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The Charts...

Sustainability of circus discipline´s props

Analyzed were 75 known circus disciplines from various ages of the circus history, forming a pretty rich representation of the main disciplines that ever existed, some highlights from the past almost fallen into oblivion others brand-new creations that are here to stay. From this big pot some disciplines were deliberately excluded from the investigation, almost each one of them out of specif reasons, some examples are the incredible variety of props used on the act (like clown for instance) and extreme obsolescence in modern and contemporary circus (rocket man, ringmaster, and alike). All disciplines considered suitable to the proposed analyses were then divided in three main categories: Juggling — comprehending all disciplines around throwing, manipulating or swinging objects with whatever body part, in any form or setting. Floor disciplines — comprehending all disciplines developed mainly on the floor, displaying elements of balance, strength, risk, etc. Aerial disciplines — comprehending all disciplines that uses acrobatic movements in the air and or partially in the air. *N In all three categories some props were marked with the symbol *N, standing for new. Indicating that the discipline is a “recent” discovered/ popularized discipline and therefore in most cases presented just one cycle of material type used in it's production. All of the “new” disciplines use predominantly plastic, not existing (to the date and accordingly to this research) any sustainable or “more sustainable” alternative to it's manufacturing (a clear connection to the post-industrial revolution period fabrication style). Green = materials considered sustainable Grey = Materials considered not sustainable Dark Grey = Strong increase in material considered not sustainable, either in quantity or degree (for example high toxicity, reduction in composting capacity, etc.)

Multiple Material


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Uniform / Variety

The first step after dividing the disciplines into the three main groups were to identify the props used in each discipline, a part of them were obviously self explained since the name of the discipline happens to be the name of the prop or a close description of it, another part were added fitly due to the importance of the object in the carrying out of the act, some objects were intentionally left apart in order to focus on the main surroundings of the discipline, occasionally a tricky compromise since circus disciplines are often complexly connected to other factors that play fundamental role in the execution of the discipline as in the case of all the aerials which requires a building or rigging structure to enable the hanging of the props and all the rigging material, also of crucial importance, however at least in this stage of the investigation it would be somehow contra productive to bring on board all and every single equipment, thus for the sake of this groundwork just “main” gear were contemplated.

Designates whether or not the prop is to be found in significantly different forms, shapes, sizes, which consequently changes the quantity in material used for it's manufacturing for example. This is information might be for instance not decisive, but it helps to construct a wide picture of the props, their material and use.

Further on the next columns (“single / multiple material”) were used to indicate whether the prop or props were composed of single or multiple materials, following the above classifications suit: general importance were focused in the quantity of the materials as well as the part the objects play in the fundamental development of the discipline.

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Main original material(s) & Main current material(s)

The last classification on the tab refers to the history development of the props concerning the change throughout time of the materials used in the equipment's manufacturing. The designation of materials in sustainable or not is a blend of environmental literature and priori knowledge. However, is extremely important to bear in mind that even in the scientific environmental literature and in the environmental scientific community there is no rigid consensus whatsoever about the level of sustainability of materials on a broad context. Since the pillars of sustainability are social, environmental, and economic, the fabrication and or processing of materials have very specific stories to tell about their “cleanness”, and the complex scrutiny that leads to fully understand of the impact generated by the product can only fully be made in individualized form, taking real time conditions and settings. Accordingly, the parameters of sustainability were based on a general grasp of each material, therefor not providing an accurate yardstick for the total production of circus materials but a fair guideline for maybe brand-new ideas of materials concept and/ or support for artistic investigation aiming a more environmental friendly circus practice.


With the collected data organized in the above described structures some clear trends were observed: — Circus props were once much more eco-friendly than in the last half century, like most objects created after the postwar, circus props were so influenced by the creation of polymers that their precursors became an unpopular alternative, and in some cases literally erased from the market (not just but specially in juggling products). — Juggling and Aerial disciplines were most affected by the strong inclusion of plastic in the industry

Conclusive Ideas

Considering that the overall circus literature is quite young and frail, and the connection to other themes just started to pop up in recent decades, this work is based on almost non-previous specific lore and therefore to be understood as a patchwork that really just scratches the surface of a much greater picture (which is indeed still more like a puzzle). The investigation of the relationship between environmental protection and circus productions is something quite complex, but the tiny data collected and analyzed already shows the importance of this endeavor. Already some crucial ideas and important questions pop up from this quest:


— From the chart is plausible to draw the conclusion that for the practice in itself it's not indispensable the creation of new materials for a more sustainable scenario. Though it is true that the plastic terrain gain allowed many breakthroughs in the circus world like the stretch of juggling records, yet what really made the bridge to a new era was not the numbers of “catches” and “flashes”. Instead, it was the ability to transcend the concept of throwing and capturing objects, been creative in whatever movements could arise from the human interaction with this same objects. So, at least in some aspects the elaboration of new technologies is not a must, going back to the “roots” and re-investigating original materials would probably unfold a world of new possibilities that are already kind of at hand. Similarly, the adaptation and/ or co-working with other industries could provide quick solutions that may avoid the necessity of new material development. Taking for instance the aerial section, on questioning the increasing demand for tape in a variety of props. Even in the realization of its absolute necessity, still in many cases, there are already alternatives on the market not focused on circus performance, but that could be easily integrated from others areas as a good compromise for tape use.


— The blooming of circus in the last 20 year or so represent a beautiful rebirth of this millennial art, a huge expansion from the old tends to pretty much everywhere in society. Circus made itself a new spotlight with all the inventive and critical contemporary pieces, the merging and exchange not just with theater and dance, but even with philosophy, physics and much more; Also it kept thriving as a gigantic member of the entertainment sector, taking for example so much space on the new cruise ship business; Great ground were also gained on the educational area with more professional circus schools been created, as well as the old ones enriching their curriculum as much as Master and PhD degrees; Besides, the schools that use circus as a tool to reach children and youth for social beneficial purposes sprouted across all continents. With this colossal elongation of breaches comes an exponential use of circus props, raising more than ever the need of awareness about the environmental sustainability of the circus practices. Likewise, the necessity of strategies on how to deal with this constantly expending market that per se requires raw materials, abundance in energy, and not less important social and economic stability to succeed.


Who's gonna be the agents to develop and carry on these strategies? Circus artist already constantly confront themselves with the need of taking over activities that are essential for their performance but in a fair scenario would be the tasks of other professionals. Mostly out of financial reasons (as common in art sectors) the circus artists are compelled to direct their own pieces, sew their own costumes, do their own office work and PR, and so on. Whilst many people enjoy being the masters of their own venture in all corners, others simply have no means to delegate and concentrate on their creative process. Bringing a new concerning, the environmental aspect of circus, into the contemporary circus dialogue can be a potential overcharge in a class that historically already “stands basically on its own strength” and "edge". Obviously the participation of all the professionals involved in circus production is vital for the creation of more harmonic systems, that integrates nature in the perspectives of the artistic project. On the other hand, the interdisciplinary cooperation might be mostly welcome to the successful advancement of such strategies. It will need much more incentive, specially financial, to promote the needed cooperation between many different sectors of society around the strategies of environmental sustainability in circus.

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