Animals, acrobats and amusement : a history of performance in South Africa’s circus industry, c.1882–1963

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Stellenbosch : Stellenbosch University
ENGLISH ABSTRACT: In South Africa, the circus industry became an important leisure industry in the 1800s and remained a popular form of entertainment until the turn of the twenty-first century, attracting diverse audiences across the country. Yet this industry is a neglected area of historical research. This thesis uses a rich variety of primary sources to debunk the myth of the ‘timeless circus act’, static and uniform. Instead, it demonstrates that this industry has gone through several transformations throughout the history of its existence. It analyses these changes, with particular focus on animal and gender history, by comparing performances between three circus companies that toured South Africa between 1882 and 1963: Fillis’s Circus, Pagel’s Circus and Boswell’s Circus. In doing so, this thesis explores the international influence on performances. This thesis argues that animals were integral to the circus industry, but their roles were mutable and affected by changes in human society. It traces their shifting role in performances across the companies, while also considering their shifting and subjective experiences in captivity. It contends that we can conceive of animals as ‘political performers’ and even as political agents with the ability to exert their agency and effect change. Throughout this thesis, the notion of ‘performing gender’ is analysed by comparing routines, as well as the various audience reactions to examine the ideals of masculinity and femininity reflected in society at the time. Overall, it argues that the significant changes that occurred within animal and gendered performances were a response to the shifting localised public mindsets and political climates, affected in turn by broader global forces.
AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Raadpleeg teks vir opsomming
Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2021.
Circus -- South Africa -- History -- c.1882–1963, Circus animals, Boswell’s Circus, Pagel’s Circus, Fillis’s Circus, International influence on performances, UCTD