Circus of Calamities originally formed part of clowning workshops, with
juggling, make-up, etc., and was aimed at poems describing circus acts and
It was played on a wide chipboard ring, 8 feet in diameter,
marked with concentric circles subdivided into sections each of which bore
On this ring each player performed various acts such as somersaults
juggling, tightrope-walking. The section in which the act failed gave the player
a letter - they played to gain three letters.
Then the player decided on things from a circus that began with the
collected letters and used them to write a rhyming song about life in the
However, the players themselves decided that the game was of a circus
where everything went wrong and this led them to a more humourous
Despite the wide range of writing on circus themes in childrens' literature,
surprisingly few of the children we met had ever seen a circus - it was like
a fairy story, they knew the characters and how they behaved, but without
In such cases, where blandness often results from
struggling for fictional actuality or against the dead weight of limited
fixed ideas, an extra proposition helps to free up the writing: here the
circus could have been suggested to be mysterious or crazy, in outer space
or in your own house. But it was the disasters they wanted.
The poems were written out on card which was then curved and stapled or
stuck into the shape of a clown's hat.
At one week-long workshop the
children performed a circus which included the singing of their songs
accompanied by a clown band, many amazing tricks, and a final gigantic
twenty-a-side custard pie fight!