worked.”