The Circus is Still Alive

This pandemic crisis is causing a lot of industries and sectors of work to reevaluate the core of who they are and what they do.

I once read about the difference between form and function. The example the author gave was about the railroad companies of the 19th century. If their focus would have been on function over form, then they would rule the skies in the 21st century. But we don’t have B&O Airlines, do we? You see, the railroad companies of yesteryear were focused on form, which is a long train on a track. Their function was transportation.

Remember Netflix in its early years? It was a DVD-by-mail service. You would pick what DVD you wanted to watch and they would mail it to you. Then you would return it and pick your next DVD. But when online streaming became more viable, they changed their entire model over to streaming and ditched the form of the DVD model. That’s because Netflix chose to prioritize function (entertainment) over form (DVDs or streaming).

For circus entertainers, we need to remember that our function is more important than the form in which it takes (though both are important and to a certain extent, inextricably linked, I believe). This means that a pandemic shutdown may force us to alter our form, but it does not shutdown our functionality.

Personally, I lament this shift in that I would much prefer to entertain crowds in person. But I am confident that this is only for a season and that it is contributing to helping keep vulnerable people safe.

Vaudeville (live variety shows) was the form of entertainment in early 20th century America. But then came the moving picture (“movies”), which drastically reduced the demand for vaudeville. Some of the most talented actors and actresses of early Hollywood came straight out of the vaudeville circuit (Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, etc). So the function of entertainment lived on, just in a different form.

Now think about the circus – Ringling may have shut down a few years ago. But the spirit (the function) of the circus lives on and is taking on new forms in the 21st century (such as Cirque du Soleil). And even in the pandemic crisis, circus performers are doing creative things to keep entertaining audiences.

What does form and function look like in your work? Are you seeing a more clear delineation between the two during this pandemic? I am seeing it clearly in the circus and live entertainment industry. We are all still artists. Our function remains the same (providing entertainment, joy, laughter, suspense, welcoming and bringing people together, etc). But the forms we take on during this time look a little different. We deliver our function via video, live streaming, and even in person on streets, driveways, and small backyard gatherings.

If you want me to entertain in a creative way for you and your group during this season or beyond, visit this link to get a quote for my work. Thanks for reading!

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Dr. Jesse Joyner travels nationwide as a speaker and entertainer. His primary role is that of a performing juggler spreading joy and the love of learning to family and kids events. H earned his PhD in Educational Studies at Trinity International University (Deerfield, IL). He enjoys playing the piano, bird watching, and old houses. He lives in Richmond, VA with his wife, Sarah, and their three kids - the perfect number for juggling children.