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Circus Lingo list 

Submitted by Editor on   9/17/2004
Last Modified

Advance Team—goes into towns weeks ahead of show date to put up heralds and posters publicizing the arrival of the Circus.

Annie Oakley—a complimentary ticket or free pass.

Artist—any person who performs in the Circus.

Auguste Clown—a clumsy, slapstick clown who wears no traditional costume. The makeup exaggerates facial features; i.e., oversized mouth, nose and eyes in base colors of pink or red highlighted with white.

Back Door—performers’ entrance to the arena.

Back Lot—area at rear entrance where the animals and trailers are kept                  

Bandmaster—person who conducts the band, makes necessary changes in the music and usually plays the trumpet.

Big Bertha—Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Blow Off—the grand finale of the Circus, when all performers march in parade and take their bows.

Boss Elephant Man—person who feeds and cares for all the elephants.        .

Boss of Ring Stock—person who feeds and cares for all performing horses, camels, ponies, etc.

Box Office—room originally a box cai from which all tickets are sold.


Bust Out—a time when many clowns enter the arena at once, usually during the pre-show come-in.

Carpet Clown—a clown who works either in the stands with the audience or down on arena floor outside of the Circus rings.

Catcher—member of a flying return trapeze act who hangs by legs from trap~e and catches the flyer in mid-air.

Cats—lions, tigers, leopards, panthers.

Character Clown—a clown who usually dresses in a tramp costume.           

Charivari—a lively exhibition of acrobatics often associated with clowning antics or slapstick.

Cherry Pie—Extra work done by employees for extra pay.

Clown Alley—a private section of the arena where clowns put on their makeup and store their props.

Clown Stop—a brief appearance of clowns while the props are being changed or rigging is being set.

Clown Walk-Around—all clowns in show parade around the hippodrome track stopping from time to time to do sight gags, pratfalls, etc.

Coaches—deluxe railroad cars on Circus train in which performers live and travel.

Come-In—the period of clown performances when the public is still entering the arena.


Doors—announcement meaning “to let the public in.”

Dressage Act—an act in which trained horses are displayed, usually with riders.

Dressed House—when tickets are distributed so that all sections are filled or “dressed” with no large empty areas.

Ducat—a Circus ticket.

Ducat Grabber—door tender or tkket collector.

Finale—Grand Spectacular Parade at the end of the show.

Finish Trick—the last “trick” of a specific Circus act.

First of May—a novice, greenhorn, or performer on the show for the first year (refers especially to first-year clowns).

Flyers—aerialists, especially those in flying return acts.

Flying Squadron—first section of the show to reach the Circus backlot.

Gaffer—Circus manager.

General Manager—person in charge of all working personnel on the entire show.

Grand Entry Parade—performers and animals enter and parade at the beginning of each show.

Grotesque—whiteface clown with greatly exaggerated features.

Heralds—Circus advertisements, (approximately 9 x 20 inches) which can be pasted down or handed out.

Hippodrome Track—oval track 8 to 12 feet in width which surrounds the three Circus rings.

Home Run—the trip back to Winter Quarters in Venice, Fla.

Iron Jaw—an acrobatic stunt requiring an apparatus which fits into performer’s mouth and from which an aerialist is suspended.

Jackpots—tall tales about the Circus.

Joey—a clown (derived from the famous clown Joseph Grimaldi in England in the 18th century).

Jump—the distance between engagements in different towns.

Kicking Sawdust—following the Circus, or being part of it.

Lead Stock—any of the trained haltered animals in the Circus, other than horses.

Little People—midgets or dwarfs.

Master Clown—the highest honor to which a clown can aspire.

Mud Show—a tented Circus that travels overland but not on rails.

On The Show—performers and all others connected to the Circus. The term “with the show” is

not used.

Pad Room—dressing room. So called because Circus riders hang their pads there.

Paper—Circus posters.

Pass—an Annie Oakley; or free ticket.

Perch Act—A balancing act involving apparatus upon which one performs while being balanced by another.

Performance Director—person in charge of overall look of show and all performers during the Circus tour.

Pie Car—dining car on the Circus train.

Producer—chief person in management to which all other department heads report. He is the person who hires, searches for talent, makes creative decisions about show content, finances, does routing and makes all major corporate level decisions.

Production Number—any one of several Circus pageantry numbers in which performers are lavishly  dressed and props and floats are used.

Program—Circus souvenir booklet filled with pictures, feature stories and a listing in order of the acts in a show.

Prop—any movable or hand-held object used by a performer in the Circus.

Prop Rand—crew member responsible for making sure a performer’s props are in the right place before an act begins.

Regional Marketing Director—person who precedes show into town to set up advertising, publicity   and building arrangements.

Regional Marketing Supervisor—person who supervises RMD’s in a particular region of the country

Rigger—Circus worker who puts up and takes down complex rigging for each Circus engagement. Rigging—the apparatus used in highwire or aerial acts.

Ring Curb—curved wooden sections (usually about one foot in height) that fit together to form Circus rings 42 feet in diameter.

Ring Gag—clown skit that takes place in one of the Circus rings.

Ringmaster—person who sings, announces the acts and starts the show by blowing a whistle

Ring Stock— performing Circus animals, including horses, llamas, camels and ponies.

Rosin Back—a horse act with bareback riding.

Route Card—printed card made available to performers listing the upcoming Circus dates and locations.

Seventeen Wagon—the wagon where Circus employees get paid.

Showgirls—dancers hired to perform in Circus production numbers, dance, ride elephants and horses and perform “web” (traditional aerial ballet).

Spec—short for spectacle. A colorful pageant which is a featured part of the show, formerly used as the opening number and now presented just before intermission.

Spot—placing the Circus train or Circus wagons on the backlot.

Stand—any town where the Circus plays.

Strawhouse—a sell-out house. Straw was spread over the ground for spectators to sit on in front of general admission seats.

Tanbark—shredded tree bark from which tannin has been extracted that was used to cover Circus arena floor.

Teeterboard—act in which acrobats are vaulted into the air from seesaw-like teeterboards to the shoulders of other troupe members or the backs of animals.

The Big One—Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Track Gag—clown number that takes place on the Hippodrome track.

Train Master—Circus person responsible for every aspect of the Circus train while moving and at rest

Troupers—Circus people.

Turnaway—a sold-out show. 

Whiteface—a clown makeup with a white base, with black and red features.

Windjammer—a member of the Circus band.

Window Card—cardboard advertising poster made to be set in store windows in advance of show dates.

Winter Quarters—the home of the Circus when it is not traveling, where new shows are staged choreographed and rehearsed for the next season. 


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