Circuses in Film Call for Papers

deadline for submissions: 
January 31, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Teresa Cutler-Broyles / Three Ring
contact email: 

Call for Papers

Circus Space: The Big Top on the Big Screen

We are currently accepting proposals for chapters to be included in an edited volume under contract with McFarland.


Freaks. Carny. MirrorMask. Water for Elephants. The Unknown. Trapeze. The Clown. Freakshow. Circus World.

What do all these films have in common? The circus, of course. Almost since the beginning, circuses have played a part in films of all kinds, from horror to drama, from romance to mystery. They are either setting or characters in their own right, and often both. Within the dozens of films in which they feature, and in the context of those films’ historical moments, the circus has been a space in which to speak, to exhibit, to recognize, to allow; it has been cultural critique and fantastical space; and it has given characters, and viewers, permission to stare.

The circus holds our interest, makes us laugh or cry, and draws our eyes and our hearts. Filled with animal acts and tumblers, ‘freaks’ and magicians, clowns, acrobats, high wire acts, contortionists, sword swallowers and death defying fire eaters, the circus offers up the exotic and the frightening to the curious, the horrified, the viewers and the voyeurs.

The origin of today’s circus is debated. Some historians believe that ancient Rome’s Circus Maximus—a public space that included a racetrack, originally constructed in the 6th Century BCE in Rome and used for nearly 600 years—could be called an ancestor of today’s modern circus, and they see a direct line to today’s Cirque de Solei and its offshoots by way of Medieval and Renaissance jesters, Philip Astley, P.T. Barnum’s ‘show that never ends,’ and more. Others believe that it wasn’t until the 18th century that the first actual circus was born, and that the American circus is another creature still.

Wherever its roots, when the circus comes to town the stands—and the movie theaters—fill up.

Our questions about circuses in film are many:

What kinds of circuses have been represented in film, and to what ends? How have filmmakers through the last 100 years used the circus: as character in its own right, as setting, as a particular kind of space? What have these filmmakers gained, or lost, by setting their stories in that particular space, or by utilizing the circus in other ways? What has that circus space allowed—or forbidden—in character development, social or cultural critique, visibility of some issue, voice for social change, or other statements? Have films featuring the circus been more popular during particular moments in history? Why? And so on.

We welcome contributions from film historians, theorists and scholars, general historians, independent scholars and researchers, circus scholars, cultural theorists, poets… essentially anyone with an interest in the subject.

Abstract deadline, January 31, 2017. Final manuscripts of 5,000-8,000 words will be due on May 1, 2017.

Please submit abstracts in Word of approximately 350 words, with information in this order:

a) author(s), b) affiliation if any, c) email address, d) title of proposal, e) body, f) up to 10 keywords. Please name your document as follows: YOURLASTNAME_Circus. And please use the email subject line: Circus Proposal

Please send, along with your CV and your statement of interest, to:

Teresa Cutler-Broyles, MA