Technologies of Risk, Fear and Fun: Human and Nonhuman Circus Performance

  • Peta TaitEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Performance and Technology book series (PSPT)


This chapter contends that circus arts rely on technological invention of apparatus to advance athletic and aesthetic innovation, and that this process then influences wider social practice. The Hanlon (Hanlon-Lees) Brothers set new limits in acrobatic action with aerial technology for their nineteenth-century circus act, subsequently developing the safety net for flying trapeze and inventing new stage machinery for pantomime in their macabre theatre. The rebound action on the safety net in circus inspired the twentieth-century invention of the trampoline by George Nissen, and trampoline and its action became a leisure activity, a new circus act and an Olympic sport. This chapter asks: What theatrical emotions intersect with these performance technologies? It finds that the Hanlon-Lees (during the 1860–1870s) and Nissen (in the 1930–1940s) undertook their early artistic activity in a society under threat of war, but that they performed divergent emotional responses to risk and fear within society. Both included nonhuman animals in the performance—in support of impressions of frightening menace and comic death in the Hanlon-Lees’ theatre, and to reassure the public with comic playfulness in Nissen’s performance.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.La Trobe UniversityBundooraAustralia

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