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 the circus terms

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circus terms
Here's a short list we've compiled of certain circus terms and lingo that might be helpful to you. These are just the most common we could find, but if you'd like a more detailed list, you can find one here.

Advise β€” The official schedule, posted on the outside of the backdoor and elsewhere, listing the current revision of the time and sequence of the acts.

Aerialist β€” Performer who performs suspended above the ground on a trapeze or similar equipment (wire walking is not an aerialist act).

Alfalfa β€” Paper money.

All Out and Over, All Out, All Over β€” The entire performance is concluded, the audience has vacated the top and workers can begin re-setting or tearing down.

Arena β€” The large cage in which big-cat acts are performed.

Back Door β€” Performers' entrance to the big top.

Baggage Stock β€” Horses used for hauling, as opposed to performing horses called "ring stock."

Banjo Light β€” A large round pan-shaped metal reflector containing a gasoline or kerosene flame.

Big Bertha or The Big One β€” Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Big Cats β€” Performing lions and tigers.

Big Top β€” The main tent used for the performance, usually the largest on the lot.

Bill β€” An advertising poster.

Blues β€” The general admission seats, usually painted blue.

Bullhook or Ankus β€” The dull hook on a stick used by elephant trainers to "get the elephant's attention" and guide the animals to their tasks without harming them.

Bulls β€” Elephants (whether male or female). Also (mostly with affection) "rubber cows."

"Bump a Nose" β€” Some people cite this as the "good luck" phrase clowns use to each other before a performance, rather like actors' "break a leg." In reality, it's cutesie-poo amateur clown club jargon. A circus clown would be much more likely to say something like "go @#$%& yourself."

Bunce β€” Profits.

Butcher β€” Strolling vendor selling refreshments or souvenirs.

Carpet Clown β€” A clown who works either among the audience or on arena floor.

Catcher β€” The member of a trapeze act who catches the flyer after he has released himself from the bar in a flying return act.

Cattle Guard β€” A set of low seats placed in front of the general admission seats to accommodate overflow audiences.

Character Clown β€” A clown who dresses in a character costume, often a tramp, but sometimes a policeman, fireman, etc.

Cherry Pie β€” Extra jobs done by circus personnel for extra pay.

Circus Tape β€” Adhesive cloth tape used to wrap trapeze bars and other circus equipment.

Cirky β€” Circus counterpart to the word "carny;" a circus employee.

Clown Alley β€” The clowns' dressing and prop area.

Come In β€” The period an hour before show time when the public is entering the arena before the circus begins. Elephant and camel rides are offered for a fee during come in; butchers are selling their wares, and clowns are on the floor. Some clowns specialize and only perform during come in.

Concert or Aftershow β€” An extra act, performed in the big top, for an additional admission fee, after the conclusion of the main performance.

Donniker β€” A rest room or toilet.

Downtown Wagon β€” A circus wagon featuring a simple exhibit, parked prominently on a downtown street as advertising. Sometimes a ticket wagon will be located downtown to increase sales.

Dressage β€” An act by horses trained in dancelike stylized movements; the animals' paces are guided by subtle movements of the rider's body.

Dressing the House β€” To sell reserved-seat tickets in a pattern so that all sections appear at least moderately filled with no obviously empty areas.

Ducat β€” Free ticket to the show, also knows as an 'Annie Oakley' or 'comp.'

Ducat Grabber β€” Door tender or ticket collector.

First of May β€” A novice performer or worker in their first season.

Flag, or Flag's Up β€” The cookhouse is open.

Fly Bar β€” Aerialists' swing with a bar instead of a flat seat.

Flyers β€” Aerialists in flying acts, which involve jumping through the air. The flyer's partner is the 'catcher.'

Funambulist β€” Rope walker, from the Latin: "funis" (rope) and "ambulare" (to walk.)

Free Walker β€” Free walking is a style of acrobatic closely related to gymnastics. The difference in the two is that free walkers use the same sort of acrobatic ability of a gymnast and combine it with dance, leaps, slides, jumps, flips, and other movements to climb walls, jump off of high platforms and otherwise create a unique style of movement. This performer is agile enough to fill in in the case that almost any acrobatic performer is unable to preform on any given night.

Gag β€” A short clown trick that is over too quickly to be an act of its own.

Gallery β€” General seating area (the cheap seats).

Garbage Joint β€” The souvenir or novelty stand.

Gaucho β€” Someone not born into circus life who takes a circus job.

Geek β€” A sideshow performer that swallows insects and other small animals live, bites off the heads of chickens and other small livestocks, often squirting the blood through his teeth at the audience.

Grand Entry β€” The opening parade, also called the "spec" (for "spectacle"), in which all the performers enter.

Grandstand β€” The seating area facing the center ring of a three-ring circus, flanked by the less favorable viewing area called the "stalls."

Grease Joint β€” The hot-dog or grill concession trailer.

Guy Wires β€” Stabilizing ropes that give horizontal support to rigging. Most things in the air use guy wires.

Harmonica β€” Considered a bad-luck instrument.

Heralds β€” Circus advertisements.

High Wire β€” A tightly-stretched wire far above the floor, on which a wire walker performs.

Hippodrome Track β€” The oval area between the rings and audience.

Hits β€” Good places to paste posters.

Horse β€” One thousand dollars.

Horse Feed β€” Poor returns from poor business.

Horse Opry β€” Any circus (jokingly).

Howdah β€” From the Indian term, a seat on the back of an elephant or camel. Elephant and camel rides are sold for an extra fee during "come in."

Jackpots β€” Tall tales about one's exploits on the circus ('war stories'.)

John Robinson β€” A signal to cut or shorten an act, or to give a very short show altogether. If a performer is headed out to the ring, someone might say "John Robinson" to call for an abbreviated performance, or in the middle of an act if the ringmaster makes the announcement "Would John Robinson please come to the rear entrance," the performer should go right into their last trick. Rarely used, but valuable in case of emergency.

Jump Stand β€” An additional ticket booth near the front door used to sell extra tickets during a rush by spectators.

Keister β€” Used to refer to a circus wardrobe trunk, or any luggage.

Kid Show β€” A sideshow.

Kinker β€” Any circus performer (though never to their face).

Long Mount β€” When several elephants stand in line, each on hind legs, placing his front legs on the back of the elephant in front of him.

Lot β€” The show grounds.

Lunge Line β€” A long tether allowing horses to run and do stunts around the periphery of the ring while the trainer stands in the center holding the line.

Main Guy β€” Guy rope to hold up the center pole in the Big Top.

The March β€” The street parade.

Marquee β€” The small entrance tent on most tented circuses.

Mechanic β€” Safety harness used in practice sessions by flyers, trampoline, bareback riders, high wire, perch acts, and tumblers. The practicing performer wears a harness attached to a rope that hangs above the middle of the ring.

Night Riders β€” Bill posters for competing circuses, who post paper for their employers in a gentlemanly fashion by day, and tear down or cover up the bills for their competition by night.

On the Show β€” Describes performers and all others connected to the circus.

Opposition Paper β€” Advertising posters put up by competing circuses.
Paid Off in the Dark β€” When salary is paid in cash, "off the books."

Papering the House β€” Giving away free tickets to fill up the audience, to give the impression that the public is anxious to see the show. Often done when the press is in attendance.

Pedestal β€” The platform that fliers perch on while waiting to catch the swing (the "fly bar").

Performer's Trick β€” Something the performer does with great pride but which only other performers would appreciate, like a magician who learns sleights so skillful they awe other magicians but seem to the public no different.

Picture Gallery β€” A tattooed man.

Pitchmen β€” The people who make a pitch (sales talk) to sell something, often on the city streets, or on the midway advertising a sideshow act. Balloons, peanuts, souvenirs, toys, and more can also be pitched during breaks in the show. Vendors might tip a pitch man, because the better the pitch the more the sell.

Ponger β€” An acrobat.

Privilege β€” The fee paid to the circus for the right to place a concession on the midway.

Prop Hand β€” Crew member responsible for setting and placing props for the next act.

Punk Pusher β€” Supervisor of the work crew.

Quarter Poles β€” Poles which help support the weight of the canvas and take up the slack between center and side poles.

(to) Rag Out β€” To tighten the tent ropes.

Rigger β€” The worker who specializes in assembling and managing the rigging.

Rigging β€” The apparatus used in high wire or aerial acts.

Ring β€” The circle in which circus acts are presented.

Ring Banks or Curbs β€” The wooden curbing around the ring.

Ring Doors β€” The canvas panels performers push aside as they enter the performance area of the big top.

Ring Stock β€” Animals which perform in the show.

Rosin β€” Powdered dried plant gum used to prevent slipping.

Rosinback β€” Horse used for bareback riding. Horses' backs are sprinkled with rosin to prevent the rider from slipping.

Roustabout β€” A circus workman, laborer.

Rubbermen β€” Strolling balloon vendors. Balloons are blown up with air and attached to sticks, since helium-filled balloons are expensive and unsold ones don't last long.

Rube β€” anyone not connected with the circus, an outsider or local.

Safety Loop β€” The loop part of a web rope into which a performer places their wrist in aerial ballet numbers.

Screamers β€” Standard circus march tunes, so called because they are usually played with great vigor.

Seventeen Wagon β€” The wagon where paychecks are distributed.

Shanty or Chandelier β€” The man who works the lights.

Side Poles β€” Short poles at the outer edge of the top canvas.

Sidewall β€” To sneak in without paying.

Sixteen Wagon β€” The main office wagon, also knows as the β€œRed Wagon.”

Slanger β€” Trainer of cats.

Slop Shoes β€” Wooden clogs with leather uppers, easy to slip on and off hands-free. Worn by performers over their performing footwear, to keep costumes clean while walking to and from the big top.

Spec β€” Short for 'spectacle.' A colorful pageant which is a featured part of the show; used as the opening number.

Spec Girls β€” Showgirls who appear in the spec.

Stalls β€” The medium cost seats in the auditorium. A less-favorable viewing position to the left and the right of the grandstand.

Star Backs β€” More expensive seats (usually indicated by painted stars on the seat backs).

"Stars and Stripes Forever" β€” The band reserves this Sousa march as a signal that an emergency has come up, calling for the clowns to come running out, directing public attention away from the emergency, or for the audience to be evacuated. Also known as the Disaster March.

Straw House β€” A sold-out house. Straw is spread on ground for spectators to sit on in front of the general admission seats.

Suitcase Act β€” A performer who has no costumes or equipment of their own.

Swag β€” Carnival game prizes, or souvenirs and toys bought from vendors.

Tableau Wagons β€” Ornamental parade wagons on which colorfully-dressed performers ride.

Tanbark β€” Shredded tree bark, more durable and manageable than sawdust, used to cover the greater circus arena ground.

Toby News β€” Circus-lot gossip.

Trouper β€” A person who has spent at least one full season with the circus.

Turn β€” Any act in the show; you do your turn.

Turnaway β€” A sold-out show.
Walkaround β€” A clown feature in which they stroll through the crowd and perform comic bits interacting with audience members.

Water Wagon β€” The water wagon circulates around the lot dispensing water for numerous uses: filling water buckets for performers to wash in, watering the animals, spraying the ground to keep the dust down, filling the drinking-water barrels placed around the lot, and hosing down the elephants.

Windjammer β€” A member of a circus band.

Windy Van Hooten's β€” Name of the mythical "perfect circus" imagined by performers and crew, where everything is wonderful and everyone gets the money, respect and working conditions they deserve, plus some.

Zanies or Zanni β€” Clowns.

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