Today we're getting festive with a little circus magic! I've invited Laura Lam, author of Pantomime, here to share with us some things she learned about the circus while researching for her book. This post is full of photos and lots ofnifty things about the circus.
On the Back Lot of the Circus
When people think of the circus, they think of the performance. The bright lights, the greasepaint, the smell of burned popcorn and spun sugar and hay. A trumpet of an elephant, or the organ grinder’s music. It’s all a spectacle.
When I was researching the circus for my YA debut, Pantomime, I wanted to learn more about life behind the performance. The kinds of people who ran away to join the circus, or had been raised in circus families.
An excellent resource and one I consulted frequently was Taschen’s The Circus, 1870-1950.
A lot of vintage circus photographs are the stage cards that advertised the circus goers as performers. These were staged publicity photos, in full character.
The day-to-day life of the circus was not glamourous. While R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic, the circus in Pantomime, stayed in cities for weeks at a time, many circuses in the real world moved on every day or two. They’d set up the tents before dawn and take them down at the end of the day. Performers practiced for hours and hours, and workers were constantly preparing food and doing whatever was needed.
Circus folk lived out of a trunk and in sleeping carts with up to 8 bunks or more, with barely enough room to stand and move around. This meant that people lived far more intimately than many. In the circus, it wouldn’t be that uncommon for men and women to “match” and “hatch,” as the circus performers would say. I also think that after being in a circus, it might be harder to connect with a rube or a gawk, or someone who isn’t circus folk.
There was no running water in the carts, so each member of the circus had a bucket or two with their name on it, which they’d use for all sorts of reasons—bathing, laundry, shaving, washing up, bathing their dogs—what have you.
I loved coming across these candid photographs of the circus, and these little tidbits to what life as a constant performer must have been like.
The circuses had a rigid hierarchy. The higher up on the bill you were, the more perks you had, such as a private cart or more money and fewer chores. Workers and performers were not meant to fraternize. Circus performers were not meant to fraternize with the local men and women, either, but that didn’t mean people didn’t. There wasn’t meant to be gambling, but that didn’t mean no one in the circus threw dice or played poker. The circus folk broke most of their rules.
I want this job
The back lot was where performers lounged between acts, or practiced. They’d hang up washing to dry between the ropes that held up the big top. Unfortunately I couldn’t find that image online, though I did find this image of a man washing a lion in a bathtub:
I was struck by the juxtaposition in candid photographs on the circus back lot—they’re people doing normal everyday things, but by virtue of being in a circus they look strange to us. And though it was hard work and a difficult life, I can’t help but feel they must have had a little more magic in their lives than most of us.
And so I added a bit more magic for Pantomime.
Photo credits and more vintage photography can he found on my Pinterest Board Circus Photography. If you take a look at my Pinterest I also have sections on circus posters, as well as magic posters and photography, which ties into the sequel.
Thank you for sharing with us today, Laura! Find out more about Laura and her brand new book Pantomime below:
R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass—remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone—are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.
Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.
But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.
Find it on Amazon US and Amazon UK.
Or add it to your Goodreads list.
About the author:
Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside of the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams.
She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine.
Find her on her website, Twitter (@LR_Lam), Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.