Princeton... The similarities between a large circus and small circus are more about scale than anything else. The jobs are the same. The large circus has electricians and electrician’s helpers. The small circus does too. Likewise every other job has it’s counterpart on shows both grand and otherwise. But on the large show any one person may have only a single responsibility, while on a small show multitasking is the norm. The girl who sells you a ticket may also fly on the trapeze. Maybe the owner drives a truck and cleans up after the elephants. The circus isn’t for everybody. Even if you’re born into it, it’s likely some day you will leave. The kid from Dallas who can’t hold a job may sign on for a season believing that labor can’t be all that hard, and he’ll get to travel. But there are no days off, no sick days, and no matter how awful you may feel, there’s work that has to be completed because the circus moves every day and there is always a performance. Time defines us, and there's enough of it. After a few days or weeks of a routine that makes Basic Training look like a cakewalk, maybe the kid will slink away.
Or maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll stay the season just to prove something. Not because he loves the circus, but rather because for all the abuse, all of the screaming, and yelling, and threats, and name calling – if the work gets done no one will judge him for anything else. If the work gets done he is a success. If the work doesn’t get done he’s a failure. It’s as simple as that.
It is, I think, harder if you stick around because you do love the circus. The circus will disappoint you. The circus rarely cares if today’s show is good or bad, only that today’s show happens. The performers may care, the owner may care, but every show has a mind of its own – more Murphy’s Law than mysticism. At the end of each day Brent Dewitt the clown on Culpepper likes to say ironically, “Tomorrow we get to do this all again.” To a packed house or an empty tent. In the rain or in the sunshine.
Maybe circus is an addiction we can’t kick despite knowing that it wears us down. For me at least every day is a new puzzle that I will never quite finish. I can’t quit because someday I MIGHT finish it. Circus is about somedays.
Today on the other hand there’s a broken floorboard in the cat trailer and a groom who actually cried when he got yelled at by the elephant guys. Someday will have to wait.