A Life Based in Tradition

As Marialisa explained yesterday, Circus Smirkus thrives on its traditions. This connection to the past; however, is not exclusive to Smirkus. In fact, circuses live off their brilliant backstories, rich traditions, and in some cases superstitions. Here’s a peek at some ongoing circus lore.

Photo by Harry Powers / Effects by Alex Zaprudsky

Facing the Ring from the Curb
Circus performers never sit on the ring curb facing outward. This tradition is a tribute to pay respect to the performance space by facing toward it when sitting and watching in the ring.

Pie-in-your-Face Birthday
Circus clowns celebrate birthdays by pie-ing the birthday boy or girl in the face. In this tradition, it is important to catch the “victim” off guard and surprise them with their birthday “dessert.”

Circus pies are not made of whipped cream. This is a common misconception, but they are actually made of shaving cream! The reasoning behind this less-than-delectable recipe is to prevent staining a costume. Also, shaving cream is more affordable. You can fill a garbage can with soapy foam from one bar of shaving soap!

First of May
Traditionally, circus performers were hired in the beginning of May; hence the phrase “First-of-May” designates a brand-new employee. Circus Smirkus does its casting in the wintertime, but the first-year performers are still considered First of Mays.

Never Move a Wardrobe Trunk Once it has Been put into Place
Moving it means that the performer will be leaving the show.

What is a Pie Car?
The Pie Car is the place where circus performers and staff eat. Surely someone knows the origin of the phrase. . .but we couldn’t find it.

Update: Thanks to Rich Royer for providing the following link about Pie Car history!

Other Lore and Superstition

  • When John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” is played in the circus, it means there is an emergency situation. It is played to warn circus workers that something is wrong.
  • It is bad luck to count the audience.
  • It is considered good luck for performers to always enter the ring with their right foot first.
  • In photographs, it is bad luck for elephants to have their trunks down.

— Alex Zaprudsky
Tour Communications Intern

Source: The Museum of Science of Industry
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