Well-framed front, bally with meritorious attractions will help big show.

by **Norman Carroll


THE CIRCUS Side Show is either a knock or a boost for the circus.  Many a good green-back has missed falling in the big red ticket wagon because the Side Show was a knock and not a boost.

Today as never before the need for a serious discussion of the Circus Side Show is in order.

During the war, anything that remotely resembled a Side Show was acceptable to the management, but now that time has passed.  Let's talk about a Circus Side Show as a boost for the circus.

The front of the show should be framed with banners representing as nearly as possible, the actual attractions instead of stock banners representing everything but the show and acts presented inside.  This is a very important item, as each season brings many knocks and beefs from this angle.


Good bally acts are very important if you want to fill the top with cash customers.  Personally, I prefer musical, magic and novelty acts that have bally stunts other than their regular act used on the inside.


Talker Very Important


A good front man is important-a talker who speaks good English and has a clean cut intelligent appearance.  Why?  Because the public today is schooled in radio and radio advertising, and an approach along these lines and techniques on the front of a Side Show brings excellent results.

Uniformed ticket sellers and ticket takers with a small overhead canopy extending out over the front of the bally stands, brings the customers out of the hot sun into the shade and in front of the show where they should be.  Costuming the performers, using flash ballies and short snappy openings with plenty of punch, also results in better receipts in the till.  Having good music, either a peppy colored minstrel band or a good sound system with specially selected records, gives added punch to the talker's openings and creates the proper atmosphere conducive to good business.


After the front man has finished and the lot is cleared, with all the customers on the inside, without any delay give them a first class show.  Start by having all the stages attractively draped and well lighted, make-up and clean smart wardrobe on all the performers and a good inside lecturer who will keep the show moving at a fast pace.

Pitches by the performers should be kept at a minimum.  When necessary, they should be made quick and entertaining with a strong act following immediately.


Freaks Not Necessary

The value of "freaks" in a modern Side Show, in my estimation, is not an absolute necessity.  Some of the best and most successful Side Shows I have been connected with have carried only one and not more than two bona fide freaks. I have found over a period of eight years of active Side Show talking experience and management, that parents with children are usually more than skeptical about allowing their children to see such attractions and no amount of coaxing and oratory from the talkers can get them over to the cash box.


Unusual novelty and musical acts, magicians, Punch and Judy, marionettes, working acts of strength and skill, dancing and singing midgets, make toward a more entertaining and acceptable show.

Repulsive or malformed people usually play on the sympathy angle, which in my esti-mation is bad, because primarily a circus, which includes the Side Show, should be a happy, merry occasion for all, and these attractions are not conducive to creating that type of atmosphere.

An annex attraction is permissible in the Side Show.  Most everyone will accept cheerfully the extra 25-cent assessment if there is presented an outstanding, entertaining attraction. Once more may I emphasize an attraction and not a sympathy appeal for some un-fortunate malformed person.  Also the annex attraction can and should be for the entire audience, children included.


Watch the Blowoff


Any attempt to segregate is, in my opinion, had taste and the very thing parents object to most.  Because children invariability are prone to ask embarrassing questions if the attraction is of a sex nature, such as a half and half or any similar act in this category.  This is an old evil that really should have been corrected years ago.  Children are such an integral part of the audience that they should be taken into consideration at  all times when framing attractions for a successful Circus Side Show.

The more intelligent and progressive-thinking circus owners and operators will agree that the circus has come of age with definite responsibility to the people from whom it derives its revenue.  Since most shows play the same territory, season after season, it is necessary to take into consideration that people do remember from year to year whether a show is good or bad.


Times Have Changed


The public in general realizes a war has been fought and they have been kind in making allowances for the circus and Circus Side Show frailties and shortcomings.  But let us look forward now to next season; a season with no labor or material shortage.  A plan for that period will certainly mean immediate and necessary adjustments in our thinking of why a Circus Side Show which will change all those knocks into boosts.  Then you can stand by and watch the Side Show come into its own, a real asset instead of a liability.

May I close by saying that Barnum is rumored to have said "a sucker is born every minute" but let us remember there is also truth in saying, "You can fool some of the people some of the time, but-etc.


**Norman Carroll has been connected with circus side shows since 1935, as well as having had considerable experience as a big show announcer.

He has handled and worked on the front of the side shows with the Clyde Beatty, Cole Bros., Russell Bros. and Pan Pacific circuses, and with Pete Kortes, veteran side show men with whom he has been associated are Duke Mills, Bill Debarrie, Arthur Hoffman, Martin E. Arthur and the late Duke Drunenbrod.


Article from The Billboard - July 12, 1947

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