Circus: American Experience

October 8 & 9 at 9pm on ThinkTV16

A four-hour, two-part documentary, Circus: American Experience explores the colorful history of the 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.

Through the intertwined stories of several of the most innovative and influential impresarios of the late 19th century, including P.T. Barnum, James Bailey and the five Ringling Brothers, the series reveals the circus as a phenomenon created by a rapidly expanding and increasingly industrialized nation. It explores how its “dangerous” and “exotic” attractions revealed the country’s notions about race and Western dominance, and shows how the circus subverted prevailing standards of “respectability” with its unconventional, titillating and “freakish” entertainments.