Opulence and Ostentation

building the circus

A new book by Steve Ward.

Release: May 31, 2023.

ISBN: 978-1-958604-02-1

244pp, 10×7″ paperback
MSRP: $25

Since the foundation of the ‘modern’ circus in the eighteenth century, the circus has been presented in defined spaces. Initially, performances were given in the open air and, over a period of time, these spaces first became enclosed and then later roofed. Temporary wooden structures often became semi-permanent until, in the nineteenth century, many permanent stone-built buildings were erected solely for the purpose of presenting circus. This phenomenon spread from the UK across Europe and beyond, creating a style of circus architecture that has never been repeated. The purpose of this book is to examine what caused these buildings to be constructed and their design and architecture. Examples of key structures will be explored in detail, some of them still surviving today and still being used for circus performances. The book will also look at the developments of contemporary circus architecture and raise questions as to the future of the circus building.

Grasping circus history demands exploration beyond the stereotypical image of the canvas big top. Steve Ward is to be commended for this much-needed sweep across countries and continents that reveals the scale and importance of circus buildings and introduces the showmen who built them.

– Charlie Holland, former Programme Director at London’s Circus Space (National Centre for Circus Arts)

Soundly grounded in facts rather than fantasies. Steve Ward is not only a genuine historian but also a passionate bard of the circus. I am sure this book will found a wide audience and that you will be thanked  for having brought it to light.

– Paul Bouissac, Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto

Ward does a sterling job of constructing the narrative links between his historical sources in an engaging way… the thread that Ward draws between the architectures of the past and the present – and particularly how building designs relate both to performance and audiencing practices – is an invaluable contribution to circus scholarship. (full review)

– Katharine Kavanagh, the Circus Diaries

[This book] celebrates the opulence and wealth of this approach to promoting the circus, examining how these structures contributed to the mystique and allure of the circus over the centuries… Libraries strong in circus topics or architectural explorations will find Opulence and Ostentation: building the circus is an opulent and potent examination indeed, juxtaposing complexity with a freestyle survey of the circus world that is not commonly accessible to general-interest audiences. (full review)

– D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“even though these buildings were all created in different locations, they are all connected by a love for circus by the people in these places, and across these places how the meaning of circus possibly changes or stays the same” [full review]

-Thay Slitcher, AYCO HupSquad