Social Construction of the American Circus Clown: Production of Clowning in the United States from 1968 to 1997.

Rodney Huey

Johnson Center, 240A
September 20, 2005, 08:00 PM to 07:00 PM


"This dissertation addresses the production of American circus clowning in the last half of the twentieth century, a period dominated by the countryIs only training facility for clowns O Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. From 1968 to 1997, Clown College held annual sessions and graduated almost 1300 clowning hopefuls, many of whom performed with The Greatest Show on Earth and other circuses; and many of whom pursued performance careers in television, film and theatre. Over a 30-year period, Clown College grew from a modest program designed to train a handful of new clowns to a pedagogical institution that not only shaped, but attempted to determine the look, behavior of demeanor of the new American circus clown. As an active resistance to the large, corporate three-ring circuses, the single-ring Inew age circus,O centered around a European-style performing clown, was born in the late 1970s and grew into national prominence, such as San FranciscoIs Pickle Family Circus, New York CityIs Big Apple Circus, and to some extent, CanadaIs Cirque du Soleil. This dissertation provides a critical look at the cultural production of circus clowning by examining the tension created between the Ringling-produced three-ring circus clowns (production clowns) and the emergent new age clown, paying particular attention to the economic, political and social forces that helped shape, and in effect, attempted to influence subversive humor through the agency of the circus clown."

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