The New American Circus
by Ernest Albrecht

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ISBN Number: 0-8130-1364-X
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University Press of Florida

In the 1970s a group of men and women with few ties to the circus emerged from the counterculture revolution and took to the streets, where they discovered how to entertain an audience. At a time when the Big Top was beset by shabby excess, escalating costs, and competition from movies and TV, the young performers dedicated themselves to skill and intimacy, beginning the movement Ernest Albrecht describes as the "new American circus", a reinvention of the circus as an authentic form of art.

The first - and most radical - aspect of this movement was its revival of the traditions of the great one-ring shows of Europe and Russia. Focusing on artistry, not spectacle, the new American circus incorporated such allied arts as music and dance and embraced a notion of ensemble that was compatible with the communal ethic of the seventies.
Working from interviews and other primary sources, Albrecht traces this history to the present (including current controversies over animal performers and efforts to secure subsidies), sketching the leading players in the new circus and profiling the shows they founded.

He features four circuses that have become part of the social and cultural fabric of their communities (rather than nomadic visitors) and have been associated with a training program in the circus arts: the Pickle Family in San Francisco, the Big Apple in New York City, Circus Flora in St. Louis, and the Cirque du Soleil in Montreal, which has a large following in Los Angeles and on the east coast.

In writing this history Albrecht re-creates the excitement he felt as a boy watching the circus in New York's Madison Square Garden, mixing that with his passion for the legitimate theatre, where he has worked as an adult. The book is intended, he says, for those "who may have given up hope of rediscovering a circus as magical as the ones of their childhood . . . for those who take their circus seriously, both as an art form and as an important American institution."

Ernest Albrecht, assistant professor of English at Middlesex County College in Edison, New Jersey, is the author of A Ringling by Any Other Name, articles published in Variety, Bandwagon, Circus Report, and Theater Crafts, and some 3,500 reviews of New York theatre for the New Brunswick Home News. He was the producing director of Plays-in-the-Park in Edison, New Jersey, for fifteen years.


"Highly informative and entertaining. . . . An important contribution not only to the history of the circus but to theater history and popular culture studies."--Marcello Truzzi, Eastern Michigan University

"An important story, one filled with resonance for the history of the counterculture and recent American culture generally."--Chris Rasmussen, Princeton University

"This book is authoritative, but Mr. Albrecht wears his learning lightly. . . . The narrative is full of colorful personalities and dramatic events. . . . Should have appeal for the armchair reader as well as the circus fan."--Angus K. Gillespie, Rutgers University

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