Banner Alt

Return to The Plays and the Players List Previous Section: Children's Theater | Next Section: Classics

Circus Performances

The Circus Unit was part of the larger Variety Unit of the FTP. Employing as many as 250 performers in 60 acts, circuses toured regionally and drew huge crowds that included both the young and old. Many of the performers, such as Katie Sandwina, known as the world’s strongest woman, had been in the circus for years, but the ranks also included individuals who had unique talents that were not typical of those who performed in traditional theater. Performers included clowns, jugglers, tightrope walkers, cyclists, and aerialists—one notable example is Burt Lancaster, shown here, who began his career as an aerialist. Although few animals performed—Hallie Flanagan stated “There were no elephants on relief”—there was one elephant in the FTP named “Japino,” seen on the image loop in this exhibition. At some point, Japino escaped and was accidently returned to Barnum and Bailey Circus, who quickly returned the escapee to its rightful owner.

Circus poster for Hyannis, Massachusetts, August 3, 1937. Silkscreen poster. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (039.00.00)
Digital ID # ftp0039

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/federal-theatre-project/circus.html#obj0

Aerialist Burt Lancaster

The Circus Unit was part of the larger Variety Unit of the FTP. Employing as many as 250 performers in 60 acts, circuses toured regionally and drew huge crowds that included both the young and old. Many of the performers, such as Katie Sandwina, known as the world’s strongest woman, had been in the circus for years, but the ranks also included individuals who had unique talents that were not typical of those who performed in traditional theater. Performers included clowns, jugglers, tightrope walkers, cyclists, and aerialists—one notable example is Burt Lancaster, shown here, who began his career as an aerialist. Although few animals performed—Hallie Flanagan stated “There were no elephants on relief”—there was one elephant in the FTP named “Japino,” seen on the image loop in this exhibition. At some point, Japino escaped and was accidently returned to Barnum and Bailey Circus, who quickly returned the escapee to its rightful owner.

Burt Lancaster standing with fellow circus performer, between 1935 and 1939. Photograph. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (037.01.00)
Digital ID # ftp0037

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/federal-theatre-project/circus.html#obj1

Burt Lancaster on the Parallel Bars

The Circus Unit was part of the larger Variety Unit of the FTP. Employing as many as 250 performers in 60 acts, circuses toured regionally and drew huge crowds that included both the young and old. Many of the performers, such as Katie Sandwina, known as the world’s strongest woman, had been in the circus for years, but the ranks also included individuals who had unique talents that were not typical of those who performed in traditional theater. Performers included clowns, jugglers, tightrope walkers, cyclists, and aerialists—one notable example is Burt Lancaster, shown here, who began his career as an aerialist. Although few animals performed—Hallie Flanagan stated “There were no elephants on relief”—there was one elephant in the FTP named “Japino,” seen on the image loop in this exhibition. At some point, Japino escaped and was accidently returned to Barnum and Bailey Circus, who quickly returned the escapee to its rightful owner.

Burt Lancaster with fellow circus performer on parallel bars, between 1935 and 1939. Photograph. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (038.01.00)
Digital ID # ftp0038

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/federal-theatre-project/circus.html#obj2

Back to top

Return to The Plays and the Players List Previous Section: Children's Theater | Next Section: Classics