Who's at the Circus?

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A circus theme in a haunt certainly has a lot of potential.

Beyond clowns, who might populate the circus? Who makes the circus happen?

Carnies, for sure. The Roadies of the circus/carnival world. Carnies have a pretty unsavory reputation. The usual perception of them seems to be drug and alcohol abusing perverts, possibly pedophiles. Lots of opportunity for creepy carnies both male and female working carnival games, selling cotton candy and toys, whatever.

Carnies also represent an opportunity to subvert expectations. The carny could be a clean cut, wholesome looking psycho. Or, the grungy carny could turn out to be the patron's only ally in the madness of Cirque Dementia!

In most small circuses, one person may wear many hats. I've been sold a ticket by a lady I later saw on the trapeze. In a small haunt, there is no reason why that should be ignored. How might you use the same actor in different roles, and how might those roles contribute to scares?
Typical acts include jugglers, aerialists and trapezists, acrobats, daredevils, contortionists, fire eaters, stiltwalkers, plate spinners and magicians. Any of these might also do double duty selling toys, treats, programs, or tickets. They might be barkers at the midway in between shows. HAving one person in multiple roles is not a problem. Figure out how to make them scary!

There are animal trainers at the (imaginary, 20th century) circus. You still might get people protesting the treatment of imaginary animals, but that's the risk you take living in the 21st century.

There are, of course, the sideshows. Huge animals. Impossibly small animals. An unusual number of heads. Then there are the human oddities. These would include the strong man and tattooed lady as well as the "freaks" like the microcephalics, ectrodactylics, the hypertrichosis boy, and ichthyosis man. Conjoined twins are always a hit.

If you ever saw Tod Browning's Freaks, you'll find a lot more than a catalog of deformities. You'll learn that the circus is composed of several cliques, each of which have a certain pride in themselves and a certain disdain for the others. You'll also learn that the freaks can be the villains as well as the victims.

That's really interesting to me. If you ever read my take on clowns in haunts, you'll know I think the idea that the clowns might actually be unwitting victims is an interesting one.

What is the story that brings people to a circus haunt? Maybe the patrons are there investigating mysterious disappearances that began shortly after the circus came to town. Maybe some of those victims are now clowns. Maybe the ringmaster and the lovely equestrian are evil! Maybe the freaks, who in this culture would be considered objects of pity, are in fact the ones in control, forcing the others to do their will by supernatural means.

I would hope anyone looking to do a haunted or demented circus would look for some kind of unusual take on the theme. Something unexpected. Sure, there is plenty to be said about satisfying expectations, but isn't there something exciting about going to a haunt (or designing a haunt) that subverts expectations in a wonderful and chilling way?

Just my two cents.

Happy haunting!