What is a Circle Show?

April 17, 2023

What comes to your mind when you think of “Show”? Or, more specifically: “A live show”?

The back of a bar, a Fring Venue, regional theatre, big city theatre? Maybe an arena, a stadium!
Buy your tickets. Queue with anticipation. Lights on. Sound on. Curtain up.

What about something more stripped back and pure. No venue, no stage, and no tickets. Let me introduce you to Circle Shows.

There’s a chance you’ve already experienced a circle show; you’ll find them in public spaces in most major cities. They could be known by other names: Busker Show or Street Theater, but mostly the type of show has no common reference. As someone who has experienced thousands of circle shows in the last thirty years, allow me to be your guide, and I’ll explain what makes them so unique and special.

Pick a public space: a town square, a busy park, or a waterside promenade. A place where hundreds of people through. Into this space enters our circle artist. She pulls a suitcase and sets it down. She looks around. Busy people with busy lives. No one really sees her. She opens her case and proceeds to take out three juggling balls, placing them purposefully in front of the case.

This is enough to spark the tiniest amount of curiosity. A child stops a mother waits. The artist smiles at the child as he grips the mother’s leg never taking his eyes off the girl.
Two teenagers shuffle to a stop. A lady rests her shopping bags.
The artist says, “Hi”
The tiny audience experiences a moment of realisation. She can see them, and she’s acknowledged them. Unusual, and yet warm. Picking up the balls, she starts to juggle. She talks. She talks about herself, what she’s doing, and what she’ll do next. She cracks a joke. The teenagers laugh. More people are stopping to see what is going on. Curious and hesitant, but they can always move on. One by one her audience begins to grow. She opens her case to produce five large bottles and four big knives. More people stop.

The terminology for this process is referred to as ‘the build’. A circle show is a show within a circle of audience. The goal of the build is to create a solid ‘edge’; the term is used when the audience forms a solid row, shoulder to shoulder, around the artist. As the show progresses, more rows will form. Some circle artists can hold an audience of five hundred or more.

Businessmen on lunch breaks. Curious tourists. Mums with strollers. An entirely random group of strangers have come together to create an audience.
When the circle is complete, the energy changes and the artist begins the next phase of her show.

She will stand on one bottle with just the tips of her toes! For this next trick, she announces, will only be possible with the help from someone in the audience.

Nerves settle as the artist beckons the young boy to centre of the circle. Again the energy increases. The boy is one of the audience. He could do anything. There’s now some unpredictable randomness.
There’s a costume. He helps, he hinders, he gets the biggest laughs. The perfect combination of innocence and eagerness.

By now the audience has changed from a disparate group of strangers to a unified collective, with the artist conducting from the centre.
Each smile, laugh and cheer is amplified. Joy is contagious within the circle.

The finale. Walking on the top of five bottles whilst juggling for knives. A hush. Silence. Without realizing it, the audience has become part of the show. Herein lies the unique beauty of the circle show, it’s the audience that creates the joy.

As the fourth knife is juggled, the audience let’s loose, the largest cheering roar of the show. The artist has triumphed in her finale.

Emotional states have charged. A mundane ordinary afternoon got lifted.
The artist thanks her audience and holds forward a hat:
“If I have made your day better, I’d welcome your appreciation “

People who, thirty minutes earlier, would have no intention of giving money away gladly drop notes into the hat and smile for selfies.
Within fifteen minutes, the artist is gone, and the space is bare.

I’ve met so many people from all walks that will recite a circle show they saw twenty or thirty years ago. In a blink they feel themselves reliving the energy, the joy, the happiness. They never forget.

Is it easy to be a circle artist? Yes and No. Anyone can find a public space and try. There are very few requirements. Try it?
You might find it’s a lot harder than you imagined.

What makes a great circle artist?
Good tricks help. A good finale. A sense of humour and perhaps some clowning skills. But the secret sauce might surprise you; the ingredient that can make a $100 to a $1000 hat is Empathy. To read an audience, flow, feel, and share yourself. These are the qualities of the greats.

Why do I love Circle Shows?
I love the dualistic nature of both simplicity and complexity. Simplic being the requirements: space and strangers. Complexity is knowing and reading the artist’s movements, how they craft the edge. How they pace their voice, how they conjure and manipulate the energy.
No two shows are ever the same because no two audiences are ever the same.
This is why I love circle shows and do the work I do.
Get happy.

I was instantly hooked when I saw my first circle show thirty years ago in Covent Garden. In 2010 I set up an agency and production company to specialise in Circle Shows and Street Arts. Scouring the planet, we sought to find unique talent. We’ve worked in 16 countries producing over 10,000 shows bringing joy to over 1,000,000 people, and always looking for more opportunities. — Stuart Every

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About the Author

Stuart Every

Consultant and advocate for the global street arts community, producer of Street Theatre festivals, and CEO of Dolphin Creative

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